The Troubles of Captain Boycott, Part II: The Campaign

Boycotting, sanctioned by the fear of violence, was a dreadfully effective weapon; T.H. Corfe describes how its widespread use made Parnell the “Uncrowned King of Ireland.”

The troubles of Captain Boycott began with the grain harvest in July and August 1880. His labourers took the opportunity to go on strike, demanding from 9s. to 15s. a week instead of the customary 7s. to 11s. The Captain, who never shirked hard work, laboured gallantly in the fields with his family and remaining servants for a day or two before giving in with a bad grace to the men’s demands.

At the same time came the tenants’ request for rent reductions of 5s. in the pound; this, they maintained, was what most good landlords in the district were giving. Boycott consulted Lord Erne, who would offer only 2s. as in the previous year; his lordship himself wrote his tenants a firm warning “that was read by those who could read, and read to those who could not by the bailiff” on September 1st.

But the tenants in concert refused to pay the rent. Here the influence of that lively personality John O’Malley was at work. Father O’Malley, priest of the parish of Kilmolara in which the Lough Mask estate lay, lived at the little village of the Neale. He was a popular little man, jovial and hospitable to all; and he was an outspoken pillar of the Land League. He had frequently presided over its local meetings, calling vigorously for resistance to the landlords.

He suggested to a large gathering at nearby Clonbur that “without violating either the law of God or the law of the land, you can easily reduce the population of any parish to those who are willing to work heart and hand for the cause of the Irish Land League.” This he now proceeded to demonstrate in his own parish; and he launched his attack not on an insignificant land-grabber but directly against the representative of the hated landowners, the ultimate enemy.

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