On this day in history : 12th March 1832 – The birth of Charles Boycott, the English landowner hated so much in his Irish community that his name became the verb ‘to boycott’….

Caricature of Charles Boycott by Spy (Leslie Ward) Vanity Fair Magazine – Public domain

Charles Cunningham Boycott was born in Burgh St. Peter, Norfolk, to the Reverend William Boycott and his wife Georgina…. Boycott attended boarding school in Blackheath, London before joining the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich…. However, after failing an exam in 1849 he was discharged…. Boycott really wanted a military career – so his family bought him a commission in the 39th Foot regiment at the costly price of £450….

The regiment transferred to Ireland and it was here that he met and married Anne Dunne in 1852…. Following an illness he sold his army commission and decided to settle in Ireland, leasing a farm in County Tipperary….

He received a couple of inheritances which helped to ‘set him up’ – on the island of Achill, off the coast of County Mayo….

The former house of Charles Boycott on Achill island…. The house has since been modernised and renovated …. Image credit : Night of the Big Wind – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0nl

Then in 1873 he received an offer from Lord Eme to become agent for some 1,500 acres of land he owned…. Lord Eme was an extremely wealthy landowner in the area…. Boycott moved to Lough Mask House, around 4 miles from Ballinrobe, County Mayo and situated on a 629 acre farm which he leased from Lord Eme…. The farm came with a yard, stables, a ruined castle, two islands and a boat house…. He employed labourers to work his farm and collected rent, on which he received 10% commission, from the 35 tenant farmers on Lord Eme’s surrounding land….

Map of the area around Lough Mask CC BY 2.0

Boycott was unpopular with the tenant farmers…. Being English would not have gone in his favour – but the tenants also complained that he enforced petty rules and regulations…. He would fine anyone who left a gate open or allowed chickens to stray on to his farm…. He also withdrew certain privileges, such as collecting firewood….

In 1876 the UK government commissioned a survey in to land ownership in Ireland and found that most of the richest land owners were non-resident and hired agents like Boycott…. Tenant farmers usually had a one year lease but could be evicted at any time…. Farming being the main industry in Ireland at the time meant smaller farms often worked for the larger ones and those who did not own land invariably worked as agricultural labourers…. During the 1850s tenant farmers began forming associations, demanding fair rents, fixity of tenure and free sale – the three ‘F’s….

The problems for Boycott began in 1879…. After a downturn in Irish agriculture starvation was never far away…. The Irish Land League was formed, led by Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt, both advocates of Home Rule….

In 1880 they told Boycott his rents had to be reduced by 25% – but he was having none of it….. The Irish League encouraged his labourers and farmers to go on strike — and they began a campaign of isolation against him in the local community…… They refused to speak to him or even sit near him in Church…. Ultimately with no one to work his land for him his crop failed….. He had to leave the island in disgrace – and hence his name became the term for isolating someone or something in order to force change….

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