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Vandeleurs of Kilrush County Clare
by Senan Scanlan
1. Introduction

This book attempts to give an outline of the Vandeleurs and their involvement with the development of Kilrush town and its harbours during the nineteenth century. It covers the early years before the Vandeleur mansion, Kilrush House, was built in 1808 to the family’s departure from Kilrush in the late nineteenth century. Chapter 2, containing the principal references to the Vandeleurs, has been constructed using extracts mainly from newspapers and other similar sources sorted in chronological order. These are given in, what is hopefully, an impartial manner to allow the reader to assess the positive and negative impacts of the Vandeleur involvement with the town of Kilrush.

The Clare Journal has been used extensively as it was the only newspaper with continuous coverage over the period although for some of the earlier years and even up to 1878, some issues are not available. It is unlikely that the newspapers were impartial with all their reports. Accordingly some editorial comment from the Clare Journal has been omitted because they were obviously very biased in favour of the Landlords. In addition some references to Kilrush and its merchants are also included to show their growing confidence especially from the 1880s, which coincided with the decline of the Vandeleurs influence. A number of references are repeated often in the same year to show that the Vandeleurs were actually in Kilrush at that time. Where no references are included for a period it is likely that the Vandeleurs were not at Kilrush during this time. This book, which contains new information combined with some already available information on the Vandeleurs, may be of assistance to others who wish to do further research. Spellings errors from newspaper extracts have only been corrected where the meaning would be lost and some clarifying comments have been added in italics.

The Vandeleur’s attitudes to their tenants and others during the famine years of the 1840s are given in Chapter 4. The main section on the famine is taken from Ignatius Murphy, The Other Clare Vol 3, 1979, and covers in detail the hardship suffered by the people of Kilrush and the surrounding areas during the famine. Chapter 5 covering the Vandeleur evictions of the 1880s is also taken from Ignatius Murphy, The Other Clare, Vol 4 April 1980, and an outline of the Vandeleur Evictions of 1848 to1900 from Tullycrine, Killmurry, Coolmeen and Labasheeda[1]is also given. The Vandeleurs and their Title to Land in Kilrush and in Clare is outlined in Chapter 3 and available details of their Kilrush leases are given in appendix 1, 2 and 3. By kind permission from the Kilrush Youth Centre all available memorial inscriptions from the Church of Ireland graveyard are also detailed in appendix 6. A short account of the Vandeleurs leaving Kilrush is given in Chapter 6.

The Vandeleur family were the most prominent landlord family in West Clare[2]. Of Dutch origin the family estate had been established at Ralahine 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. Charles (11) confirmed them in their holdings and Giles Vandeleur was High Sheriff of the county in 1665. The Rev. John Vandeleur arrived in Kilrush in 1688 where he rented land and a house in Ballyerra from the Earl of Thomond. He was the type of clergyman described by James Michener as one who came to do good and did extremely well.

The Vandeleur demesne, now Kilrush Wood, is east of the town. The ruined Vandeleur house, known to generations of Kilrush people as the “Burnt House”, it was destroyed by fire in 1897 and was demolished in 1973. The site is now a car park and picnic area and all the original stones from the house are now underneath under this area. The demesne was first planted in 1712. His son, Crofton who died in the 1790’s, succeeded the Rev. John. 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 of a downtrodden people. Their scorn and hatred were reserved for Hector Vandeleur, who succeeded him in 1881. Hector was deemed to be an absentee landlord of the worst kind. It said that he paid only one visit to Kilrush to inspect his inheritance in 1882. October 1887 saw the start of the evictions in Kilrush town and other evictions continued throughout the West Clare area until the end of July 1888.

In 1795 the town of Kilrush consisted of what are now Lower Moore Street, Chapel Street, High Street, Grace Street, Russell Lane and the Glen. John Ormsby Vandeleur succeeded his father as the wealthiest landlord in the district. He virtually owned Kilrush: and with other wealth achieved from a financially beneficial marriage and a successful piece of political skulduggery with a pocket borough vote in favour of the Act of Union (1801) he decided to develop the town. A Scots businessman, James Patterson, who was a gunboat lieutenant until 1802, assisted him in this project. Patterson decided to enter the oats trade in West Clare. In 1802 he got a site on the square from Vandeleur and erected a six-story building. He dealt directly with the ships going up river and acquired goods and provisions more cheaply than if he purchased in Limerick. By 1817 he had a steamboat, Lady of the Shannon, operating regularly between Kilrush and Limerick.

The Vandeleurs were also involved in a number of positive developments, including the naming of the streets, in Kilrush as follows[3].

  • The construction of the second section, of the pier at Cappa. The Board of Irish Fisheries at a cost of £1840 started this section, 168 feet long, in 1829 and Crofton Moore Vandeleur contributed £540 of this amount.
  • Merchants Quay at the Creek. This pier was constructed in 1846 at the expense of Crofton Moore Vandeleur at a cost of £1600.
  • The Vandeleurs who also contributed £500 towards the cost in 1839 and donated the site for the Catholic Church.
  • The Market House was erected in 1808 at the expense of the Vandeleurs.
  • 1839 Kilrush Fever Hospital, the site selected was given free by Crofton Moore Vandeleur.
  • A number of street names in Kilrush are named after the Vandeleurs.
    Frances Street after Lady Frances wife of Hon. John Ormsby Vandeleur.
    Grace Street after Lady Grace Vandeleur.
    Hector Street after Hector Stewart son of Crofton Moore.
    Moore Street after a common family name of the Vandeleurs probably after Lady Frances Moore wife of John Ormsby Vandeleur.
    Burton Street after Thomas Burton Vandeleur
    Vandeleur Street.
    Crofton Street
    Stewart Street.
    Henry Street reputed to be named after Henry Rebow, son of Crofton Moore and Lady Grace Vandeleur, although a lease dated 1841(see Appendix 3). includes the location Henry Street and this was seven years before Henry Rebow was born.

These developments must be balanced against the lack of compassion shown by the Vandeleurs during the famine period and later during the evictions of the late 1880s. In addition after the death of Crofton Vandeleur in 1881 his son Hector Stewart became an absentee landlord. However as can be seen from the newspaper references below he spent lengthy periods in Kilrush during the years 1883, 1884, 1885, 1891, 1892, 1894, 1895 and 1896. It should also be remembered that his father and grandfather also spend a considerable amount of time away from Kilrush House.

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Vandeleur References
2.1 c.1750 – 1839