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Captain Boycott

Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (March 12, 1832 — June 19, 1897) was a British land agent whose ostracism by his local community in Ireland as part of a campaign for agrarian tenants' rights in 1880 gave the English language the verb to boycott, meaning "to ostracise".

Charles Boycott was born in Norfolk in 1832. After service in the British Army 39th Foot, he came to Ireland to work as a land agent for Lord Erne (John Crichton, 3rd Earl Erne), the local landowner in the Lough Mask area of County Mayo. In 1880, as part of its campaign for the "Three Fs" (fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale) to protect tenants from exploitation, the Irish Land League under Michael Davitt withdrew the local labour required to save the harvest on Lord Erne's estate. When Boycott tried to undermine the campaign, the League launched a campaign of isolation against him in the local community. Neighbours would not talk to him. Shops would not serve him. Local labourers refused to tend his house, and the postman refused to deliver his mail. The campaign against the 'Boycott Relief Expedition' was orchestrated by Father John O'Malley, parish priest of Kilmolara (resident in the Neale), and it was he who suggested the term 'boycotting' as being easier for his parishioners to pronounce that 'ostracisation'.

The campaign against Boycott became a cause célèbre in the British press, with newspapers sending correspondents to the West of Ireland to highlight what they viewed as the victimisation of a servant of a peer of the realm by Irish nationalists. Fifty (50) Orangemen from County Cavan travelled to Lord Erne's estate to save the harvest, while a regiment of troops and over 1,000 men of the Royal Irish Constabulary were deployed to protect the harvesters. The entire episode was estimated to have cost the British government and others over £10,000 (R. F Foster, Modern Ireland) to harvest approximately £350 worth of potatoes, according to Captain Boycott's estimate of the harvest value.

Boycott left Ireland on December 1 of the same year. He died in 1897, aged 65. His name, however, became immortalised by the creation of the verb to boycott, meaning fundamentally "to ostracise". Boycott's story was portrayed in the 1947 film Captain Boycott.

The word Boycott is an excellent example of an eponym, a word based on a proper name, like wellington boots, garibaldi biscuits or the mackintosh.

 
   
 
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