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By the end of the nineteenth century one of the central issues in Irish politics was land ownership. By this time is was apparent to many people that the way in which Irish land as owned, rented out, and inherited had contributed to the impact of the famines. At this time, almost all of the land in Ireland was owned by just 0.2% of the population and the 750 richest landlords owned half of the country. The key question facing politicians was what to do about it.

As politicians began their debates, another series of bad harvests swept across the island. Many landlords, afraid that their tenants would be unable to pay their rents, began the process of evicting tenants from the land. In response to these eviction, the Irish National Land League emerged in 1879 to fight for the rights of the small tenant farmers.  

The League wanted three things: First, it asked for rent in line with the actual market value of the land: not the inflated rents set by the landlords. Second, the League wanted rent agreements which provided a fixed tenure by clearly stating how long the tenants could stay on the land. Third, the League asked that the tenants be given a say when the land was sold. The League’s demands were called the 3-Fs (fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale).

In general the National Land League wanted to get Irish land into the hands of the small Irish farmers. It wanted to get land away from absentee landlords who had little interest in the welfare of their tenants.

The struggle for land in Ireland was often present in religious terms. Britain, a Protestant country, was trying to control Ireland whose residents were predominantly Catholic. The Catholic Church supported the campaigns for land reform.

The National Land League attacked the landlords who charged unfair rents, treated their tenants badly, and evicted their tenants. At times, these attacks were physical in which landlords and their families were beaten.

In 1880, the National Land League also developed an interesting and novel approach to dealing with some of the landlords. Captain Charles Boycott of Lough Mask House, County Mayo, was the land agent for one of the bad landlords, Lord Erne (John Crichton, the third Earl of Erne). The idea for dealing with Captain Boycott was a simple one: the people would stop doing business with him or socializing with him. Farmers stopped working for him and the entire community was encouraged to ostracize him. Shops in the nearby community of Ballinrobe stopped serving him. All of Boycott’s servants and laborers were persuaded to quit.  From this land reform movement the English language acquired the word “boycott.”

 photo 384px-Charles_Cunningham_Boycott_Vanity_Fair_zpsf4a7b794.jpg

A caricature of Captain Boycott is shown above.  

In response to the boycott against Captain Boycott, 50 Orangemen (Protestants) from County Cavan and County Monaghan travelled to Lord Erne’s estates to harvest the crops. A regiment of troops and the Royal Irish Constabulary were deployed to protect the harvesters. It has been estimated that the British government spent at least £10,000 to harvest about £500 worth of crops. The British viewed the boycott as victimizing a servant of a peer of the realm. After the crops were harvested, Boycott and his family left Lough Mask House in an army ambulance (no driver could be found for a carriage) and they returned to England.

The boycott organized by the National Land League extended to those who had taken on the land from which the tenant farmers had been evicted. Overall, the boycott proved to be an effective tool for social and political change. The boycott strengthened the power of the peasants and at the end of 1880 there was boycotting throughout Ireland. In 1881 the Irish Land Law Act was passed and the Irish Land Commission was established to fix rents and guarantee fixity of tenure.

With regard to the etymology of “boycott”, it entered the English language quickly and appeared in print before the concept of the boycott was widely known outside of County Mayo. In 1888, the word was included in the A New English Dictionary of Historical Principles (later known as the Oxford English Dictionary). Other languages, such as Dutch, French, German, Polish, and Russian borrowed the word from English.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 08:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent in every respect. nt (9+ / 0-)

    Dick Cheney 2/14/10: "I was a big supporter of waterboarding"

    by Bob Love on Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 08:28:16 AM PDT

  •  I always learn something from your posts. (9+ / 0-)

    "Boycotting Captain Boycott."

    Ah, what fine poets and wordsmiths the Irish are.

    "Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, 
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless."

    by Snarky McAngus on Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 09:04:53 AM PDT

  •  Enough with half-measures (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, mettle fatigue, LinSea

    I'm becoming convinced that Georgism is the solution.

    None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. -Johann von Goethe

    by gjohnsit on Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 09:52:32 AM PDT

  •  Wonderful historical snapshot (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, mettle fatigue, LinSea

    Great example of effective direct action.

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 12:42:13 PM PDT

  •  We may want to note that american tenant farming (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    and share-cropping developed completely differently from the development in England, Scotland, Ireland, etc., even 'tho it operated with many similarities.

