History: Captain Boycott, The Story of the Land League 

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Mayo Index


File contributed by:  Mary Heaphy

Captain Boycott, The Story of the Land League Revolution

"The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland or The Story of the Land 
League Revolution." Michael Davitt. 1904.

Father John O'Malley P.P., of The Neale, County Mayo was the 
chief organizer of the struggle that brought Captain Boycott 
to his knees, and which won a noted victory for the Land 
League. He was the parish priest of a small village called 
The Neale, between Ballinrobe and Cong, in the County Mayo, 
and deservedly enjoyed great popularity for his kindly 
nature, his devotion to the poor, and jovial disposition. No 
good cause could fail in winning his whole-hearted advocacy, 
while he was one with the people in all their trials and 
hopes, a loyal counsellor and a faithful friend.

Captain Boycott, an Englishman, resided at Lough Mask House 
as agent for Lord Erne, a landlord who owned some of the 
land over which Father John's parish extended. The captain 
had been Lord Erne's land agent for some fifteen years, and 
was considered a domineering individual very exacting in his 
dealings with tenants and workers, and devoid of all 
sympathy towards the people generally. He farmed a 
considerable quantity of land on the estate managed by him, 
and employed a number of laborers in sowing and in harvest 
time. With these the captain had a dispute about wages in 
the summer months, and discovering also that they had 
changed in their manner were more independent and less 
obsequious, owing, of course, to the "demoralizing" Land 
League they were dismissed. This began the conflict be- 
tween him and the surrounding community. No other laborers 
would be allowed to work for him. The league and Father John 
secured this.

It was now the Captain's turn to strike back. He was a 
courageous and resourceful man, and fought his corner with 
the true spirit of a plucky Englishman. He resolved, as a 
land agent, to hit back at those who had interfered with his 
workmen. He did this by refusing to listen to demands for 
abatement of rents when the tenants, following the general 
example, put before him the claims for concession based upon 
the previous bad seasons. The rents must be paid when due or 
out the tenants should go. To this stand an equally reso- 
lute reply was made without a reduction in the rent, nothing 
at all should be paid. And thus the issue was knit.

Processes of ejectment were obtained in due course from the 
court, but no one could be got to serve them. The law was 
made powerless where agents could not be got to execute its 
decrees. The league now became the aggressor. It carried the 
war into the captain's own country. The local black- smith 
refused to shoe any of his horses the herds who looked after 
his cattle left him; the baker in the nearest town refused 
to serve Lough Mask House with bread; the postman most 
reluctantly delivered his letters, and, finally, all his 
domestic servants declared they could no longer stay "the 
people were ag'inst it." To make matters worse, his root and 
other crops were ripe for gathering. The harvest had been 
plentiful, but there were no hands to reap it. Not a soul in 
the county could be got for love or money to do an hour's 
work for the man who had undertaken the big job of fighting 
the Land League. Hemmed in on all sides, protected by police 
day and night, in his walks and in his home (though not a 
soul dreamed of doing him any physical harm), the resolute 
old man wrote to the London press depicting his position and 
representing himself as being in the midst of a community of 
Irish rebels, a besieged, injured, and insulted Englishman.

England resounded with cries of indignation. Gentle ladies 
of the Boycott household were represented in the picture 
papers of London as working in the garden under the protec- 
tion of armed police, while stories of visits paid to the 
neigh- boring cottages those of the tenants on the estate by 
these educated ladies, seeking in vain for household help, 
went the round of the British press, and created intense 
feeling against the "barbarous" Irish who had taken leave of 
their humanity under the vile teachings of the Land League. 
The government was denounced for not grappling with these 
"local tyrants," while students in English colleges sent 
messages of sympathy and of encouragement to Lough Mask 
House. But Captain Boycott, the land agent of the landlord, 
the Earl of Erne, and the former "master" of the tenants 
under his power, was reduced to a condition of absolute 
helplessness by the combination of the very people who had 
trembled before him and had dreaded his very frown only two 
short years before. And yet they only left him severely 

At last outside help was forthcoming. Orange laborers in 
Ulster were organized to rescue the captain's crops before 
the December frosts should destroy them in the ground. Fifty 
of these volunteers, under the lead of a Mr. Goddard, were 
to proceed to Lough Mask farm under a powerful escort of 
sol- diers. It was to be an invasion of the league 
territory. An armed force was to save the land agent's 
potatoes from the perils of the approaching winter.

