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Ruel A. Macaraeg





Joined: 25 Aug 2003

Posts: 306

PostPosted: Wed 17 Mar, 2010 11:15 am    Post subject: Shillelaghs and St. Patrick's Day         Reply with quote

Happy St. Patrick's Friends,

Just out of curiousity, has anyone else added a shillelagh to their holiday festivities? At two very large events this year (the North Texas Irish Festival and the Dallas St. Paddy's Day Parade) I only saw a handful, despite many people dressing "Irish" in some way.

If you have pictures, I'd love to see them! Here are a few of mine:
http://forensicfashion.com/NTIrishContext2010NTIF.html
http://forensicfashion.com/NTIrishContext2010Dash.html
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Michael Ahrens




Location: Staten Island & Andes NY
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Mar, 2010 12:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I do not have a shillelagh, but I do have a very nice Blackthorn walking stick in my collection that was my Great-Great Grandsire's.
no pictures though sorry.


Mike

Mike Ahrens
http://www.selohaar.org/

Staten Island German Martial Arts (S.I.G.M.A.)
http://www.sigmanewyork.webs.com/

Member of the 1st Universal Church of St. John Cantius Garand, Reformed (Gas Port)


Last edited by Michael Ahrens on Thu 18 Mar, 2010 11:25 am; edited 1 time in total
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Luke Zechman




Location: Lock Haven Pennsylvania
Joined: 18 Jan 2009

Posts: 278

PostPosted: Wed 17 Mar, 2010 2:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I had done a little looking into a shillelagh a couple months ago. Turns out that there is a strong tradition of martial arts in Ireland of the stick variety. Also according to many thing I had found, traditional shillelaghs are made from Blackthorn. Blackthorn is supposedly pretty scarce these days. If you are looking for an authentic blackthorn shillelagh, that is traditionally cured, expect to pay a lot for it. I would say between 80 to 150 USD. Many online vendors typically only have one picture of a shillelagh so you never know what you are going to get. I have seen everything from walking sticks to cud

You Tube: Irish Stick Fighting for some videos.
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Wed 17 Mar, 2010 3:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I sort of collect and at times have made my own walking sticks and I usually use one most days although I don't really need one for walking I do find that for the long 5 mile walks I enjoy that a stick gives you a little extra push forward.

I also use a 4' 5" walking staff occasionally and a 5 foot quarter staff ( Mostly when I walk to my pollarm classes: have to bring it anyway, so might as well use it to walk the 1.5 miles to our training room. Wink

Since I have a backpack with my fencing mask in it anyway it sort of doesn't bring too many funny looks. WTF?! Question

One of my sticks I made from a Hard Maple branch and would qualify as very Shillelagh - like: Nice polished and oiled wood grain.

I do also have the Cold Steel polypropylene version of a Shillelagh.

So I guess I can say that " Yes, I did use a Shillelagh today. ( technically, later tonight walking to the gym as I haven't gone out yet today ).

By the way Montreal had it's St Patrick's day this Sunday and it's one of the biggest parades in the World: Although Québec is French at 75 % of Population about 40% of us have Irish ancestors mixed in.

In the middle of the 19 Th. century a lot of Irish immigrated to Quebec as they where more welcome in Catholic Quebec than in most places in North America at the time.

I also think that there where a lot of Irish orphans adopted by French Canadian parents after their parents died in transit from Ireland ( plague or other diseases on board ships or as orphaned survivors of famine ).

Here is a little background history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Quebeckers

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!


Last edited by Jean Thibodeau on Wed 17 Mar, 2010 3:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





Joined: 25 Aug 2003

Posts: 306

PostPosted: Wed 17 Mar, 2010 3:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As you can see in the photos, my "costume" wasn't traditional by any means, and my little shillelagh has a very touristy-looking "Ireland" stamp and "Shillelagh" on it. But the wood -- I don't know if it's blackthorn -- is quite strong and hard. Even at this small size it makes a good weapon, so a full sized traditional one must've been formidable in skilled Leprechaun hands.

