Captain Boycott

WALSH/LANGAN INTRODUCTION - HOME PAGE - Land Issues

Captain Boycott

The word, boycott, meaning to join with others in refusing to have any dealings with some other individual or group, is derived from an incident that occurred at Lough Mask House near Ballinrobe, County Mayo, Ireland in 1880.

Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was an unpopular English landlord who moved to the Ballinrobe area in 1873 after an inheritance allowed him to take a thirty-one year lease on three hundred acres near Lough Mask. He also became an agent on the nearly one thousand five hundred acres estate of Lord Erne. There were 38 small tenant farmers on Lord Erne"s estates near Lough Mask and Castlebar.

Captain Boycott was reportedly very strict with his tenants. Locally he was considered a petty tyrant. Tenants had been used to collecting fallen wood and taking short cuts across the farm. Boycott curtailed these privileges that had previously been enjoyed. He showed no leniency when rents were in arrears.

Times were hard in 1879 and 1880 and there was again famine. Boycott, with instructions from Lord Erne, was prepared to allow a 10% reduction in the rents. Most of the tenants insisted on a 25% reduction. Boycott obtained eviction notices against eleven tenants for failure to pay their rent. On September 22, 1880 the local process server, David Sears*, accompanied by an escort of "constabulary" succeeded in serving several notices. Then some local women started to harass Sears and his escort by throwing mud and manure at them while yelling and shouting at them. The ladies managed to intimidate them to the point that they took shelter in the Boycott house and were unable to serve the rest of the notices. The next day Sears was preparing to make another attempt to serve the notices but a large group of people gathered and marched towards Lough Mask House. Egged on by Father John O'Malley, the parish priest at the Neale, they arrived on the Boycott farm and "advised" all of Boycott's servants and farm workers to leave and not return. By the evening of September 23 Boycott and his family were alone on the farm.

Once the process started it did not stop. The letterboy refused to deliver the mail. The shopkeepers of Ballinrobe refused to wait on the Boycott family. All of the local Catholic population refused to provide any services. Whenever any member of the Boycott household tried to leave the property they were booed and hissed. Boycott applied and was granted police protection. This, in and of itself, was not uncommon in parts of Ireland where there was unrest. The issue at this point remained a local one.

The tenants appealed to Lord Erne to dismiss Boycott and replace him with another agent. Lord Erne, who was elderly and perhaps senile, refused. The locals kept up their isolation of Boycott. A letter from Captain Boycott to the "Times" drew attention to his dilemma. In part he said:

".....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"
The situation became an item in the English press and in response a group of about 50 Ulster Loyalists volunteered to come to Boycott's aid and bring in his crops.

The exceleration of the situation was carried in newspapers all over the world. The Brooklyn Eagle reported on November 9, 1880:

DUBLIN

Four troops of Hussars were dispatched hence for Ballinrobe by special trains at 2 o'clock this morning. Four hundred infantry have just arrived at Ballinrobe, and will encamp near Lough Mask.

These precautions are taken in view of the intention of the Northern Orangemen to send laborers to harvest the crops of Mr. Boycott, Lord Erne's agent, for whom the local peasantry, at the instigation of the Land League, refuse to work. The Government will protect a moderate force of laborers, but refuse to furnish anything approaching armed demonstrations, which would certain provoke a collision.

The Ulster volunteers took the train as far as Claremorris where they had expected to be met by carts that would take them to Ballinrobe. The local cart drivers refused to provide their services and the volunteers, escorted my military troops, were forced to march the fourteen miles from Claremorris to Ballinrobe. They did not set off until late in the afternoon and darkness fell early at that time of the year. Hindered by driving rain and various delays it was only after fives hours of marching that they reached Ballinrobe where they were greeted by crowds of cat calling, jeering, and booing locals and where there was basically no shelter or food for them.

The little town of Ballinrobe was completely overrun with outsiders including at least a 1,000 soldiers, newsmen from around the world and the Ulster volunteers.

