the word Boycott materialised
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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