Irish Stick Fighting is a form of martial arts that has been practiced in Ireland for centuries. It was common among the faction fighters of the early 19th century and earlier. It also combines a wooden stick (Shillelagh) with various kicks, punches, and even some grappling techniques.
The Shillelagh is an Irish walking stick made from blackthorn or oak wood traditionally held in one hand and used as a club-like weapon to strike on the ground or against an opponent’s head.
The term Shillelagh was used as early as 1790 by foreign writers about the top-quality oak imported to various places in Europe.
Modern Irish Stick Fighting has been revived in the past 15 years as a combat martial art and fitness system. Let’s dive deeper into this interesting western martial art.
Table of Contents
- Getting a Good Irish Stick for Practice
- Shillelagh Training and Irish Stick FightingTechniques
- Irish Stick Fighting Basic Strikes
- Shillelagh Classic Techniques – Old School Irish Stick Fighting
- Irish Stick Fighting Organizations
- Shillelagh Bataireacht History
- Shillelagh As a Self Defense Tool
- Irish Stick Fighting FAQ
Getting a Good Irish Stick for Practice
The easiest way to get a good Shillelagh is to go out into the woods and find one. Any strong hardwood will do fine. Ash and oak make nice sticks and are a traditional wood that was used.
These sticks must be left to dry for as long as possible, or they will begin to split as they dry and you are using them. Some experts recommend that you leave your sticks to age for over a year before using them.
If you don’t care about a little bit of cracking in your Shillelagh then you can skip the drying and aging process.
Making Your Own Shillelagh
If going to the woods is not an option, then you will have to grab a stick from a retailer. Sometimes for an outrageous price, but often very reasonably priced. Get the sturdiest you can find.
These sticks are sometimes over-dried and lose a lot of their flexibility.
Another place to pick up sticks is online. There is a large offer of stores selling Irish Fighting Sticks where you can find a stick. eBay is a good site to search for a Shillelagh at reasonable prices.
Shillelagh Training and Irish Stick FightingTechniques
Holding The Stick
There is no definite way to hold a Shillelagh in Irish Stick Fighting. There is however, a standard way. Hold the stick about a third of the way from the butt of the stick. The butt is the part that would touch the ground if you were using it as a cane.
Rest your thumb along the shaft of the stick, your thumb is placed here to allow for more accuracy and control of the weapon. Do not wrap it around. The butt end of the stick should just about reach your elbow.
Irish Stick Fighting Basic Strikes
- Strike to either side of the head.
- Strike to either flank.
- Strike to either leg (knee).
- Upward blow to the inner thigh.
- Downward blow to the head.
- Downward stab with buta.
- Two-handed strike with buta.
- Long-distance horizontal or vertical strike with buta or ceann.
* It’s common to strike with the ceann and block with the other end.
Shillelagh Classic Techniques – Old School Irish Stick Fighting
Irish Stick Fighting Organizations
There’s no large regulatory association for Shillelagh or Irish Stick Fighting. However, the Irish Stick Fighting Organization (ISFO) is the largest, most publicized, and arguably most legitimate organization for this type of martial art.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t learn valuable skills in such a program. But, it is not common in Shillelagh to have a rigorous black belt curriculum. At least not yet.
The Ranking system in Irish Stick Fighting
With the lack of an international regulatory framework, every group has its structure. Many use the older English ranking:
- Free Scholar.
Some schools also like to translate the phrases into archaic English or Irish forms, but the basic principle is there.
Shillelagh Bataireacht History
It isn’t easy to track the origins of the Shillelagh Bataireacht. Irish Stick Fighting is commonly associated with faction fighting in the 18th century.
It was a common pastime, especially in rural Ireland. Young men would form gangs and fight against groups from other villages over land, livestock, crops, or even perceived insults.
The Whiteboys, named after their white shirts, were a secret society organized in Munster, Ireland, in the early 1800s to resist English oppression. They would roam the countryside at night, seeking to stop evictions of poor farmers who had fallen into debt.
faction figthing in new york
After the great famine in 1845-1850, many Whiteboy candidates immigrated to the United States. They brought their Bataireacht with them and most notably formed a large faction in New York City.
Their fighting techniques were very violent. They used sticks, bats, and any other weapons they could find, even knives and guns.
Shillelagh Bataireacht as a combat system slowly faded away before gaining popularity again in the US and abroad during the late 20th century and today.
Shillelagh Bataireacht History sources
- “What is Irish stick fighting?”. Hemamisfits.com.
- Hurley, John W. (2007). The Shillelagh Makers Handbook. Caravat Press.
- O’Donnell, Patrick D. (1975). The Irish Faction Fighters of the 19th Century. Anvil Press.
Shillelagh As a Self Defense Tool
The Shillelagh is an interesting self-defense tool. It is excellent for self-defense, as is any stick weapon.
The Shillelagh is used very much the same way you would use a walking stick, except when it becomes necessary to defend yourself and apply Irish Stick Fighting techniques with it.
It has many benefits that make it an excellent choice when looking for a self-defense tool, including its versatility. It is effective against multiple attackers, and it can be easily carried.
It might take you some time to get proficient at certain moves, but once you know how to strike and defend properly, you will have a massive advantage against an attacker.
Can you legally carry a Shillelagh for self-defense?
Full disclosure, the answer below is only my opinion. It shouldn’t be taken as formal legal advice. Please do your due diligence and check your local laws first.
That being said, a cane-sized Shillelagh will most likely be legal for you to carry in most places in the US. However, a metal-tipped cane might look more like a weapon than support for walking.
To stay on the safe side, it might be a good idea to replace the ferrule with a rubber tip if you plan to use your stick for walking in public.
What About Loaded a Shillelagh
Also, do not carry a loaded Shillelagh (filled with lead) as most courts would recognize that as a weapon. A crook-handled cane with a rubber tip is a good alternative for street use.
All of the techniques you can do with a traditional Irish stick can be done with the crook-handled cane. They handle differently, but it requires only slight adjustments in your technique.
Depending on the weight of the stick you like to use, the power generated will most likely be different as well. The heavier the cane is, the more power you can generate.
Irish Stick Fighting FAQ
What is Irish stick fighting?
In simple terms, Irish Stick Fighting is a style of stick fighting that is a mix between boxing and fencing.
How do you fight against a shillelagh?
One of the most effective strategies is to run away, especially if you don’t have experience with this fighting style or don’t carry any weapons to level the playing field.
What is an Irish shillelagh?
The Shillelagh is a wooden walking stick made from a blackthorn or oak tree. It has often been referred to as the “walking stick of Ireland.” It is also considered a self-defense tool.
What is an Irish shillelagh used for?
Nowadays, the Irish use it for decoration purposes or as a self-defense weapon.