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Kilrush Irish landlords played an important role in the planning and development of estate towns such as Kilrush, a town which grew and flourished under the auspices of the Vandeleur family in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Working with local merchants and investors, they designed and built a well-planned town with a central market square and the wide streets it has retained to this day. The History of Kilrush corresponds to a turbulent era in Irish history, and the Kilrush Heritage Centre offers an excellent opportunity to learn about this, and the parallel development of the town. A brief summary of the period is given below. The Napoleonic Wars (1790-1815) increased the demand for corn and other supplies, and new factories, canals and flour mills were built. As a port, advantageously situated on the River Shannon, Kilrush attracted merchants, and trade with Europe was soon flourishing. The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 caused the price of wheat and oats to drop sharply on the international market. Two-fifths of the Irish population lived in hovels, houses with mud walls and rafters of straw. The Government was reluctant to organise public relief and conditions of near-famine reigned. In 1838, the English Poor Law system was introduced, dividing Ireland into poor law districts or Unions, each with a workhouse.

On entering the workhouse, families were split up and forced to work under appalling conditions. Kilrush offered a safe-haven for the middle classes during this period, attracting lawyers, doctors, and clerics from the Protestant middle class. The Great Famine of 1847 had its origins in a shipment of potatoes from the United States which reached Europe contaminated by potato blight. Potatoes were the principal form of nourishment in Ireland, and over 100,000 people in the Kilrush Union were affected. The thriving fishing industry of Kilrush did not survive the famine as many fishermen sold their boats to buy food, and nearly all the fishing boats in the lower Shannon area disappeared. The death of over 1 million Irish people triggered the emigration of over 8 million people to Australia, America, England and Canada.

Preparatory visit for teachers. A brief summary of the Heritage Centre is available in French, Italian and German. Worksheets for students and a classroom are available. An Education Officer is on site. The history of Kilrush is well told through an audio-visual presentation and display panels. A heritage tour, which transports visitors back to the times of the Landlords, starts from the Heritage Centre and passes through the streets of Kilrush, which still bear the traces of this turbulent era. The Centre provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Irish history and the town of Kilrush.

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