Vandeleur, Crofton Moore (1808–81), landlord and MP, was born on 9 December 1808 in Kilrush, Co. Clare, the elder son among two sons and two daughters of John Ormsby Vandeleur and his wife Lady Frances (d. 1833), daughter of Charles Moore (qv), 1st marquess of Drogheda. John Ormsby Vandeleur (1765–1828), landlord and MP, was the eldest son of six sons and four daughters of Crofton Vandeleur (1735–94), landlord, high sheriff of Co. Clare (1764), and MP for Ennis, Co. Clare (1768–76), and his wife Alice, daughter of Thomas Burton (1706–73), MP for Ennis (1761–8). He entered Glasgow University in 1783, and Lincoln's Inn (16 November 1785), was called to the Irish bar (November 1790), and became a member of the RDS (1792–1828). He was MP for Carlow borough (1790–97), purchasing the seat from William Henry Burton (qv), and spent most of the parliament in opposition, voting for W. B. Ponsonby (qv) for speaker (1790) and for Ponsonby's motion on parliamentary reform (1795). Returned on the Burton interest by his cousin Henry, Lord Conyngham (qv) (1766–1832) as MP for Ennis (1797–1802), he generally supported the government and voted for an absentee tax in 1798. From 1797 he captained the Kilrush cavalry yeomanry corps, and was active in suppressing political and agrarian protest in west Clare, including an armed outbreak near Kilrush in January 1799. A first cousin of Lord Castlereagh (qv), he voted for the act of union in 1799 and 1800, and extracted full value for his support. His brother Thomas Burton Vandeleur (1766–1835) received legal preferment and later became a judge on the king's bench (1822–35). John, regarded by successive administrations as venal and devious, also accrued several lucrative positions: commissioner of revenue (1799–1802) at £1,000 a year, a privy councillor (1801), commissioner of the excise (1802–6) and of customs (1806–22), and trustee of the Irish linen board (1801–28). Benefiting from rising wartime agricultural prices, he finished the building of Kilrush house in 1808 and began to develop Kilrush town, widening its streets and overseeing the construction of Merchants Quay, Customs Quay, the Custom House and Market House. He instructed his tenants in July 1828 to oppose the candidacy of Daniel O'Connell (qv) in Co. Clare, but many defied him to help O'Connell win the seat and force the government to concede catholic emancipation. John Ormsby Vandeleur died on 10 November 1828 at his brother Thomas's home in Raheny, Co. Dublin.
Several branches of the Vandeleur family forged notable military reputations, and three of John's brothers died serving with the British army: Major General Crofton Vandeleur on 31 October 1806 in Antigua; Major Richard Vandeleur (88th Regiment) on 19 October 1809 at Campo Maior, Portugal; and Captain Frederick Vandeleur (87th Regiment) on 21 June 1813 at Vitoria, Spain. His namesake General Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur (qv) (1763–1849) was a first cousin.
Crofton Moore Vandeleur was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1832 he married Lady Grace Toler (d. 1872), daughter of Hector John Toler (1781–1839), 2nd earl of Norbury; they had three sons and three daughters. (Norbury was shot and fatally wounded at his demesne in Durrow Abbey, King's Co. (Offaly), probably by an aggrieved employee). The Vandeleurs lived mostly at Kilrush house (with occasional winters in the south of France), and Lady Grace was well regarded locally for her philanthropic activities and amusingly eccentric temperament. Among the leading resident landowners in Clare, Vandeleur was a JP (from 1831), high sheriff of the county (1832), and foreman of the Clare grand jury. His estate of about 20,000 acres was said to yield an income of over £15,000 a year. It included at least seventeen townlands in the parish of Kilrush, lands in the parishes of Clooney, Kilmacduane, Kilfearagh, Kilfiddane, Killofin, Killimer, Kilmihil and Kilmurry, and in the baronies of Bunratty Lower and Ibrickane. He owned a further 416 acres in Mungret and Monasteranenagh, Co. Limerick, and a townhouse at 4 Rutland Square East, Dublin. A keen sailor who was proud of his fine yacht, the Caroline, Vandeleur was president of the Kilrush boat club and regularly funded the Kilrush harbour regatta.