PS: Jean, our area (North Texas) also has a strong Irish presence, more specifically Scots-Irish settlers from the mid-19thc. At present, though, it seems most of their descendants here have, for all practical purposes, lost the distinction between Scots-Irish and "true" Irish Catholics.
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Max Chouinard




Location: Quebec, Qc
Joined: 23 Apr 2008

Posts: 108

PostPosted: Thu 18 Mar, 2010 9:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Blackthorn is all but scarce in rural Ireland. Frombeing trapped in fields and swamps surrounded by them I know what I'm talking about ;-). What is scarce are traditionnal shillelagh makers. I got mine from William Keally in Shillelagh, Wicklow. He does some very decent sticks;, some more tourist type (black painted with a decorative slit), others made for actual fighting practice (oiled and intact). I also own an antique from the mid-19th century.

Many Shillelaghs are made from Hawthorn, avoid them as they are at 99% of terrible quality. Traditionnal woods are: blackthorn, oak, Holy, crabapple and ash.

I give shillelagh fighting classes in Quebec City, and recently appeared in a local journal: http://img406.imageshack.us/i/dangerousc.jpg/

Maxime Chouinard

Antrim Bata

Quebec City Kenjutsu

I don't do longsword
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





Joined: 25 Aug 2003

Posts: 306

PostPosted: Thu 18 Mar, 2010 9:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Max,
Congratulations on receiving that local recognition.
The article quotes you as saying the shillelagh is a weapon of Irish Catholics developed after disarmament by English Protestants. Can you give us any more information about that? It sounds very similar to the reputed origins of other stickfighting traditions, including Eskrima/Arnis in the Philippines.
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Max Chouinard




Location: Quebec, Qc
Joined: 23 Apr 2008

Posts: 108

PostPosted: Fri 19 Mar, 2010 8:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is not an accepted hypothesis by everyone, but personally I find the facts too obvious to dismiss it. Basically in the late 17th century,the english crown passed the Penal Laws, which were laws intended to disarm the catholics. They could not be part of the army, own any weapons, posses lands or have a horse woth more than a certain amount, among other things.

While it is obvious that many of them would have hidden weapons where they could, and that they sometimes received equipment from the enemies of England; weapons predating the penal laws can be counted on one's fingers, and most are found in archaeological digs. Many reports are made about the poor state of armament in Ireland, and many emancipation supporters also called on the defenseless situation of the Catholic Irish.

And so like many other people around the world, the Irish simply took up a familiar weapon which could double as an everyday item, such as a walking stick. It is a fact that it was used before this (staves and canes are mentionned in the late 16th century), but not to the same extent.

Maxime Chouinard

Antrim Bata

Quebec City Kenjutsu

I don't do longsword
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Luke Zechman




Location: Lock Haven Pennsylvania
Joined: 18 Jan 2009

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PostPosted: Fri 19 Mar, 2010 3:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ok so the Blackthorn might not be scarce, but that does not mean that it is very available. I am sure that it is scarce when comparing to times when shillelaghs where first made, as just about anything is. It is not as if you can go meandering about the Irish countryside hacking down blackthorn shrubs.
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Nick Hughes





Joined: 13 Feb 2008

Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sat 20 Mar, 2010 5:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luke Zechman wrote:
Ok so the Blackthorn might not be scarce, but that does not mean that it is very available. I am sure that it is scarce when comparing to times when shillelaghs where first made, as just about anything is. It is not as if you can go meandering about the Irish countryside hacking down blackthorn shrubs.


Blackthorn is the main tree used for hedging in the British Isles. Every farm in ireland protestant and catholic would have had access to miles of the stuff as all the hedges have to be trimmed and re laid every year or so. There would have been plenty of people employed or paid to do pretty much exactly what you say , "wander the country side hacking down Blackthorn shrubs. " Theres nothing really special about it as a wood. Its hard and reasonably rot resistant. What it had in its favour was that there was a lot of it and it would be freely available.

remeber, sticks would have been a disposable item . You pick one up and trim it in the morning, use it all day and in the evening its fire wood.

