Cartoon by Charles Cunningham Boycott - Public domain

Charles Cunningham Boycott

Cartoon by Charles Cunningham Boycott - Public domain

Who could suspect that the term “Boycott” is derived from a social episode in Ireland? Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897), English steward (former soldier of His Majesty) in Ireland of the Earl of Erne, fell victim to a mass movement of a whole rural population in 1879 which applied the principle that would later bear his name: the cessation of all personal, economic and professional relations.

Biography of Charles Cunningham Boycott

The “Boycott” Episode

The Great Famine - Public Domain

The Great Famine – Public Domain

Autumn 1880. County Mayo.
Charles Cunningham Boycott, a wealthy Englishman living on Irish soil, rents many houses to the local population. The dramatic context of the time (Ireland was in the midst of the Great Famine, with its population dying every day, plunged into poverty, disease and hunger), prompted his tenants to ask him for a favour: to lower the cost of their rent, so as to better enable them to subsist.

After reflection, the owner calls his tenants and gives them his answer: a firm and final no. The landlord refuses to lower the rents of his tenants because he considers that he is aggrieved in the present case.

Very quickly, the tenants, who were very numerous, decided to get together and improvise a quarantine of the Britishman. Their idea was simple: to cut Charles Cunningham Boycott off from all economic and social relations with the rest of the population. Refusing to sell him anything, refusing to talk to him, refusing to approach him… etc. The “boycott” as we know it was then born. (The term thus comes from the name of its first victim).

It was Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant lawyer and young Meath MP at the head of the Home Rule League, a political movement calling for land reform, who encouraged this form of struggle. This repressive system then spread throughout Ireland. Landowners who were evicted found themselves overnight, without servants, without couriers, banned from shops etc..

Through the media of the time its name became synonymous with this kind of action and has crossed continents and ages. Even today, boycott is a technique used in many countries…