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The Ralahine experiment and the politics of land in late-nineteenth century Ireland

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-02-09, 09:45 authored by Patrick DoylePatrick Doyle

In 1823 Robert Owen arrived in Dublin to give a series of lectures setting out how a ‘New View of Society’ might be made manifest in Ireland. At the heart of Owen’s vision was the establishment of a series of co-operative, self-sustaining communities that would at once take people out of poverty while shaping their moral character. Owen’s visit would have been unremarkable if not for the fact that ten years later, a landlord called John Vandeleur reorganised his estate into a co-operative colony: Ralahine co-operative society, an Owenite commune where tenant farmers effectively became co-partners in the estate’s management. Even though two years later the society collapsed, the legacy and memory of Ralahine exerted a hold over the imaginations of an assortment of land reformers, nationalists, and co-operators in Ireland. This article shows how a failed experiment in co-operative community building created an influential resource of co-operative knowledge that shaped political imaginaries and inspired alternative visions of property ownership in response to crises occurring in the second half of the nineteenth century. In particular, the work of Owenites involved in Ralahine, such as Edward Thomas Craig and William Pare, is examined to locate the enduring historical relevance of the Irish Owenite commune.



Journal of Co-operative Studies, 2023, 56 (3), pp. 63-70


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