    Simplistically put and off the top of my head (because i'm not really capable of doing a sourced referenced diary, nevermind) Eng/Scot/Irish etc situation was an evolution from ancient feudal systems in which (theoretically, and in any case peasants were considered by nobles as an inferior species of human beings) a noble as good as owned all the land within the borders of his jurisdiction including the towns, forests, rivers, etc, and everything wild (deer, fish, birds) that by nature were there.  Everyone who lived/worked within a noble's borders was entitled (theoretically) to receive certain protections and supports from the noble in times of exigency, in exchange for the work they did all the time on his land and rivers, and in his villages and forests, etc.  Depending on the locale, peasants usually had the right to farm tiny expanses of land solely for themselves, usually right next to the mud their hovels stood on, and a share of what the noble's land produced by their work, for them to live on. Mostly they had no right to any wild animal/bird & limited rights to fish, and being caught in possession of a dead wild animal or bird could result in getting hanged.

    Depending on the locale there might also be land held in common by the entire village of farmers (the village commons aka village green), usually grazing land for cows, sheep, goats, ducks & geese that peasant children herded to & from the commons daily.  (Farmers didn't usually live isolated away on individual farms, because there weren't many individual farms until later; they lived in villages and walked to and from wherever the entire village's farmwork had progressed to, alongside other farmers from the village; foresters sometimes did live in forests because on-foot commute was unfeasible... so Robin Hood & his Merry band weren't 'camping out', btw, they were living as forest workers lived ... and as poachers lived, but that's another thing altogether).

    The evolution of that concept of peasants owing work in exchange for nobles owing protection and support resulted in those populations having certain culturally ingrained expectations from their "betters" that figured powerfully in the development of socialized-type safety-nets, which appear contrary to a monarchy-&-nobility-run system but are actually a progressive evolution of what the monarch & nobles owed to the people.   every time the nobles shifted into a more capitalist mode ——not a static class - nobles got executed or banished & 'commoners' or low-level peers got elevated to fill their shoes with every change in monarch that was disputed by local wars—— got laws passed making it legal for them to take ownership of land outright with no obligation to farmers & other local dwellers ——a situation often called "enclosure" in enclosing expanses of land off from the local people who had worked it for the noble & derived sustenance from it time out of mind——  there was a certain extent of rebellion & uprising, usually quickly quelled because except usually for bows&arrows (in england yew bows, hence yeoman) the peasants were legally not allowed to own or use any other weapons/arms which put them at a major and usually insurmountable tactical disadvantage.  Nobles were required to own arms, they are "armigerous" [sp?] and their coats of arms were originally the painting on the shields of themselves & their personal armies as identification in battle situations, be it battle for the monarch or among themselves in attempts to enlarge their holdings or defend against some neighboring noble trying to enlarge his. The practice of turning an army loose on a rioting populace protesting removal of their rights was the usual noble response, but in machievellian terms it gradually became more effective to target individual protest leaders, jail them, execute them, or fine them out of house & home, putting their entire family, "into the road" i.e., nowhere to live and no affiliation by which to earn a living, which in times of believing in heaven was more persuasive than the family keeping its hovel & job even if a couple of members of it got trampled or bludgeioned to death.

    In the american colonies (possibly australia as well), even 'tho massive tracts of land were routinely gifted by the monarch (under whose flag & coat of arms & at whose behest the exploring & killing off of the locals was generally done) to one noble or another to whom the crown owed a major favor (such as for supporting that individual monarch's right to the throne) and then to make profit off that gift the noble --having no pre-existing labor force there to grow crops or manufacture goods/tradecrafts-- might then sell all or some of it to someone else to form a propriety colony, i.e., a colony owned by formal purchase rather than a jurisdiction controlled via inheritance. This makes LEGAL instruments instead of ancient custom what decides what whose rights are there.

    The proprietor then sells off pieces of his purchase to whomever he can interest in buying it, again using legal instruments stating exactly what rights the sale gives to the buyer and what rights (such as governance) the proprietary colonist keeps. The new landowner then gets working people from, let's say, the mother country, by offering individual legal contracts such as an indenture contract by which the worker with no money to pay passage or bring trade tools by which to earn a living instead agrees legally to work for the landbuyer for howevermany years as payment for the cost of the ship voyage and for being given somewhere to live & food & some minimal clothing etc. This is another legal instrument that spells out the specific obligations of the landowner and the worker. Neither one of them has any hereditary obligations or expections - the document they both sign entire governs the relationship. Similarly, a landowner who wants craftspeople manufacturing particular goods for him (iron rims for his wagon wheels, iron shoes for the horses that pull it, cooking pots for his kitchen and for his indentured laborers, etc) might offer a contract in which the landowner pays the ship passage of the craftsperson's family & worktools & gives a piece of his land for the craftsperson's workshop & home in exchange for getting all those manufactured goods free of charge for some span of years, and the craftsperson during those years earns an actual living for the family by making & selling similar goods to other people equipped to purchase them.

