Call at Ennis for Agrarian Militancy

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Call at Ennis for Agrarian Militancy

19 September 1880

Charles Stewart Parnell

Boycotting, of course, was not invented by the Land League, but the League did bring boycotting to bear on the land question in innovative ways and on an unprecedented scale. The word entered the language through the name of Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott, the agent of Lord Erne's estate in County Mayo, who was targeted beginning on 24 September 1880. This was less than a week after Charles Stewart Parnell had advocated such ostracism in a speech at Ennis. On the whole, boycotting was employed to discipline recalcitrant tenant farmers more often than offending landlords or agents.

SEE ALSO Land War of 1879 to 1882; Parnell, Charles Stewart

. . . Depend upon it that the measure of the land bill of next session will be the measure of your activity and energy this winter (cheers)—it will be the measure of your determination not to pay unjust rents—it will be the measure of your determination to keep a firm grip of your homesteads (cheers). It will be the measure of your determination not to bid for farms from which others have been evicted, and to use the strong force of public opinion to deter any unjust men amongst yourselves—and there are many such—from bidding for such farms (hear, hear). If you refuse to pay unjust rents, if you refuse to take farms from which others have been evicted, the land question must be settled, and settled in a way that will be satisfactory to you. It depends therefore upon yourselves, and not upon any commission or any government. When you have made this question ripe for settlement, then and not till then will it be settled (cheers). It is very nearly ripe already in many parts of Ireland. It is ripe in Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo, and portions of the County Cork (cheers). But I regret to say that the tenant farmers of the County Clare have been backward in organisation up to the present time. You must take and band yourselves together in Land Leagues. Every town and village must have its own branch. You must know the circumstances of the holdings and of the tenures of the district over which the League has jurisdiction—you must see that the principles of the Land League are inculcated, and when you have done this in Clare, then Clare will take her rank with the other active counties, and you will be included in the next land bill brought forward by the government (cheers). Now, what are you to do to a tenant who bids for a farm from which another has been evicted?

Several voices: "Shoot him."

Mr. Parnell: I think I heard somebody say shoot him (cheers). I wish to point out to you a very much better way—a more Christian and charitable way which will give the lost man an opportunity of repenting (laughter, and hear). When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him—you must shun him in the streets of the town—you must shun him in the shop—you must shun him in the fairgreen and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him into a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old—you must show him your detestation of the crime he has committed. If you do this, you may depend on it, there will be no man so full of avarice—so lost to shame—as to dare the public opinion of all the right-thinking men in the county and transgress your unwritten code of laws. People are very much engaged at present in discussing the way in which the land question is to be settled, just the same as when a few years ago Irishmen were at each other's throats as to the sort of parliament we would have if we got one. I am always thinking it is better first to catch your hare before you decide how you are going to cook him (laughter). I would strongly recommend public men not to waste their breath too much in discussing how the land question is to be settled, but rather to help and encourage the people in making it, as I said just now, ripe for settlement (applause). When it is ripe for settlement, you will probably have your choice as to how it shall be settled, and I said a year ago that the land question would never be settled until the Irish landlords were just as anxious to have it settled as the Irish tenants (cheers).

A voice: "They soon will be."

Mr. Parnell: There are indeed so many ways in which it may be settled that it is almost superfluous to discuss them; but I stand here today to express my opinion that no settlement can be satisfactory or permanent which does not ensure the uprooting of that system of landlordism which has brought the country three times in a century to famine. The feudal system of land tenure has been tried in almost every European country and it has been found wanting everywhere; but nowhere has it brought more exile, produced more suffering, crime, and destitution than in Ireland (cheers). It was abolished in Prussia by transferring the land from the landlords to the occupying tenants. The landlords were given government paper as compensation. Let the English government give the landlords their paper tomorrow as compensation (laughter). We want no money—not a single penny of money would be necessary. Why, if they gave the Irish landlords—the bad section of them—the four or five millions a year that they spend on the police and military (groans) in helping them to collect their rents, that would be a solution of it (cheers), and a very cheap solution of it. But perhaps as with other reforms, they will try a little patchwork and tinkering for a while until they learn better (hear, hear). Well, let them patch and tinker if they wish. In my opinion the longer the landlords wait, the worse the settlement they will get (cheers). Now is the time for them to settle before the people learn the power of combination. We have been accused of preaching communistic doctrines when we told the people not to pay an unjust rent, and the following out of that advice in a few of the Irish counties had shown the English government the necessity for a radical alteration in the land laws. But how would they like it if we told the people some day or other not to pay any rent until this question is settled (cheers). We have not told them that yet, and I suppose it may never be necessary for us to speak in that way (hear). I suppose the question will be settled peaceably, fairly, and justly to all parties (hear, hear). If it should not be settled, we cannot continue to allow this [millstone] to hang round the neck of our country, throttling its industry and preventing its progress (cheers). It will be for the consideration of wiser heads than mine whether, if the landlords continue obdurate and refuse all just concessions, we shall not be obliged to tell the people of Ireland to strike against rent until this question has been settled (cheers). And if the five hundred thousand tenant farmers of Ireland struck against the ten thousand landlords, I would like to see where they would get police and soldiers enough to make them pay (loud cheers).

Freeman's Journal, 20 September 1880.