Clare County Library
Clare Places: Towns & Villages
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Local History

THE VANDELEUR FAMILY were the most prominent landlord family in West Clare. Of Dutch origin, the family estate had been established in Sixmilebridge, by James Vandeleur, in the late 1630's. Reimbursed by the Cromwellians for losses during the 1641 rebellion and later, the Vandeleur family prospered. The Rev. John Vandeleur arrived in Kilrush in 1688. He was succeeded by his son, another John, in 1727. He in turn was succeeded by his son, Crofton, who died in the 1790's. John Ormsby Vandeleur built the large family home, Kilrush House, in 1808. Until the succession of Colonel Crofton Vandeleur the family name was a respected one around Kilrush. Despite his role in the Famine evictions the selective folk memory of Kilrush has almost absolved him for his mistreatment. The scorn and hatred were reserved for Hector Vandeleur, who succeeded him in 1881. Hector was an absentee landlord of the worst kind. He paid only one visit to Kilrush to inspect his inheritance in 1882.
Vandeleur Collection of photographs in Foto

KILRUSH WORKHOUSE was situated on a six-acre field north of the town where the vocational school and a housing estate now stand. It opened in December 1841 and was built to accommodate 800 people. As the Great Hunger drove the people off the land, additional buildings, known as auxiliaries, had to be opened to cope with the overflow.

THE FAMINE had worsened by 1847 and evictions followed when tenant farmers and cottiers were unable to meet their rents. Thousands poured into the workhouse. Famine, eviction, fever and cholera reduced the population of south-west Clare to such an extent that it never attained its pre-famine number.

EVICTIONS during the Famine were on an incredible scale. Of the 20,000 evicted in Kilrush Union most died of starvation. Not all of these were Vandeleur tenants but most were. In 1848 there was little resistance; tenants had little or no legal help. Those evicted were wretchedly poor and their houses generally were mud cabins. Because the houses were so poorly built it was quite easy to force an entrance and knock them.

VANDELEUR EVICTIONS of 1888 were resisted in most instances. Large crowds went along to watch and the tenants had very able legal representation. They were organised through the National League and Plan of Campaign. The houses generally were solid buildings and the battering ram was needed to force an entrance and then destroy the house.


Kilrush: Historical Background