Blackthorn Shillelagh
Starting Point Antiques
Odds and and ends and special things you just might like to own.

 

       

       Blackthorn Shillelagh

 

 
Shillelagh Head - Full view
Full View 37inches Head tyo Tip Shamrock Mark with letters AMR
Side view of Head Metal Clad Tip - Ferris metal bottom seaction with Brass or Copper Sleeve
 
 

 

 
 

Blackthorn Shillelagh

 
Marked: 3/4" tall x 5/16" wide Hand Carved three-leafed Shamrock located 3" from top of head with capital block letters "A", "M" and "R" carved one letter per leaf. Carving filled with white paint or similar coloring agent.

Size: Overall Length: 37"; Head: 1-3/4" x 1-1/4" x 2-3/4" long; Conical-shaped Tip: 1" tall x 3/4" wide at top and 1/2" wide at bottom; 1/2" diameter x 1/8" thick ferris metal section at bottom-most part.

Weight: 8 ounces (nominal)

Price: $1,000.00 (or why not otherwise keep it).

 

Shillelagh was the name of an oak - forest in County Wicklow, hence a club made from an Oak was often called a 'Shillelagh'. These clubs served the purpose of walking sticks and were also used for sport or even as weapons for fighting. Today little children carry plastic Shillelaghs on this occasion.

The Bata, An Overview version 2.0
It has been said "A man without a blackthorn stick is a man without an expedient."

The Irish cudgel/cane which is known by many names, the most popular used by Anglo writers being Shillelagh, has come to symbolize Irish culture almost as much as the Shamrock. Often seen nowadays as a tourist favorite at airport giftshops. A quaint little twisted knobby stick complete with a green bow and a nifty painted shamrock can be found anywhere there may be a tourist looking for an Irish souvenier. This handy little item has very little to do with the oaken or blackthorn cudgel of the early 19th century and earlier.

The original shillelagh gets it name from it's point of origin, the Shillelagh forest near Arklow in county Wicklow. The Shillelagh forest was widely known throughout the British Isles as being one of the finest areas that oak could be obtained from. Unforntunately most of the Irish oak was exported to England for use in the manufacture of pipe stems a little comfort can be found in the knowledge that many of the most famous buildings of western europe were built with imported oak from Ireland, including Westminster Hall in England and the Stadthouse in Holland. When an English writer saw a cudgel made of oak the name Shillelagh first came to mind.

Various woods were used in the construction of the fighting stick or bata in Gaeilge. Oak and Blackthorn were the two most popular species as well as Ash and Holly. Sometimes the business end was hollowed out and filled with molten lead....this is known as a loaded stick. Blackthorn is a very strong and easy to find wood. The knob on the end of a blackthorn stick is the rootknob and packs one helluva whallop. The bark is left on for added toughness and often a metal ferrule is secured at the end opposite of the knob. To keep the wood from splitting during the drying process the Irishman would often bury the cudgel in a dung heap or smear with butter then place in the chimney to cure.

Folklorist Padraic Colum says the oaken cudgel should not be considered a symbol of Ireland but a badge of honor for those who carried it. From a young age Irish boys were exposed to the traditions of the bata, when they came of age to carry a stick it was as if the journey into manhood had taken place. A young man was taught by his father to hold the bata tightly so as not to be taken unaware at the fair. Many young Irishmen practiced with the stick regularly. Constant sparring was needed so as not to lose face at the fair or Pattern. Each faction had a trainer which they called the Maighistir Prionnsa or fencing master who taught the use of the bata.
While the stick was carried by the Irishman most everywhere he went, it was at the fair, wake or pattern that most of the fights broke out. To quote an Irishman at the funeral of his father in northern Leinster "Tis a sad day, when my father is put into the clay, and not even one blow struck at his funeral." This quote helps show the Irish view towards rowdyness at funerals and wakes in the early 1800's. The Factions were sure to be present at both wakes and fairs often roughing up a person who had refused to join them but more often fighting members of other factions over some insult real or imaginary or even just for the love of fighting.