The fifty volunteer Orange laborers from Ulster were es- 
corted by a force of two thousand troops to Claremorris, in 
Mayo, where the railway journey ended, and the tramp to 
Lough Mask House, over a distance of fifteen miles, was to 
begin. The league resorted to wise tactics under this direct 
provocation to disorder. A manifesto was issued calling on 
the people of Mayo to follow the same course adopted towards 
Captain Boycott to let the Orangemen and soldiers severely 
alone. They were not to be hooted or molested or supplied 
with anything. Cars were not to be let or lent for their 
use, nor food of any kind to be given or sold to them. They 
were to be looked at and laughed at; that was all. This 
advice was implicitly obeyed. "The Lough Mask Expedition," 
as it was called, was left to the tender mercies of a 
Connaught rainy season, and never in all the climatic 
records of that prov- ince did the Celtic Pluvius indulge 
more copiously in a pitiless downpour than during "the 
famous diggin' of Boycott's pray- ties," as the delighted 
peasantry named the costly and ridicu- lous proceeding.

The troops and the Orangemen reached their destination 
drenched to the skin. Their welcome was not of the most 
hospitable kind, even at the hands of the man whom they had 
come to relieve and support. They encamped upon his grounds 
in tents. Soldiers have a habit of "looking round" when on 
expeditions, and it was soon discovered in foraging searches 
that chickens, ducks, geese, young pigs, and many other 
things tempting to a Tommy Atkins appetite were to be found 
in abundance in the captain's well-stocked yards. It soon 
became a question to him of being saved from his friends, 
when he saw his lawns trampled over, his ornamental grounds 
spoiled, and the military helping themselves to anything and 
everything which could militate to some extent against their 
doubly cold reception and the sufferings inflicted upon them 
by the continuous rains, not omitting the public laughter 
which the whole business and meaning of the expedition meant 
to them.

Some £350 worth of potatoes and other crops were event- 
ually harvested by the "volunteers" during their stay at 
Lough Mask. This was the captain's own estimate of their 
value, and according to calculations made at the time it 
cost the sum of £3500 to the state and to the supporters of 
the expedition to have Boycott's potatoes dug.

On the day when the soldiers and their Orange charges were 
to leave Lough Mask Father John O'Malley was astir early. He 
visited the houses past which the troops were to march and 
he ordered the people to remain in-doors. The roads and the 
streets of the villages were to be deserted, while shops and 
business places in Ballinrobe were to be closed. These 
orders were loyally adhered to; Father John, with his portly 
form and his big, kindly face, and his umbrella carried 
across his shoulder, marching in advance of the military 
column to see that the way of retreat was quite clear. At 
one point of the route where the troops were halted Father 
John's eye de- tected a poor old woman leaning against a 
wall, intent on gaz- ing with all the curiosity of her sex 
at the military. Not an- other human being except soldiers 
and Orangemen was in sight. Father John advanced upon her, 
his umbrella held in a most threatening manner, exclaiming:

"Did I not warn you to let the British army alone? How dare 
you come out here to intimidate her Majesty's troops? For 
shame! Be off now, and if you dare to molest these two 
thousand heroes after their glorious campaign I'll make an 
example of you. Be off!" All this, in a loud voice, was 
heard by the potato warriors, while the jovial old soggarth, 
in mock wrath, shouldered his umbrella again and resumed his 
lead of the expedition until it disappeared beyond the 
boundary of his parish into the records of history and of