Believing that his caste had a duty to provide leadership and convince the population of the benefits of union with Great Britain, he gained a reputation in the 1830s as an improving, civic-minded landlord. He was active in the West Clare Agricultural Society and continued his father's work in developing Kilrush, laying out broad streets which he named after family members and lined with new businesses. In the 1830s–40s he gave land and money to build St Senan's catholic church (personally laying the foundation stone on 2 November 1839), a methodist chapel, a fever hospital and workhouse, and a new quay to accommodate the Shannon steamer. He occasionally gave abatements of rent to distressed tenants whom he judged deserving, but could also be hard-hearted and ruthless, particularly when matters of agricultural efficiency were at stake. His Kilrush estate was occupied by thousands of impoverished cottiers subsisting precariously on small potato plots which he was intent on consolidating into larger farms to improve profitability. Brooking no opposition, in 1836 he evicted tenants who had defied his wishes by voting for repeal candidates in Co. Clare. Vandeleur himself had political ambitions, and stood as a tory candidate for Co. Clare in 1841, but polled badly behind two repealers. In 1843 he became colonel of the Clare militia, a defunct formation, and was afterwards known as Colonel Vandeleur.
After the failure of the potato crop in 1845, he attempted to relieve distress on his estate, raising money and organising relief committees, and remained in Kilrush for most of the following year. He personally gave £600 to provide work by improving Kilrush quay, but also evicted dozens of tenants in Tullycrine and Moyasta in April and December 1845. As chairman of the Kilrush board of guardians he opposed the granting of outdoor relief to the able-bodied poor, believing that it would make them dependent on handouts. His preferred solution to the crisis was state-funded emigration, but this was not forthcoming. As successive potato-crop failures strained government finances, from 1847 the burden of relief was shifted on to poor rates. Since landlords were responsible for rates of £4 or less, Vandeleur sought to ease his liability by evicting hundreds of small tenants and levelling their cabins to ensure they would not return. He saw this as an extension of the clearance and consolidation policies begun a decade earlier, essential to local economic improvement and his own financial well-being. His example was crucial in dispelling the reluctance of smaller local landlords to evict. To accelerate clearances, he entrusted much of his estate to the land agent, Marcus Keane (qv), notorious for his ruthlessness in evicting tenants.
Vandeleur's conduct was much criticised in the local press. The Limerick and Clare Examiner contrasted his callousness with his father's humanity, and mocked him as a 'cabin-tumbling warrior' (14 February 1849). When forty-one people who had been refused relief by the Kilrush workhouse drowned after the Poulnasherry Bay ferry sank on 12 December 1849, Vandeleur and other guardians were held responsible, and were jeered and pelted with mud when they appeared in public. Vandeleur publicly rejected press criticisms as unfounded and strongly contested the eviction statistics presented in the 1848–9 reports of Arthur Kennedy (qv), the poor law inspector at Kilrush. In December 1849 Vandeleur travelled to Dublin in what appears to have been an attempt to have Kennedy dismissed.
Kilrush acquired such notoriety that a parliamentary committee was set up to inquire into the administration of its poor law. In July 1850 Kennedy reported to the committee that since late 1847 thousands had been evicted in the union, their cabins destroyed, and whole families left to perish on the roadside. In his defence, Vandeleur claimed that evictions in Kilrush were on a small scale compared to other west-of-Ireland unions and were necessary to transfer land to industrious tenants. As it was, with reduced rents and rising poor rates, many landlords faced bankruptcy. The committee's investigations largely supported Kennedy's testimony, documenting the eviction of over 1,000 people on Vandeleur's estate, more than any other landlord in Kilrush. Landlord representatives dissented and produced their own report. Afterwards, Kennedy and Vandeleur traded recriminations, and in October 1850 Kennedy challenged him to a duel. Vandeleur responded by taking legal action, but there was little sympathy for him and Kennedy was acquitted at Cork assizes in August 1851.