Nick
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Sun 21 Mar, 2010 12:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nick Hughes wrote:

remember, sticks would have been a disposable item . You pick one up and trim it in the morning, use it all day and in the evening its fire wood.


Certainly true for an improvised walking/fighting stick just picked up and later thrown away but the best sticks could also be chosen for quality of the wood or for aesthetic shape.

As well proper drying and curing or special fire hardening, oiling, adding a ferule, etc ....

All of the above could make a superior stick and maximize it's strength or harness and looks.

Oh, I'm not just talking of a traditional Shillelagh but of any walking stick, staff or war club.

In any case the quality stick makers in Ireland are few and far between and I would be ready to bet that there is a big difference between a cheap touristy stick and one made for martial arts by someone who knows the traditional skillls to make one.

Maybe Max can chime in here with more information about what makes a good stick and why a cheap one is sub par. Wink

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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James Cunniffe




Location: chicago/ireland
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PostPosted: Sun 21 Mar, 2010 7:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi

I come from a farm in the west of Ireland - there are probably more fields in the west of Ireland than anywhere else in Ireland - Until 15 years ago, this was the poorest part of Ireland, with lots of farmers running small fields. Obviously, there were many ditches and hedges separating the fields where blackthorn and hawthorn bushes grew. In folklore, these were both feared and called fairy-trees (fairies living in them) and so were not cut down.

When the economy boomed in Ireland 15years ago, farmers got fewer and farms got bigger. The EU gave grants to Irish farmers to make their fields bigger. Folklore was forgotten, and blackthorn and hawthorn were cut down, making them very scarce today. Even if you were to find blackthorn, finding a straight stick is difficult, let alone finding a straight stick with a knob (handle) at the end. These knobs used to be bored out and filled with lead to be used as a weapon back in the day.

Yes, the blackthorn walking stick was banned by the English penal laws, and yes, they were available to both Protestants and Catholics alike. Regardless of religion, they were used as weapons. A good SHILLELAGH was then, and is still now a prized possession.

Though the pen is mightier than the sword,
the sword speaks louder and stronger at any given moment.
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Stephane Rabier




Location: Brittany
Joined: 13 Nov 2006

Posts: 104

PostPosted: Sun 21 Mar, 2010 8:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi,
so it's a cousin of the Breton penn bazh (head stick)?
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Max Chouinard




Location: Quebec, Qc
Joined: 23 Apr 2008

Posts: 108

PostPosted: Sun 21 Mar, 2010 9:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
so it's a cousin of the Breton penn bazh (head stick)?


Maybe, but these sticks were used all over the planet. Medieval imagery is full of these. It is simply common sense that a stick with a big end will hurt a lot. No way to tell if there is really a link, other than making suppostitions, and I'm not a fan of that Wink.

Quote:
Yes, the blackthorn walking stick was banned by the English penal laws, and yes, they were available to both Protestants and Catholics alike. Regardless of religion, they were used as weapons. A good SHILLELAGH was then, and is still now a prized possession.


Actually these laws seemed to target mostly guns, swords, knives and pikes. Walking sticks were never part of it and that can be argued that their popularity rose from it. We see a lot of Irishmen carrying around their shilelagh in town, but none carrying other weapons.

Quote:
Maybe Max can chime in here with more information about what makes a good stick and why a cheap one is sub par.


I'd say its the same a any other stick. Substantial enough to resist breaking but not too heavy to strain the arm. I prefer with the bark still on as it protects the inner wood more, but some may prefer bark off. Oiled ones are a sign of quality but if the maker knows his business, varnish is also a good option. I'd recommend the fighting sticks of William Keally : http://misticshillelagh.tripod.com/id5.html[/quote]

Maxime Chouinard

Antrim Bata

Quebec City Kenjutsu

I don't do longsword
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James Cunniffe




Location: chicago/ireland
Joined: 28 Jan 2008
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PostPosted: Sun 21 Mar, 2010 6:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Max - I respect your great knowledge of Irish history. I wish you were my school teacher in Ireland...I would be a much better Irishman for it, rather than simply living the history myself. Kudos!
Though the pen is mightier than the sword,
the sword speaks louder and stronger at any given moment.
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Luke Zechman




Location: Lock Haven Pennsylvania
Joined: 18 Jan 2009

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PostPosted: Sun 21 Mar, 2010 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't mean to say that it isn't there. For example... I live in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is known for its hard wood deciduous forest. I cannot go into the forest and hack down a maple tree, unless I own the land. I do not own land in Ireland, and can't buys blackthorn on the internet (unless I want to pay 100 bones for a "shillelagh). So yeah I am sticking with my original statement that blackthorn is not very available. If it was readily available I would have some curing in my work shop.

