seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Charles Stewart Parnell’s Famous Speech at Ennis

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Charles Stewart Parnell delivers his famous speech at Ennis, County Clare, on September 19, 1880, in which he introduces the term for non-violent protest – boycotting.

Parnell is elected president of Michael Davitt‘s newly founded Irish National Land League in Dublin on October 21, 1879, signing a militant Land League address campaigning for land reform. During the summer of 1880, the Land League, goes into decline but its fortunes are transformed when the House of Lords rejects a moderate measure of land reform. The movement is transformed into a national movement as it spreads into Munster and Leinster. As the movement spreads, crime increases especially in the West. Parnell, who had been elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in May, is very worried about this violence and hopes that the Land League can deflect tenants away from the traditional violence associated with land agitation. He advocates a policy of “moral force” where tenants are to deny all social or commercial contact with anyone who is believed to oppose the aims of the League.

During his speech at Ennis, Parnell asks his audience, “What are you to do with a tenant who bids for a farm from which another has been evicted?” Several voices reply “Shoot him!” and “Kill him!” Parnell responds, “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. 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 on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.”

This type of “moral Coventry” is used in the cast of Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott, a County Mayo land agent, who is isolated by the local people until his nerve breaks. This leads to a new word entering into the English language – boycotting.

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