    America was capitalist from the getgo. Early tenant farmers were likely to be farmers who'd come as indentured laborers, and after the indenture was finished they bcame employees to continue farming for the landowner in order to feed & house & clothe self & family while possibly trying to earn money in other ways in order for the laborer family to buy their own land to farm, or they rented a piece of land from that landowner or another one and hoped to make the rent on the proceeds of what they grew and save enough to buy their own farm.  

    No one had any moral or hereditary or customary obligations worth mention to anyone else in the contract. The advantages interested nobles back home to change laws in parliament (or whatever governing body) so as to curtail the traditional & customary rights of the working people at profit to the nobles and landowners. The often extravagant lifestyles of nobles had increasingly required them to sell off parcels of land here and there that the history of their family's marriages and services to the crown had brought into their family.  E.g., Henry8 dissolutes the abbeys, gifts some of them noble families supporting his inventing his own church named for his country with him at the head of it, and 3 centuries later you've got Downtown Abbey. (which required easily 10 times as many servants and laborers and tenant farmers to operate it as there are characters in the tv show, working from before the nobles ever get out of bed in the morning to long past when the nobles have hit the sack).  

    In the mother countries, some vestige of noblesse oblige continues to imply obligations to the workingpeople but it's shrinking constantly as landowners noble or not continue to find that you can always squeeze more profit out of working people so long as your political and legal power and how well you're ORGANIZED around it exceeds working people's political and legal power and organization.

    In the various colonies, the only legal obligations are what's spelled out on paper, and powerful people need only consult their own inclinations where moral obligations are concerned.  Having your land farmed by tenants who pay their rents in actual money or in share of crop is solely a business arrangement. Tenant farmers have no notion of ancient common rights to unify them against any one bad landlord or against all bad landlords. Occasional tenant farmers find a legal means to acquire their own land, such as agreeing to kill the native residents on behalf of the government & then occupying the land of the dead, sometimes they profit enough to acquire enough land that they then become large landowners themselves, and the myth of the rugged individualist american is born. There are no civil or human rights implicit in that myth. Basically, you kowtow to someone with major property & power, do his bidding, be grateful for the crumbs off his table, ride his coattails while he tramples around on groundlings not smart enough or strong enough to grab that fistful of filthy cloth & hang on tight, and eventually the owner of said coattails offers you a deal: risk your life & limb for his ambitions and in exchange he'll pay you by helping you with some ambitions of yours.

    It's never a good idea, 'tho, to allow too many people around who can develop serious ambitions due to seeing a possible way up & out of the mud. It's also not a good idea to have an excessive number of people at mud level whose combined power, if they were to get the idea of combining, might rival yours. Therefore, keep them divided by feeding them individual puny fantasies of ambitions that require clambering up over the backs of their fellows so they'll persist in beating each other down in trying to reach their individual goals. Manipulate the economy to present an appearance of very limited good so they'll know that only a few can enjoy it, and foster competition as the ultimate morality that they'll never recognize that the same hundred football teams battering each other for one championship could working together rescue everyone in a flooded town and rebuild it safer than it was before, and be heroes all instead of a few them idols.

    Please pardon that digression at the end there. Thank you for the obviously inspiring diary and the opportunity to contribute a perspective.

    •  future essays in this series (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mettle fatigue, RiveroftheWest

      will look at the Plantation in Ireland.

    •  Big tenants and so forth (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

      Not so simple.  The Irish land reform movements usually failed when the large tenants, some of whom had substantial investments, could not agree with the smaller or the landless.  Catholic Church was one of the largest landowners; they'd been boycotted first.

      From the Irish point of view, Boycott was an English scoundrel.

      Taking another side,  the tenants paid a fixed rent.  When times were good, they might make a profit.  When times were bad, trouble.  Hard to evaluate whether the lease was "fair" or not without knowing a lot of other details.

      Boycott was large tenant who basically agreed to do the evictions with a sheriff and a court order.  Because no one would do business with him and. according to him, they were regularly damaging or stealing his fences, tools and so forth, Boycott could not work his farm and lost it and his 6,000 investment.  

      Seems like the protesters went far easier on the Catholic Church  and Irish landownerlarge tenants than they did on the Englishman Boycott.  

      (I also wrote an DKOS article on Captain Boycott, about six months back--Since none mentioned my article but for me, do we have proof of the six month collective consciousness? :) )

      “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” ― Will Rogers (Of course this also applies to me.)

      by MugWumpBlues on Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 09:46:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Another great fact-filled comment, mf; thanks! n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
  •  thanks for this, very good and informed me about (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    things I had never heard of before.

    Well done!

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 10:49:42 AM PDT

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