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Parnell’s boycott speech

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Charles Stewart Parnell was president of the Land League, founded by Michael Davitt, to campaign for land reform in Ireland. One of their tactics was to ostracise anyone who opposed them. It was first used on an organised scale in Mayo. It proved so effective that not only was it copied but it gave a new word to the English language.

In the course of the campaign, Parnell addressed a public meeting in Ennis. He said, “When a man takes a farm from which another had been evicted you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him in the fairgreen and in the marketplace and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old, you must show your detestation of the crime he has committed.”
Captain Charles Boycott was not a landlord. A former British soldier, he lived at Lough Mask House in Mayo and acted as the land agent for the Earl of Erne, one of the group of absentee landlords who controlled most of the land of Ireland.
As part of their campaign for land reform, the Land League agitated for what were known as the Three Fs – fair rent, free sale and fixity of tenure. Because of the bad harvest, Boycott offered to reduce rents by 10% but the tenants demanded 25% reduction. He refused to lower the rents and evicted the tenants. He soon found himself totally isolated without servants or farmhands and with no deliveries. His name quickly became the term used worldwide for this treatment of people.
As harvest time approached, Boycott could get nobody to work his fields. A group of 50 Orange Order members volunteered to help him. The Land League had said that there would be no violence in their protest but nevertheless those workers from Cavan and Monaghan were escorted to and from Castlebar each day and the estate was given protection. One thousand policemen and soldiers were involved in the entire operation.
The Land League gained a great victory The crops were saved but the cost to the government of more than £10,000 was way more than they were worth. Parnell claimed at the time that it cost over one shilling for every turnip dug. It was obvious that the process could not be repeated.
After the harvest, the policy of ostracism was continued and within weeks the word boycott was accepted into usage in the English language. It is said that the use of the term ‘to boycott’ somebody was first used by the local parish priest Fr John O’Malley to describe the action.
He felt, that for his congregation, it was an easier word to pronounce than ostracisation. Within weeks – on November 20 –it was used by The Times of London. The following January, The Spectator used it to describe particularly bad weather by saying that mother nature had boycotted London.
Charles Stewart Parnell made his speech calling for landlords to be shunned in Ennis on September 19, 1880 – 130 years ago this week.


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