How the word Boycott materialised

THE story of the infamous boycott of 1880 surfaced again recently in the Neale/Lough Mask area when a historic boycott medal was brought back to the region by Gerry English

and his wife, Noeline Georgina Moore, when they visited the Captain Boycott Centre in The Neale.
Noeline's grandfather William, a publican by trade, was one of the 50 strong volunteers that came to Lough Mask from Monaghan/Cavan in 1880 in order to help with the harvesting of the crops. He died in 1904 at the age of 63 years.

Gerry and Noeline had in their possession the historic silver commemorative medal, which was presented to William Moore in early 1881 by the Orange Order to the men who took part in the Lough Mask House Relief Expedition. It is believed to be the only remaining inscribed medal from this expedition left in Ireland, the National Museum in Dublin has one without inscription.

The medal bore the following inscription: - Obverse side: the Imperial Crown and the words "In honour of the Loyal and Brave Ulstermen"; - Reverse: "The Boycott Expedition. Lough Mask 1880."
Space was left on this side for the name of each recipient. In this case the medal was inscribed with William Moore's name. The Neale Heritage and Development Association are extremely grateful to Gerry and Noeline for their visit and a verbal commitment to donate the historic medal to the proposed community resource centre at the Neale has been given. This will be a wonderful asset to the new centre.

The ribbon is orange with two green stripes which indicates that the medal is connected with agriculture. It was designed by a professional medalist named John Woodhouse Jnr and struck by West & Co of Belfast.

Seventy one medals were struck and awarded to the officers of the expedition (3) the County Monaghan party (32) the county Cavan party (25) individuals from Dublin (7) Special awards (3) which went to the Earl of Enniskilling The Royal Irish Academy and The Belfast Newsletter. One was awarded to the British Museum for historical purposes. Charles Boycott was not awarded a medal. Boycott medals have not been common on the open market.

The Story of the Expedition
Charles Boycott found himself in real difficulties when the first 'boycott' begun. It was as hard, then, to run a farm without labour as it would be difficult today to run one without tractors. Nonetheless the demands of the farm waited for no one. Charles had started harvesting. He had 300 sheep and perhaps fifty steers (attending to sheep in those days was no sinecure; foot-rot was common).

What had been a well ordered private house and farm had been turned into a muddy, and disordered, public establishment. Everyone still living in Lough Mask House was required, suddenly, to adopt a new, and most unexpected, lifestyle.

By the end of the first week in November a 'Boycott Relief Expedition' from Ulster had been, more or less decided upon. Charles, it is believed, did his best to stop this from happening, he needed no more than about twelve men to finish his harvest). Tension began, slowly to mount; plans to transfer additional soldiers to Ballinrobe were made; troops began to patrol the roads leading to Charles house; the telegraph between Ballinrobe and Dublin was kept, permanently, open, additional magistrates were drafted into the Ballinrobe area.

On 9th November further military reinforcements, from Dublin and The Curragh proceeded west to Ballinrobe; and, by the following day, about 900 soldiers (from different arms of the services) and a small 'army' of war and newspaper correspondents had arrived, Ballinrobe was seething with excitement! Could it, conceivably be true that an armed body of Ulstermen was on its way to help Charles 'get in his turnips'?

On 10th November the 'Boycott Expedition' was reported as being ready to leave Ulster. Whilst Charles had succeeded in 'saving' a large part of his grain crop he still needed to complete his harvest. The rumour that he was about to play host to a number of Ulstermen filled him with justified - trepidation; even the R.I.C, billeted on his land, were prevented from buying food in Ballinrobe. But, and despite his mounting difficulties, Charles remained defiant.

On the same day, in Ulster, the fifty volunteers from counties Monaghan and Cavan showed themselves to be 'stout and respectable' - and cheerful young men (whatever anyone else might call them!). they had been told that they were going to County Mayo to save the crops of a brave and courageous English gentleman.