A little about the Faction fights: Faction fighting was prevelent from the seventeenth cetcury up until the famine of the 1840's. Most often the factions were members of certain families or of political groups.

Some of the more infamous factions were named Shanvest, Caravats, The Three year Olds, The four Year Olds, Coffeys, Reaskawallaghs, Cooleens, Black Mulvihills, Bogboys, Tobbers. Sometimes the fights would consist of hundreds or even thousands of men and women. The weapon of choice was the Bata. Although other weapons were brought to the fights guns were rarely used (at least by the faction fighters...the police trying to control the riots are a different story all together) Women used rocks, often wrapped up in a sock at their weapon, leaving the stick play to the men. Even though the women were free to hurl stones at the men and to wallop them with their loaded socks it was considered a fould oplay to hit a woman with a stick. A large staff called a wattle was sometimes seen during the factionfights as well as the odd sword that had perhaps been in the family for years. Some fighters specialized in the use of two sticks. This was called the Troid de bata or two stick fight. The stick held in the off hand was used as a shield. THere are reports of people using a rocks in their offhand to bludgeon their opponents when they got inside and there is even mention of bayonets being used in the offhand. After the 1840's the Factions fights became fewer and farther between. The last recorded Faction Fight was at a fair in Co Tipperary in 1887.

Fights with the bata were not always of the faction variety, some were sport while others were conflicts of a more personal nature. One tradtion at fair was for a man to drag his coat on the ground behind him and exclaim"Who'll tread on the tail of my coat?" or to ask a crowd "Who'll say black is the white of my eye?" These combats were not always a deady duel, often they were friendly if somewhat rough contests. The bata was held somewhat towards the lower middle of the stick and was snapped out with the wrist rather than swung like a tradional cudgel. it was a simple art in terms of numbers of techniques. yest it took years of practice just as any other weapon to achieve mastery of. Sir john Barrington a member of Irish Parliament wrote in his 1790 book titled "Personal Sketches of His Own Times" wrote that the stickfights were exhibitions of skill...."like sword exercises and did not appear savage. Nobody was disfigured thereby, or rendered fit for a doctor. I never saw a bone broken or a dngerous contusion from what was called 'whacks' of a shillelagh (which was never too heavy)."

"Oh! an Irishman's heart is as stout as shillelagh,
It beats with delight to chase sorrow and woe;
When the piper plays up, then it dances gaily,
And thumps with a whack to leather a foe.

Prepared by Ken Pfrenger
Sources
A Dictionary of Irish History since 1800 by D J Hickey and J E Doherty Gill and MacMillan Ltd 15/17 Eden Quay Dublin 1980
A Treasury of Irish Folklore by Padraic Colum Crown Publishers, Inc New York.
Of Irish Ways by Mary Murray Delaney 1973 Dillen Press Inc
Irish Wake Amusements by Sea/n O/ Su/illeabha/in 1967 Mecier Press Cork ISBN 1 85635 173 4
Defensive Exercises, 1840, by Donald Walker
The Irish Faction Fighters of the 19th Century by Patrick O'Donnell 1975 Anvil Books Dublin
Things Irish by Anthony Bluett 1994 Mercier Press Cork ISBN 1 85635 079 7
Ireland: Its Scenery, Character and History Vol.1 1911 by Mr. & Mrs. S.C. Hall

 
Back to Starting Point Antiques Home Page
Related Links
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Starting Point Antiques
       

Geoffrey Drew Marketing, Inc.
3000 Hempstead Turnpike, Suite 305
Levittown, Long Island, NY USA

International Phone: (516)501-0744
International Fax: (516)501-0753
Toll-Free Phone: (800)839-2929
Toll-Free Fax: (888)329-6287

2000-2007 Geoffrey Drew Marketing, Inc.
All Rights Reserved. Reproduction Prohibited.
It is prohibited to use any graphics or images in this web site
without the written permission of Geoffrey Drew Marketing, Inc.
Designed & Maintained by Geoffrey Drew Marketing
Hosted by
Geoffrey Drew Marketing