Blog by Gifts of Ireland

What is a Shillelagh: A Tale of Irish Blackthorn Walking Sticks

What is a Shillelagh: A Tale of Irish Blackthorn Walking Sticks

Well Dia Dhuit to you again wherever you may be.


We're about to embark on a grand journey through the history of the shillelagh, a treasure of the Emerald Isle.


The Shillelagh: A Tough Customer

Now, the word "shillelagh" might sound like it's from a leprechaun's dictionary, but it's as Irish as a pint of Guinness. The name itself probably comes from the Irish words sail and éille meaning "willow," and "leash" originally.

The Blackthorn, a work in progress:

Back in the day, our ancestors, the farmers and shepherds, used these sturdy sticks as walking aids in the rugged Irish countryside. But, hold onto your shamrocks, because they weren't just for walking.

The tradition of settling disputes with the stick fighting:



A Bit of Rough and Tumble

When times got tough and invaders came knocking on our doors, the shillelagh turned into a formidable weapon. The dense, knotty wood of the blackthorn or oak could pack a punch. It became a symbol of resistance, and Irish folks knew how to use them. Those who mastered the shillelagh could give their foes a proper wallop.

Stick fighting in New York:


The Irish Blackthorn Walking Stick: Wise and Wild

Now, the Irish blackthorn walking stick, or just "blackthorn" for short, is a bit different. It's made from the knobby wood of the blackthorn bush which is abundant in our green land. These sticks are as unique as a four-leaf clover, with their dark bark, thorns, and twisted branches.

But the blackthorn isn't just for show. It's a walking stick, a symbol of authority and wisdom. The elders in our communities often carried them, and in Irish folklore, you'll find legends like Cú Chulainn and the Aos Sí using blackthorns. They're not just any old walking sticks; they're a mark of respect.


Here I have them in motion and give you the history of the fighting:


Irish Heart and Soul

The shillelagh and blackthorn walking sticks are more than just pieces of wood; they're a slice of Irish identity. They tell stories of resilience and determination, of folks who knew how to make the best out of what they had.


Collectors' Items and Souvenirs

In recent years, these beauties have become collectibles, and a great accessory for a hike in the woods or a stroll on the street. Many skilled craftsmen and craftswomen keep the tradition alive, making these sticks by hand, preserving the old methods and designs while catering to modern tastes. You can see our excellently crafted blackthorn walking stick shillelaghs here, which are made from the blackthorn of County Wicklow.

So, there you have it, a bit of the craic about the shillelagh. They're not just sticks; they're a piece of our history, our culture, and our hearts. Whether you're using one to hike the rolling green hills or just admiring it as a work of art, remember that these sticks have seen the best of Ireland through thick and thin, and they're still going strong.



Sláinte, and may your shillelagh always stand tall!


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  • Eleanor McCann Berju
    Sep 28, 2023 at 22:34

    Thank you.

  • Mark Kelley
    Sep 27, 2023 at 11:50

    Outstanding article!

  • Linda Crabill
    Sep 25, 2023 at 13:04

    Once again, I thank you for these lovely bits of history/stories of Ireland. I really enjoy them. They tug at my heartstrings.


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