On 11th November the two separate county parties merged under the command of Mr Manning, Mr Goddard (a solicitor) and Captain Somerset Maxwell who was then aged seventy-seven. Whilst waiting on Athlone station the volunteers were issued with revolvers but told to conceal them
The Dublin Daily Express donated food and supplies. The party travelled on to Claremorris by a scheduled train.

At Claremorris station the volunteers found themselves facing a substantial reception party. This consisted of one Field Officer and twenty other ranks from the 1st Dragoons, 150 officers and men of the 76th Regiment, two troops of the l9th Hussars, ColoneI Bruce and a number of Royal Irish Constables, several Resident Magistrates, an ambulance wagon under the command of Surgeon Major Reynolds and a large group of war and newspaper reporters.

Not surprisingly the Freemen's Journal remarked that they had never seen 'a sorrier or more wretched crew than the volunteers' whilst the 'loyalist press' described a group of 'fine young men' making 'a brave show of indifference.'

From Claremorris to Ballinrobe
At about 4.30pm - it was November and darkness was fast coming on - the marching party set off on their fourteen-mile march to Ballinrobe. Heavy rain is said to have fallen 'continuously.' For a reason now obscure the escort of 150 men of the 76th Regiment were relieved, at Hollymount, by a similar number from the 84th Regiment. Several delays occurred, it was not until nearly five hours had elapsed that the by now wet and weary volunteers reached Ballinrobe.

On the following day (12th November) the weather had improved. The military column smaller than on the previous day - reformed itself and marched on, for a further three miles, to Lough Mask House where it was received by Charles and Assheton Weekes, both of whom were armed. Not many people watched; most of those who did were women.

That evening Charles gave a dinner party for those army officers, volunteer officers and magistrates who intended to spend the night at or near, Lough Mask House. The volunteers make themselves as comfortable as circumstances allowed, everyone found a tent.

The expeditions first night in Lough Mask House is believed to have been very wet. The process of turning Charles's tidy paths and well-kept lawns into an appaling- quagmire had begun.

On 12th November there were about 900 soldiers in and around Lough Mask House and Ballinrobe and about 7,000 in the west of Ireland. Charles continued, resolutely, to defy the Land League. The eyes of the world were, by now, focused upon events in Lough Mask House.

On Saturday 13th November the task of 'saving Charles's crops' began- this meant the lifting of eight acres of turnips, seven acres of mangolds, two acres of potatoes and the threshing of twenty acres of already cut corn. The Royal Engineers 'scooped out' a cooking trench upon which the volunteer cooks placed gigantic pots of potatoes.

Three or four members of the party started on the threshing, using Charles's 'modern' - but still very small - hand-thresher; the remainder, accompanied by their officers and escorted by police and a patrol of the l9th Hussars, marched out to Charles's fields.

That night the Monaghan men returned soaking wet and refused to sleep in their tents, but seemed happier when moved into a hayloft. A rumour reached the camp that it was to be attacked that evening; sentries were doubled, a password given out and extra soldiers from the 84th moved up but nothing untoward happened.

The Ulstermen had only a limited objective. When they had secured Charles's crops, and threshed his corn, the only thing remaining to them was to return home. In the meanwhile the eyes and ears of the western world including American eyes and ears - remained glued upon Lough Mask and his exciting affairs.

On the next day Father John O'Malley of The Neale began to react to the apparent success of the Ulstermen. He proposed that a delegation of Lough Mask House and farm employees, led by himself, should go north to meet Lord Erne. On 20th November Michael Davitt returned to Ireland from the U.S.A.- too late to take any part in the 'Boycott affair' but not too late to emphasise to his many friends in Ireland the depth of American support for Ireland.

By about the same date it seemed unlikely that any surprising incident would upset the steady flow of events round Lough Mask House. The Ulstermen were working well. Such of Charles's crops as could be sold were fetching good prices. Somerset Maxwell had abandoned the boathouse and was staying with Lord and Lady Ardilaun near Cong. A professional photographer named Wynne had taken some excellent photographs of the 'camp' and its occupants.

