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Irish Blackthorn Walking Sticks and Shillelaghs

Updated on September 8, 2014

Legendary Irish Blackthorn Walking Sticks and Shillelaghs

Like a lot of martial artists, I have an interest in weaponry, particularly in canes, sticks and staffs. Here, I show you some Irish blackthorn walking sticks and shillelaghs which are renowned for being stout and reliable.

Canes can vary from the fine and elegant, sophisticated hand carved canes through to the hefty and brutish club. It rather depends on their purpose. A fine nobleman would be more likely to carry an elegant, refined cane. A country peasant or local warlord, on the otherhand, would carry a stouter stick or staff to enhance his "tough" look.

Blackthorn bushes are found all over Ireland, and Blackthorn has been used by stick makers for several centuries because it is tough and resilient, and can last for many years. The Irish blackthorn is, in fact, the Sloe Berry bush - Prunus spinosa - which has very dark bark and thorny spurs. The Sloe Berry bush can be found throughout Ireland in lanes and hedgerows.

To make the best blackthorn shillelaghs and walking sticks, the stems should be cut in the depths of winter when the sap has gone out of the wood. Sticks are generally cut in December and January, and left to season for at least a year. Often sticks are seasoned for three to five years. After the stick has been properly seasoned, the stick maker can produce a smart and well-balanced blackthorn walking stick.

My photo shows a blackthorn cane, held in reverse grip.

Irish Blackthorn Walking Stick

After seasoning the wood, straight stems of the blackthorn bush have traditionally been made into walking sticks. Blackthorn walking sticks are known for being robust and stick, and so very reliable as a walking aid.

Commissioned officers of the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army carry blackthorn sticks. This tradition can also be seen in the Irish regiments in some Commonwealth countries.

Country Derby Cane on a Blackthorn Shaft
Country Derby Cane on a Blackthorn Shaft

A traditional blackthorn stick, strong and rustic, with a smart derby handle to give excellent support to the hand. Height is 36 inches.


The Shillelagh - A cudgel, or stout stick, usually made of blackthorn or oak

Shillelaghs often have a black and shiny appearance. This comes from the making process, during which the shillelagh would be smeared with butter and placed up a chimney to cure.

Disputes could be settled in a "gentlemanly manner" using the shillelagh. It can be considered in much the same way as the katana in Japan or duelling pistols in England or America. Clearly, the shillelagh could also be used for self defense, and methods of fighting with the shillelagh evolved over many hundreds of years.

Miniature Irish Shillelagh
Miniature Irish Shillelagh

A very cool St Patrick's Day gift - a miniature souvenir shillelagh. The ultimate desk paperweight?

The Shillelagh Makers Handbook
The Shillelagh Makers Handbook

Learn the basic traditions and craft of shillelagh making, whether for use as a walking stick or replica fighting stick.


A Brief History of Shillelaghs

Shillelaghs began as fighting weapons. Here is an explanation of how they were transformed into walking sticks after the weapon was banned under British rule.

Most shillelaghs have a large and heavy knob handle. This was originally used for striking and parrying. Some shillelaghs were actually hollowed out at the "hitting end", and then filled with molten lead to make a heavier "loaded stick".

Shillelagh: The Irish Fighting Stick
Shillelagh: The Irish Fighting Stick

An expert study of the martial and fighting arts of Ireland, and particularly the iconic shillelagh.

The Walking Stick Method Of Self-defence
The Walking Stick Method Of Self-defence

If you like to walk or hike with stick, this book will give you insight about how to protect yourself against man or beast. A walking stick is a great tool, as a walking aid and for boosting confidence.


Shillelagh, County Wicklow - the home of the Irish Blackthorn Fighting Stick

More than 1200 years ago, the people of Siol Ealaigh began to develop the now famous Blackthorn Fighting Sticks.

A marker -
Shillelagh, County Wicklow, Ireland
get directions

Do you own a blackthorn cane? - Do you use one as a walking aid? Or do you prefer a more delicate cane?

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    • profile image

      Daniel Williams 7 months ago

      I don't have a real Blackthorn cane because I couldn't afford one, so I made my own from a hedge apple branch with it's root (so similar looking that most people don't know the difference!) I trimmed the thorns leaving the short knobs to look authentic, polished the top knob and black stained the shaft. I use it daily and get asked if it's real all the time. Stil, I wish I had a real one!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I have a blackthorn stick, a walking aid

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I don't own one but they sure look nice.

    • aviwolfson profile image

      Avi Wolfson 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Nice these are pieces of art, very nice!

    • peterb6001 profile image

      Peter Badham 4 years ago from England

      One of my favorite authors (Robert Rankin) always talks about the barman bringing out his 'Stout Stick' when there was trouble. Finally I know what it is. Thank you :)