On the morning of November 12, the troops, with swords raised, escorted the volunteers out of town as all the locals again turned out to jeer. The crowds thinned as they left town and they continued on through the drizzling rain the three miles to Lough Mask House.

Over the next two weeks, tortured by continuous cold and torrential rains, the volunteers brought in the harvest of turnips, mangolds1, potatoes and corn2. On Saturday, November 27 they were escorted back to Ballinrobe where they again spent the night. The next day they were escorted to Claremorris to take the train back to Ulster.

Boycott himself quietly decided go to England. Captain Boycott, his wife and niece were forced to ride in an Army ambulance as no local drivers could be found to take them to the train in Claremorris.

See Ballinrobe Chronicles for local coverage of the event.

The name boycott was given to this form of social and economic isolation by the American journalist, James Redpath, who covered the story for the American press. He credited Father O'Malley with having come with the idea of using the word.

1Mangolds are a beet like root crop fed to cattle.

2 What the English call corn and Americans call wheat.

*David Sears

In October 2008 John C Sears wrote:

My great-great grandfather was David Sears, the local process server from Ballinrobe. It was he who was pelted with "gutter" when attempts to serve eviction notices were refused. I've worked hard to gather the newspaper articles extant which described the scene and the following day. There aren't many as you've no doubt realized also.

That "Davy" continued to reside in Ballinrobe until his death (aged 74) in 1894. In accordance with THE BALLINROBE CHRONICLE (sometimes known as the MAYO ADVERTISER), David had been elected the Process Server since at least as early as 31 October 1867. He is identified as such, in every edition up to and including 22 December 1894. He died just prior.

His son, also named David Sears (my great grandfather) had emmigrated in 1891 and was resident in NYC at that time. Although I know a great deal about the incident now, no mention was ever made within the family nor were any hints passed down. David (the son) was married in 1895 and my grandfather was his first child. He died very young (aged 39), in 1911.

When I learned of the boycott incident, I had conflicted feelings. My perception of anyone involved in the "eviction process" was negative. I am and have always been proud of my Irish heritage and was ashamed of what had happened. As I began research into the details, I learned that my SEARS ancestry also included people who had materially affected the cause of Irish Independence as well. I was obviously happy about that.

William Frederick Sears was elected as the South Mayo member of the First Irish Dail in 1918. He continued as such until June 1927. Peter Sears was killed on 28 June 1920 in Solon, India while participating in a Mutiny against the English Army in protest of England's treatment of the Irish. This was at the height of the Black and Tan War. In October 1970, his body was returned to Ireland and was re-interred in a Republican grave in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin. Edward I. Sears attended Trinity College and after immigrating to NYC, he started a very successful publishing concern (The National Quarterly). This publication exposed many of the problems involving England's control of Irish lands.


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND- CAPTAIN BOYCOTT AND HIS FAMILY GETTING IN THEIR HARVEST BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF THE TROOPS

It is strange that there are four women in the images. The women on the estate (other than the servants who had supposedly left) were Mrs. Boycott and her niece.

An accompanying articles points out that it would have been cheaper to have paid Boycott for his crops and then let them rot in the ground. It called the incident a "tragicomedy".


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

PROVISIONS FOR THE MILITARY


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND

SKETCHES ON THE ROAD TO LOUGH MASK

1. BOYCOTT AND HIS ESCORT. 2. A ROADSIDE IDYLL 3. YOUNG POLITICIANS 4 WELL GAURDED


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

THE TROOPS ESCORTING THE RELIF LABOURERS FROM CLAREMORRIS TO BALLINROBE


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

CONSTABULARY AND LINE ENCAMPMENT IN THE GROUNDS OF LOUGH MASK HOUSE

The above pictures from the Graphic were under the title "LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND". Unfortunately, the article that accompanied these images was missing when I bought them.


