John Vandaleur was an estate owner in County Clare in the west of Ireland. In 1831, tired of the outrages committed by some of his tenants in the throes of a violent organisation named 'The Ribbonmen', Vandaleur established a co-operative, known as the Ralahine Commune. A system of commonwealth, it established many innovations, including a co-operative-only currency-system, and even a type of pension fund.
Vandaleur's Folly tells the story of this commune, and its, perhaps inevitable, demise after two years. In Arden and D'Arcy's version, the external influences of colonial capitalism and its attendant military force – as well as the wagering caprices of Vandaleur himself – are more than a match for the good intentions of communal farmers in the county Clare.