Charles Boycott (1832-1897), a cruel land agent for Lord Erne’s estate on the shores of Lough Corrib, exacted extortionate rents and evicted tenants who couldn’t pay, until his tyranny was heroically defeated through the passive resistance of his tenants.
They were sparked by a speech in 1880 given by the president of the Irish Land League, Charles Stuart Parnell, urging tenants to isolate unreasonable landlords, rack-renters and land-grabbers rather than resorting to violence. Captain Boycott’s tenants and labourers began to shun him when he refused to reduce rents following a bad harvest. His workers left, his labourers stopped harvesting, his grooms and stables boys abandoned the horses and his domestic staff abandoned the house. Local tradesmen in Ballinrobe refused to recognise his existence. No farrier would shoe his horse, no shopkeeper would sell him food, even the post boy refused to deliver letters.
He wrote to The Times newspaper in London
".....people collect in crowds upon my farm and order off all my workmen. The shopkeepers have been warned to stop all supplies to my house. My farm is public property, I can get no workmen to do anything, and my ruin is openly avowed as the object of the Land League unless I throw up everything and leave the country."
Eventually, he was forced to hire in Orangemen from Ulster to work the farm and English soldiers to protect them. However, the soldiers were treated so poorly that their sympathies switched to the locals, and eventually Captain Boycott was forced to return to England defeated.
In November 1880 The Times of London coined the term "boycott" as a word meaning to ostracise in the way to which Boycott had been subjected. While the practise was an ancient one, the publicity his case garnered went on later to inspire Gandhi and Nehru in their peaceful struggle for Indian independence.
When Captain Boycott fled, the lease of his home Lough Mask House on the shores of that lake was taken over by the Daly family in the mid-1880s who still live there today.
The Captain Boycott story has all the elements of a Hollywood movie – which in fact it was made into in 1947, starring Stuart Grainger and Robert Donat, with Cecil Parker as Boycott.
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