It is mid-March, nigh on to St. Patrick’s Day, and time to think about Ireland. “What the heck does the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum have to do with Ireland?”, you may be asking yourself. Well, we do have a few firearms made in Ireland, but we have an interesting non-firearm Irish artifact. A true Irish shillelagh.
So, what exactly is a shillelagh? It is merely a dried, hardened stick from a blackthorn bush or an oak tree; often with a bulbous, knotted end. Usually, the shillelagh serves as a walking stick, so it’s length is from the floor to the owner’s hand when the elbow is slightly bent. Some folks want a slightly longer walking staff. You know: shepherds, scoutmasters, wandering wizards, and the like. Some folks have no use for a walking stick, but a shortened stick can come in handy. A shillelagh about the length of one’s arm with a heavy end makes a fine club, should one be in need of a fine club. Sometimes, folks would drill out the head and fill it with molten lead for extra weight. This is called a “loaded stick” and can cause great damage in a fight.
Depending upon the time in history, not everyone could afford a sword or a firearm, not every community had the availability of swords or firearms, and not every country has the rights to keep and bear arms. This pretty much describes much of Ireland for a very long time. A conquering government may not allow people to have firearms, but no one would separate a person from their walking stick. Therefore, Ireland has a strong martial culture revolving around fighting with shillelaghs that goes back centuries.
Today, as in days gone by, there are even schools that teach various forms of Irish Stick Fighting. Many of these schools grew out of the various Irish factions (or gangs) and their proclivity to violence at the slightest offence or the onset of boredom at community events. YouTube has many videos from some of these schools and from various practitioners of Irish Stick Fighting or Bataireacht. Bata means stick in Irish Gaelic and the stick they use is the shillelagh.
So whether you wear green or orange on Saint Patrick’s day come see our authentic Irish shillelagh and help us celebrate our 50th anniversary at the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma. We are open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 to 5:00. So, speak softly, but carry a big shillelagh!