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

IN CAMP AT LOUGH MASK — TASTING THE BEER


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

RECEPTION OF OUR ARTIST AT THE LODGE GATES OF CAPT. BOYCOTT'S HOURS


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

THE GAY HUSSAR — EVERYTHING DAMPED BUT HIS SPIRITS and AT BALLINROBE — THE CAR DRIVER REFUSES TO GO ON : "POLICE TO GET DOWN"

The image on the right shows the Valkenberg Hotel. The Valkenburg family came to Ballinrobe from Germany. They ran the Volkenberg Hotel on Main Street from the mid 1848 until 1950. The hotel is now owned by the Langan family. See The Valkenburg and Old Photos of Ballinrobe


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck, 2012, The Graphic, November 27, 1880

Father O'Malley advises the crowd

Father John O'Malley was the parish pries at the Neale (where Lord Erne's estates were located). He was also the president of the Ballinrobe Land League in 1880. Fr. John O'Malley was one of the leaders of the Boycott movement and is credited both with being the "inventor" of the term Boycott and of leading the tenant farmers in the movement. He was also responsible for building the church in the Neale in 1875 and the school in the Neale in 1883.


National Library of Ireland

Monday Afternoon - Market Day- Ballinrobe

Father O'Malley alighting from cab- giving a few words of advice to good --------


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic Dec. 4, 1880

THE ORANGE LABOURERS' FARWELL


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic Dec. 4, 1880

1. "WE WILL BE FREE" 2. SLUMBERING IN THE BOAT HOUSE . THE LAST LUNCHEON AT CAPTIAN BOYCOTT'S 4. BALLINROBE : SOCIAL RELAXATION OF THE LIGHT HORSEMAN 5. BALLINROBE : EVEN THE STATELY SUB-CONSTABLE UNBENDS


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic Dec. 4, 1880

CHEERING THE 84TH

The above images were from the Graphic of Dec 2, 1880 under the title "THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND — DEPARTURE OF THE BOYCOTT EXPEDITION FROM LOUGH MASK


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND — SKETCHES AT BALLINROBE

The Graphic — Dec 4, 1880

1. The Captain's Quarters and 2. Military Life; A Nice Day's Work


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND — SKETCHES AT BALLINROBE

The Graphic — Dec 4, 1880

3. Captian Boycott's Horses going to Ballinrobe to be Shod.


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND — SKETCHES AT BALLINROBE

The Graphic — Dec 4, 1880

4. A sketch in the Market Place. and 5. Going to Market; "Ga'an wid ye — ye're as stubborn as Boycott."


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Graphic, Nov. 20, 1880

The worthy magistrate may "convulse the Court" but the constabulary NEVER laugh

In the majority of the images in the British press which depict incidents in the west of Ireland, the landlords, constabulary, and the military all look like intelligent people and the peasants look like they are more animal than human. This tendency to portray the Irish with apelike features was also prominent in the American press. It clearly comes from an extremely prejudiced point of view.


"THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND- CAPTAIN BOYCOTT AND HIS FAMILY GETTING IN THEIR HARVEST BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF THE TROOPS"

Harper's Weekly, December 18, 1880

Notice the difference between the clothes of Captain Boycott's family and the clothes of the Irish peasant as seen in other pictures.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck


To read the story that accompanied this print, go to Captain Boycott now or at the bottom of the page


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"DEPARTURE OF THE BOYCOTT RELIEF VOLUNTEERS FROM LOUGH MASK HOUSE, MAYO "

ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS December 4, 1880


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"MARCH OF BOYCOTT RELIEF VOLUNTEERS FROM LOUGH MASK TO BALLINROBE"

ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS December 4, 1880


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"THE IRISH LAND LEAGUE AGITATION; CAPTAIN BOYCOTT ON THE ROAD TO CLAREMORRIS RAILWAY STATION"

The paper and date were cut from the print.