Auld Lang Syne
By Friday 26th November the Ulster Volunteers had finished their work. That night everyone was kept awake by another tremendous storm which, finally, completed the ruin of Charles's well-trampled park and his lawns and paths. On the following day (27th November) conditions were better and everyone set about striking camp with a will.

At about 2pm the volunteers accompanied by their officers some soldiers, the press and several newspaper artists assembled outside Charles's front door. Somerset Maxwell read out a courteous letter from Charles in which he thanked everyone for their help and expressed the sadness he felt at being obliged 'to quit, with my wife, a happy home where we had hoped to have spent the remainder of our days.'

A great cheer went up when Charles walked down his front door steps and shook hands with everyone. A Regimentals cook borrowed a scabbard and beat the time whilst the assembled company sang 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'For They are Jolly Good Fellows'.

Not many local people watched the departure to Ballinrobe of 'the queerest menagerie that ever came to Connaught', but Father O'Malley was one. He found himself entangled with an old lady. 'Did I not warn you' he said, 'to let the British Army alone? How dare you come to intimidate those two thousand heroes after their glorious campaign? I'll make an example of you. Be off!'

It was still dark when the volunteers and soldiers marched away from Ballinrobe to catch their trains. Charles and Annie accompanied by a dog, a parrot and a few suitcases - left Lough Mask House early on the same day in an ambulance wagon (drawn, it is believed by four grey mules) and escorted by a troop of the 19th Hussars.

As Charles caught up, and passed through, the Ulster Volunteers he took off his hat to them; they had done their duty. Atter Charles left Lough Mask House at the end of November 1880 'boycotting' became both widespread, and notorious, in Ireland.

To 'boycott' was legal in as much as it could not be proceeded against under the law because no offence, known to the law, had been committed. This was its strength. It soon became a most unpleasant, much feared and widely used social weapon in Ireland; and, before long, in the world. It was, almost always, used against individuals or against small family groups.

Parnell and the Land League won 'their war' against Charles without much real difficulty and in a, more or less, gentlemanly way. But, after Christmas 1880, gentility came to an abrupt end 'boycotting' became a terrifying, and often long lasting, punishment for an offence which no judge or jury had even considered let alone ruled upon.

Before Charles 'invented' boycotting the verb 'to ostracise' (first used in 1588) meant one of two things, it could mean 'a temporary banishment by which a too popular, or too powerful, citizen was sent into exile' or it might mean, banishment by general consent- exclusion from society favour or common privileges'.

'To send to Coventry' meant 'to exclude a person from the society of which he is a member on account of objectionable conduct; to refuse to associate, or have intercourse, with him'. Neither of these well tried sanctions fitted the new requirement- neither 'ostracism' nor 'sending to Coventry' exacted sufficient penalty.

In May 1882 Gladstone defined , 'boycotting'. 'What is meant by boycotting? In the first place, it is combined intimidation. In the second place it is combined intimidation made use of for the purpose of destroying the private liberties of choice by fear of ruin and starvation. In the third place that being what "boycotting" is in itself, we must look to this; that the creed of "boycotting", like every other creed, requires a sanction and that the sanction of boycotting - that which stands in the rear of "boycotting" and by which alone "boycotting' can in the long run be made thoroughly effective - is the murder which is not to be denounced.'

As the years passed, and acts of 'boycotting' multiplied all over the world, it was realised that even Gladstone had not succeeded in hitting the 'boycott' nail precisely, on the head. The Oxford English Dictionary now defines the word as follows: 'To continue in refusing to hold relations of any kind with (a neighbour) on account of political or other differences, so as either to punish him or coerce him into abandoning his position. The word was first used to describe the action instituted by the Irish Land League towards those who incurred its hostility.'

* Note: Dermot Keane is principal of The Neale National School and has been actively involved in encouraging the chronicling of the history of the region over the years.
- Courtesy of Dermot Keaneand The Western People