decorative canesEvery 11 seconds in the United States, a senior is treated for a fall in the emergency room. These common incidents can be easily avoided by the use of a walking stick or cane. Canes, especially decorative canes, aren't only for senior citizens either. Up to 6.8 million Americans use assistive devices such as walking sticks and wooden canes every day.

Decorative canes are classy pieces of history that go back thousands of years. However, one of the most interesting decorative canes is perhaps the blackthorn walking stick. Keep reading to learn some of the history behind these fascinating mobility aids and fashion statements.

Blackthorn canes: made for more than just walking
Elegant walking canes made from blackthorn, also known as shillelaghs, originate in Ireland and the British Isles. Blackthorn, a resilient and hearty wood, has been used to make weapons for centuries because of its resistance to warping. Although the shillelagh is thought to be Irish, according to Anthony Bluett, it was an English writer who coined the name for Irish walking sticks.

Irish stick fighting
However, while the name of the walking stick itself may not be Irish, but the use of the blackthorn stick as a weapon certainly is. When the British controlled Ireland, the Irish weren't allowed to carry weapons. 

To get around the policy, the Irish and Scottish began using bata, short for bataireacht, Gaelic for "stick fighting." However, it should be pointed out that bataireacht has existed as a form of Irish martial arts for centuries prior to its more modern use for self-defense. These walking sticks were and are made from resilient woods such as blackthorn, holly, oak, hazel, and ash.

Modern bataireacht
By the 20th century, bataireacht has mostly disappeared from common practice. However, few Irish families continue to pass down the training and tradition. Those who continue to practice this art typically use a combination of bataireacht and Western martial arts forms.

Bataireacht is currently most popular in the U.S. and among the non-Irish. This is because stick fighting offers seniors and those who use walking sticks as a form of self-defense utilizing the decorative walking canes they use every day.

Blackthorn walking sticks and canes are a great way to carry on your Irish heritage. Or, for those who aren't Irish, they're a classy way to strike up an interesting conversation on historical stick fighting.

Posted in News By

Paul Murtha