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"THE LAND AGITATION IN IRELAND - DRIVING CAPTAIN BOYCOTT'S CATTLE FROM LOUGH MASK TO CLAREMORRIS

The Graphic December 4, 1880


The End of Boycott in Ballinrobe

The Illustrated London News December 4, 1880:

"A band of fifty volunteers from the counties of Cavan, Fermanagh, and Monaghan, came to Lough Mask , as we have related to perform this work gratuitously for Captain Boycott. The government send a large military force to protect them, as well as to protect the gentleman and his family, and a regular encampment was formed in his grounds. The party of Ulstermen, mostly sons of farmers, under the leadership of Captain Somerset Maxwell, and the soldiers, hassars, infantry, and sappers, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel W. L. Twentymen, 19th Hassars, have borne many days of fatigue, worry, and exposure to bitter wintery weather, in an exemplary spirit. No attempt has been made to molest them; and the work of reaping and digging the various crops, and of threshing the corn has duly finished. On Saturday last, at two in the afternoon, the camp was broken up; and the Ulster party, taking leave of by Captain and Mrs. Boycott , marched to Ballinrobe. Our Special Artist furnishes two or three Sketches of the scenes of their departure, and of the subsequent journey of Captain Boycott and his family, with the military escort, who started early on Saturday morning for Claremorris. They were in a covered ambulance cart, and Captain Boycott carried a favorite parrot in a cage. Captain Boycott and his family proceeded to Dublin by railway, the infantry of the escort going on the Curragh Camp."
(Rest of article missing)

"Peace: A Sketch At Ballinrobe After The Departure Of The Troops"

"The Joke Of The Campaign; "Don't Hurt The English Army"

Note: Based on other images the man in the top hat was most likely Fr. John O'Malley of the Neale.

The Graphic, December 11, 1880. Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck


The Graphic, December 11, 1880. Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Farewell to Lough Mask".


CAPTAIN BOYCOTT'S CROP Harpers Weekly, December 18, 1880

"Lough Mask Farm, which is likely to become a famous place in the history of Ireland, is situated in the county of Cannaught, almost in the centre of the district know as the "nursery of the Land League," the first meeting of that organization having been held at Balla, a village near Castlebar. Captain BOYCOTT, besides managing his own farm, has been for some years agent to Lord ERNE, who, it is said, bears an excellent reputation as a landlord. Captain BOYCOTT himself is spoken of by some as a kindly hearted man, who not only never did any one any harm, but had done all he possible could for the benefit of the tenants; on the other hand, it is alleged that he is eccentric and domineering, and that he has subjected the tenants and laborers to a series of petty deprivations and humiliations which have exasperated them without benefiting the landlord. Be that as it may, the attempt to serve a number of ejectments in September last led the tenants to appeal to Lord ERNE to dismiss him. His lordship refused, and from that day Captain BOYCOTT became a marked man. No labourer dared to work for him, no tradesman to serve him with goods. He was isolated by order of the Land Leaguers, and was compelled to accept the service of constabulary to protect the lives of himself and family. His case is a typical one, and for some time attracted little attention, although he and his wife and daughters were left to get in the crops as best they could.

A newspaper correspondent first started the idea of sending assistance to Captain BOYCOTT. He soon flooded the correspondence offering every kind of co-operation, and one person alone promised to get together 30,000 volunteers. Mr FORESTER, Chief Secretary for Ireland, at once vetoed the project of an armed invasion, at the some time offering to afford military protection to whatever number of men were required for the bona fide purpose of saving the crops. It was accordingly decided to pick out some fifty or sixty from the great number of Cavan and Monaghan men who were anxious to go. Under military protection these men harvested Captain BOYCOTT'S crops, and then returned to their own homes. The cost of this singular expedition was about ten thousand pounds, while the value of the harvest gathered did not, it is said, exceed five hundred pounds. Captain BOYCOTT and his family have since left Ireland. The people of the country were very much incensed by his success in getting his crops gathered, and, although his family was treated with respect, he was hooted and cursed wherever he appeared.


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