Vandeleur persisted with his clearances into the early 1850s, and was denounced by a visiting English philanthropist, Rev. Sidney Godolphin Osborne, as a man 'who calmly works the Poor Law with such imbecility as to make “relief” another name for death' (Limerick and Clare Examiner, 20 August 1851). Despite such criticisms, Vandeleur still sought election to parliament (in a public ballot, tenants risked eviction by not supporting him). In a violent contest in 1852 (at least six anti-Vandeleur protestors were shot dead and several more wounded by the military at Sixmilebridge on 22 July), he missed out on a county seat by only two votes, and blamed catholic priests for intimidating voters; he managed to have the result declared void because of clerical interference, but in the subsequent 1853 by-election again narrowly failed to be elected. Perhaps because of this, in 1855 he refused to donate a site for a Sisters of Mercy convent in Kilrush, but eventually relented.
Finally elected MP for Co. Clare (1859–74), he voted as a liberal Conservative, supporting parliamentary reform (1867) and disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (1869), thus alienating much of his protestant and conservative support. In 1874 he was resoundingly defeated by two home rule candidates (a secret ballot having been introduced in 1872). Crofton Moore Vandeleur died in Kilrush house on 9 November 1881, and was buried in the family mausoleum in Kilrush graveyard, which he had built in 1873.
He was succeeded by his eldest son, Hector Stewart Vandeleur (1836–1909), born on 18 January 1836 in Cavendish Row, Dublin. After attending Eton, he served as a captain in the Rifle Brigade, and was generally known as Captain Vandeleur. In 1867 he married Charlotte Foster, with whom he had three children. Like his father, he was a JP, lord lieutenant and high sheriff (1873) for Co. Clare. A supporter of tenant right and the establishment of a catholic university, he stood as a Conservative candidate for Co. Clare in 1879 and 1880, but was not elected. He lived mostly in London, rarely visiting his Clare estates, which were the scene of renewed agrarian strife in July 1888 during the Plan of Campaign protest. Efforts to avoid conflict were undermined by Vandeleur's intransigence, and even the chief secretary, Arthur Balfour (qv), described him as 'stupid, obstinate, and selfish' (Geary, 93). A large force of several hundred police and military eventually evicted about twenty-five families. Unlike his father's evictions, these were carried out in the presence of the national and international press (and photographers such as Robert French (qv)) in a less deferential era, and dramatic images of battering rams and destroyed cottages provoked outrage. The dispute was largely resolved by arbitration in May 1889, and within a decade relations on the estate had improved and many evicted tenants were restored. Kilrush house was burned down accidentally in 1897, after which the Vandeleurs lived at Cahercon house on the banks of the Shannon. Recognising that the old model of Irish landlordism was no longer viable, Vandeleur agreed in 1908 to sell most of the family estate to tenants under the Land Commission's purchase scheme. Hector Vandeleur died on 3 October 1909 at his London residence, 50 Rutland Gate, and was the last Vandeleur to be buried in the Kilrush family mausoleum.
His first son, Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Foster Seymour Vandeleur, DSO, having been killed in the Boer war on 31 August 1901, Hector was succeeded by Alexander Moore Vandeleur (1885–1914), a captain in the Life Guards, who was killed in action at Ypres (30 October 1914) and succeeded by his three-year old son Giles Alexander Meysey Vandeleur (1911–78). In the 1910s the Vandeleur estate was taken over by the Land Commission, and Cahercon house was sold to the Maynooth Mission to China in 1920, ending the family's direct association with Co. Clare. Giles was a second cousin of Brigadier John Ormsby Evelyn ('J. O. E.') Vandeleur (1902–88), a great-grandson of Crofton Moore Vandeleur. Both men won the DSO serving as battalion commanders with the Irish Guards in north-western Europe in 1944–5.