Does anyone know how these shillelaghs where cured? I have read everything from simply placing them somewhere to dry, to smearing them with butter and placing them up a chimney. What would a traditional shillelagh maker do?

I just went back an d read a little more. James... Thanks for that knowledge. I knew that I had read somewhere that blackthorn was scarce. Your explanation really makes sense too. Small farms suffer, and hedges disappear. Thought I was loosing my mind when I heard contradictory things. I was not talking historically. Also let me mention that as someone that has an education in Biology (Ecology), that most any wood is scarce even when comparing it to 20 years ago.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 21 Mar, 2010 11:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luke Zechman wrote:
I don't mean to say that it isn't there. For example... I live in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is known for its hard wood deciduous forest. I cannot go into the forest and hack down a maple tree, unless I own the land.


Yeah the maple I used was from a downed branch I found some years ago on the mountain " Mount Royal " that is in the middle of our city of Montréal near the downtown area and is a park in the same way that Central Park is to New York.

I'm not too sure about any laws forbidding picking up naturally downed wood in the city limits of Montréal, I'm fairly sure that cutting into a tree in the Park wouldn't be legal or even and O.K. thing to do.

Being a nice maple branch it was just left forgotten in the basement for years until I decided to remove the bark and carve the thickest part of the stick into a rounded shape.

The wood seems very hard, smooth and it's been oiled regularly over the years with boiled linseed oil and Danish Teak oil and a little Renaissance Wax to give it a little shine.

Oh, a found branch is going to work if it hasn't been on the ground so long as to have started to rot.

I also added a copper ferule using copper plumbing tube collar about an inch in diameter and 1/8" thick, also used a rubber cane tip for a non slip end and to protect the tip from sidewalk damage: It also makes it look very much like " just a cane ".

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Nick Hughes





Joined: 13 Feb 2008

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PostPosted: Mon 22 Mar, 2010 12:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luke Zechman wrote:
I don't mean to say that it isn't there. For example... I live in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is known for its hard wood deciduous forest. I cannot go into the forest and hack down a maple tree, unless I own the land. I do not own land in Ireland, and can't buys blackthorn on the internet (unless I want to pay 100 bones for a "shillelagh). So yeah I am sticking with my original statement that blackthorn is not very available. If it was readily available I would have some curing in my work shop.

Does anyone know how these shillelaghs where cured? I have read everything from simply placing them somewhere to dry, to smearing them with butter and placing them up a chimney. What would a traditional shillelagh maker do?

I just went back an d read a little more. James... Thanks for that knowledge. I knew that I had read somewhere that blackthorn was scarce. Your explanation really makes sense too. Small farms suffer, and hedges disappear. Thought I was loosing my mind when I heard contradictory things. I was not talking historically. Also let me mention that as someone that has an education in Biology (Ecology), that most any wood is scarce even when comparing it to 20 years ago.


Whats the rule on fallen wood in your part of the World? Branches blown off after storms etc? I know in the UK so long as its down then you can take it away, let me rephrase that, no ones ever stopped me from taking it away.

Failing that, and if you have access to the land to do it, why not try growing one? Well, two would be better. They look quite pretty. Makes it a bit of a long term project but if your keen enough on it and your not moving then one that might be worth your while.

