The Ralahine Commune


An extraordinary story, that of the commune set up in Ralahine, Co Clare in 1830, which seemed to prosper and give hope of a new agrarian order in turbulent times, but went crash when the benefactor, owner of the 600-odd acre property on which it was situated, gambled away all his property and was ruined.

AE wrote a foreword to the book An Irish Commune: The History of Ralahine by E.T. Craig, the man who managed it on behalf of the benefactor and the members. AE: "We cannot say of Ralahine that the seed fell on stony ground, but we might say that thieves did break through and steal. No Irishman can read the story of this famous experiment without the most poignant regrets that it was not allowed to continue. When John Scott Vandeleur gambled at his club, he gambled away not only his property but what may well have been a happier destiny for his country . . . It might have saved us many years of tragic history, and instead of beginning our agricultural history long after Denmark, Germany and France, we might have been the pioneer nation."

Craig was recruited from England and, remarks AE, it needed courage to emigrate to Clare in 1830. The steward on the estate had been murdered shortly before Craig came; a fact not mentioned to him. Clare was particularly violent at the time: there was, in Craig's words "extreme wretchedness from their irregular employment and small earnings". AE again: "While Craig was winning men from violence by reason and justice, the rulers of Ireland were then, as ever, relying on physical force . . . Ireland in Craig's day was asking for bread and it was given a baton." Some of Craig's ideas have been overtaken, according to AE, "but we have not yet attained to his central idea of a community feeding itself, educating its children and applying its surpluses to further development. I think it is possible that the soul of Ralahine may reincarnate in modern Ireland where people talk almost as much about co-operation as about Sinn Fein. They are better prepared for communal activity."

Certainly AE gave much of his life to that ideal - travelling the country on his bicycle. The story of that experiment is in the book mentioned above, published in Dublin by Martin Lester Ltd, in 1919. We may say the world has moved on in regard to such ideas. But this is a reminder of generosity, advanced thinking and bold action in the midst of famine, misery and brutal official action against a poor people - not without reprisals. Has the book been republished since 1919? Y