5 Things You Didn’t Know About Shillelagh Sticks

Posted March 8th, 2018 by Martin

Whether you are recovering from surgery that makes it difficult to walk, like knee or hip replacement, or if you simply want to give yourself the “look of the Irish,” a shillelagh can give you the look you want. The short walking cane gives you a jaunty, unique look that you can’t get from other types of canes and walking sticks. In addition, pairing the cane with fun hats for men can create a look that is yours alone. These five fun facts will give you more insight into the unique walking stick with a distinct Irish connection. 

How it Got Its Name

The shillelagh stick has been known by many names. In Gailic, it is called the bata, which translates to fighting stick. It is believed that it originated in the Shillelagh Forest of County Wicklow, a forest that was once famous for its massive oak trees. Because the oak was known as “Shillelagh oak,” the stick became known for the oak that was used to create it. At times, the knob on the end was filled with lead after being hollowed out. When this happened, the walking stick became known as a loaded stick. Some of the canes were made from blackthorn root which made it unnecessary to add lead as the knob would have been heavy on its own. To cure the stick, they were often buried in a manure pile or placed by a chimney after being spread with butter.

Badge of Honor

Carrying a shillelagh stick is more a badge of honor than a symbol of Ireland. The bark is left on the stick as a sign of toughness and there is often a metal piece on the opposite end of the knob. Irish boys were exposed to what they called the bata as part of their tradition and carrying one was a symbol you had passed into manhood. Fighting was very common at many events in Ireland and the walking stick was critical in some of these fights. 

Used in Sparring Practice

Young Irishmen used the stick in sparring practice in order to improve their skills. Young men were taught by their father’s how to hold the stick to his chest while a fencing master would teach the boy the finer skills necessary to fight with the stick. At some events, fights would include hundreds of men as well as women. In Troid de bata, the comatants used two sticks with one stick used as a shield and the other as a weapon. These fights were sometimes sporting events while others were simply friendly competitions.

NCOs of Fighting 69th Regiment

Shillelaghs are carried by the NCOs of the Fighting 69th regiment of the Army National Guard in the United States. For more than 150 years, the soldiers of the regiment have marched at the front of the St. Patrick’s Day parade that walks up Fifth Avenue in New York. In the parade, the regiment carries shillelaghs to indicate their rank and honor in the regiment.

Irish Marshal Arts

Recently, the practice of bataireacht, Irish stick fighting has become popular among martial artists. Many who practice the art do so to reinstate Irish family traditions, to bring history to life and to celebrate the Irish culture. In North America, the practice has been taught as a form of self-defense. Using a shillelagh, martial artists reconstruct the styles used in the past based on information found in manuals, historical newspapers accounts and other documents. Many of the styles have been passed down through families, including the “dance of the whiskey stick,” which is a style used by the Doyle family in Newfoundland.

A shillelagh can be considered as a collectors item or as a fashion accent, it's a unique way to set yourself apart from those using ordinary canes or other devices to assist in walking. The shillelagh stick is the best way to stand out among the crowd.

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