As for seasoning historically there were at least two methods available. One stored outside the house just under the eves to keep it out of the weather, takes two to three years. Up the chimney, given that the traditional colour for the ones palmed of to tourists is pitch black I'd bet that this was the method used. I cant vouch for rubbing with butter, might have been done after hanging in the chimney to put a shine on it ? but seems a bit odd to be smearing wood with something that might help it catch afire, and then put it up the chimney? Odds are for this it was hung vertically with a weight on the end to prevent warping and probably not done in the winter when the fire would be stoked high. As for time taken ? In theory maybe as low as six to eight weeks?

You could I suppose fire harden it by passing it through the fire often enough? But I am not sure of the ease or historicallity of that .

Simple airdrying seems the most likely, doesn't require a fire burning for one, but like everything I suppose theres a thousand and one ways that each family had of achieving the results it wanted and most would swear blind that theres was best.

Nick
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Max Chouinard




Location: Quebec, Qc
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PostPosted: Mon 22 Mar, 2010 9:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Cunniffe wrote:
Max - I respect your great knowledge of Irish history. I wish you were my school teacher in Ireland...I would be a much better Irishman for it, rather than simply living the history myself. Kudos!


I really don't know that much, I got interested in it following my trip there and bringing back bataireacht. That said I did met with a history teacher in Ireland, and while she acknoledge that the shiellagh was probably used becaus eof the penal laws, she refused to believe that it was a martial art. But then most people have a warped view of what is a martial art.

As for the scarcity of blackthorn again. Well I've travelled the south of Ireland by foot, and I can tell you that simply walking 20 min out of Galway downtown district, I was already surrounded by blackthorn shrubs. We walked through fields and marsh and roads trying to get to Menloe castle, and everywhere we looked was blackthorn. It barred us the way real bad but made quite a story to tell. And as for them not being straight enough to make a stick, nothing a bit of pressure can't help. So all in all, Zebrawood is scarce, ebony is, but blackthorn is not in "Ireland". As for the rest of the world, there are absolutely no prunus spinosa where I live, so yes if you look at it that way, it is scarce in certain regions, but seed can be easily bought and it grows in many places (and then spreads like wildfire).

And that last detail brings me to talk about the sacredness of that old shrub. I can picture that some people would have been reluctant to cut it. But then if you are not cutting it, that tree spreads very quickly, and can grow on your fields if not kept on watch. So if no one was willing to cut it, blackthorn would probably be all over your fields and roads.

Quote:
Does anyone know how these shillelaghs where cured? I have read everything from simply placing them somewhere to dry, to smearing them with butter and placing them up a chimney. What would a traditional shillelagh maker do?


I am no woodworker and know very little about that aspect of the shillelagh (I prefer getting mine made by someone who knows how). As I visited William Keally's shop, I was shown how he made them. He puts them to dry in a designated room on racks for three years before he finishes them. He told me you could put them in or near the chimney as it dries faster, but the danger is they could crack, not a big problem if you do dozens of them, but if you make only one you better know what you are doing. The soot would also give it a black appearance, which supposedly became quite popular and was latter imitated by putting black paint, shoeshine or stain.

As for the butter, as I understand it, it was a matter of oiling the stick. So good teak oil would do the trick nicely if not better.[/quote]

Maxime Chouinard

Antrim Bata

Quebec City Kenjutsu

I don't do longsword
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B. Fulton





Joined: 28 Dec 2004

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PostPosted: Mon 22 Mar, 2010 11:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When I visited Ireland I was looking for a blackthorn stick but found few worth any $$ in the common (non touristy) shops. Apparently post 9/11 traveling with them on aircraft became harder and thus popularity with tourists went down? (No idea if this is true but its' what I was told).


I walk with a cane/stick at times because of my knees, and have picked up multiple sticks around the world. My first was in Pisa, the "Ass-Whupping Stick" (so named by a guy in my group as soon as he saw it....the name stuck, especially since a few minutes later I nearly had to use it on a gypsy).

I picked up a regular cane/stick in Dublin since the blackthorns were scarce, and walked all over Europe with it.

Stick #3 i picked up in Texas, my "car stick" since it's replaceable. In general design, i would say it's a shillelagh but instead of a large wood knob, it's got a brass doorknob as the grip. Definitely makes an impression if you need to use it on someone!
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