The Land League was founded in October of 1879 by Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell. It was mainly inspired by the desperation and poverty of tenant famers in Co. Mayo as seen by Davitt, and by his own childhood memories of the eviction of his family by a Mayo landlord.
The Land League is considered one of the most important movements in Irish history. It was very popular, because so many people were affected by eviction and high rents, and poverty was widespread. The aims of the Land League included the following:
The Land League achieved its aims in a variety of ways. These included the widespread use of civil disobedience, such as boycotting. Irish people brought the word 'boycott' into the English language. A landlord's agent in Co. Mayo called Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott refused to lower the rents of tenants who were facing hardship because of bad harvests. For this reason, the tenants refused to have any dealings with him.
Boycott had to hire men from Ulster to bring in the harvest on the estate, and he had 1,000 soldiers for protection. From then on, the word has been used to describe the shunning of people, organisations or countries that do not respect human rights. Boycotting was used widely in Ireland during the Land War.
The Land League also used parliamentary actions, such as 'obstructionism', which generally involved bringing the business of the British House of Commons at Westminster to a standstill through long, distracting speeches. This had been used to great effect previously, and often with great humour, by Irish nationalist politicians such as Joseph Biggar. Parnell followed their example, using the same tactic to highlight the land question.
The Land League achieved some success when a law was passed in 1881 granting some of its demands. However, its leaders did not think the law went far enough and were outspoken against it. They were imprisoned for criticising the government of the day.
In 1882, Parnell reached an agreement with the British Prime Minister, Gladstone, which secured his release from prison and granted some more rights to tenant farmers. This agreement was called the Kilmainham Treaty. Many within the Land League did not think the treaty granted enough rights. These people included Michael Davitt, and the Land League fell apart because of disagreements.
An organisation of women called the Ladies' Land League tried to continue with boycotts and other campaigns, and succeeded for a while. The Land War, however, eventually died down. Due to her opposition to the Kilmainham Treaty, Anna Parnell, leader of the Ladies' Land League and sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, never spoke to her brother again.