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About Irish Blackthorn Canes
Also known as European Spiny Plum (Prunus spinosa)¸ this hardwood plant offers all of the qualities a cane-maker wants in his materials. It is a very hard¸ close-grained wood¸ and if harvested from the trunk of the blackthorn tree¸ any sample should be covered in sharp¸ vicious spines. These thorns are removed in the process of finishing and sanding a walking cane shaft¸ but the dark wood and numerous knots and protrusions are left behind as a signature of the plant from which it came.
We guarantee our shillelaghs to be genuine Irish blackthorn canes¸ but many other retailers sell imitations¸ crafted from hawthorne or other thorny bushes and trees. Here are four tips to check and be sure that any shillelagh is of high quality:
- Hawthorne looks very similar¸ but lacks the uniformity of blackthorn¸ and will usually have many irregularities in the wood grain.
- Knobs or protrusions left from the thorns should be spaced evenly around the shaft of the cane.
- If made by a craftsman familiar with the creation of shillelaghs¸ the cane should come to a fine taper.
- All thorns and spurs that have been completely removed should leave behind a fine dimple in the wood.
Irish Blackthorn Walking Sticks & Shillelaghs
An ordinary walking stick is often called by many names¸ but not one of those names is shillelagh. That’s because there’s nothing ordinary about a shillelagh. Specially designed¸ it has a rich Irish history that makes it unlike any other walking stick. Take the wood¸ for example. While you may find a shillelagh for sale designed from ash¸ oak or holly¸ blackthorn wood is a traditional Irish choice. It also makes the best quality shillelagh.
In fact¸ even among blackthorn canes¸ there are certain details that identify a genuine Irish shillelagh. For example¸ besides the blackthorn wood¸ the particular way a shillelagh is designed separates it from all other walking sticks. Add to that where the wood comes from¸ along with how its Irish fighting-club history made this walking stick a distinctive part of Irish culture and heritage¸ and all these details begin to provide you with a fairly good idea of what goes into a shillelagh. They also explain why shillelaghs have become such cherished collectors’ items. Yet these details demonstrate only the reasons that a shillelagh is different from other canes or walking sticks. They still don’t answer exactly what it is.
What Is a Shillelagh?
First¸ a shillelagh is a quite specific type of knotty walking stick. Initially called an Irish bata¸ or fighting stick¸ it takes its current name from the Shillelagh Forest in County Wicklow¸ Ireland¸ whose claim to fame was once its many massive oak trees. It is from these trees that the first shillelaghs were made. Knowing this¸ it was an English writer who is credited with first naming this walking stick. Indeed¸ its strong association with Ireland is still the shillelagh’s most identifying feature.
Blackthorn became the wood of choice due to its beauty and durability. Shillelaghs designed form it use only straight lengths of stout blackthorn wood with spiny thorns covering it. Sanding those thorns leaves a nubby¸ knotty appearance that immediately marks this walking stick as a high-quality blackthorn shillelagh. It’s also heavier and stronger than the typical walking stick.
With the root of the tree being the preferred source for blackthorn wood¸ it not only makes a weightier shillelagh but also makes it less likely to crack or break when used. Another part of its heft is from the large knob at the top of the stick. It’s used both as a sturdy handle for walking and as the “business end¸’’ so to speak¸ in shillelagh fighting. Adding to that weight is the molten lead that often was added after hollowing out the knob end of the stick.
Such a stick is then known as a loaded stick¸ although the heaviness of blackthorn roots made it unnecessary to do this with blackthorn shillelaghs. Yet there are a few more factors that set a shillelagh apart. The black color¸ for example¸ comes not only from the wood itself but also from an unusual process. That process involves smearing the wood with butter and placing it inside a chimney. The result is a distinctive¸ glossy black finish. Together¸ all these elements create a walking stick that is decidedly different from all others.
The Origin of Blackthorn Wood
Blackthorn wood is from a large shrub or small tree¸ usually standing about 12 feet tall and reaching as much as 16 feet high. Since it’s native to Europe¸ of course¸ this made blackthorn wood readily available for those designing shillelaghs in Ireland. This also explains why so many antique shillelaghs found today were crafted from blackthorn wood. Interestingly¸ although it produces fruit known as sloe¸ which is used in a liqueur called sloe gin¸ and it blooms with pretty white blossoms in the spring¸ its wood is the most notable aspect of the blackthorn. That wood actually makes terrific firewood¸ because it produces little smoke and burns slowly. However¸ blackthorn’s use in shillelaghs is what makes this wood most well known.
The Shillelagh as a Weapon
While today’s shillelagh is used as a walking stick¸ this was not always the case. It originally was considered a weapon¸ which is the shillelagh fighting use mentioned earlier. A gentleman’s choice¸ it was first used to settle their disputes in much the same manner as a duel.
This early form of bataireacht¸ or Irish martial arts¸ later made the shillelagh weapon the one of choice in the Irish stick fighting that began among gangs of the nineteenth century. From a young age¸ boys trained in the use of shillelagh weapons¸ practicing on a regular basis to sharpen their skills. Fencing masters then helped the boys further hone their skills.
Meanwhile¸ having been taught by their fathers to carry their shillelagh weapon close to the chest for their own protection¸ boys would never be caught off guard whenever the need arose to use it. Its use as a weapons also affected the length of the stick. It started out much longer than its current version because this enabled fighting clubs to make contact more easily with their intended target. Over time¸ the length of the shillelagh shortened as cities grew and the space for fighting became smaller. What never changed was the use of the knobby top as a cudgel. Taking aim at an opponent’s head¸ a fighter wielded that knobby top quite effectively. This is also when the loaded stick — those filled with molten lead — were used to the greatest advantage. A man’s skill with a shillelagh was a genuine point of pride.
Shillelagh as a Collector’s Item
It is their link to Ireland and Irish folklore that attracts so many collectors to shillelaghs. As Irish folklorist Padraic Colum noted¸ carrying a shillelagh is a badge of honor for a man. Indeed¸ it was always viewed as a rite of passage into manhood when a boy received his shillelagh. This heritage makes a shillelagh a particularly treasured collectible for many people of Irish ancestry.
Although blackthorn shillelaghs have many common elements¸ as already noted¸ another feature that draws collectors is that each is also a unique piece of art. This is because each bears the characteristics of the individual piece of wood from which it is made. The fact that blackthorn wood is increasingly rare adds to the collectability of genuine blackthorn shillelaghs. As a result¸ both the antique and contemporary versions are hot collector’s items. As symbols of Irish culture¸ examples of the weapons of baitreacht¸ and beautiful representations of Ireland’s artistry¸ genuine blackthorn shillelaghs are the favorite walking sticks for personal use and for collecting.
The shillelagh walking stick has been the cane of choice for many European gentlemen for centuries. Blackthorn is a very hard, close-grained wood and is grown from a bush that is covered with very sharp, vicious spines. Because of these spines, it has been used for centuries throughout Ireland as property dividers to keep the family livestock in and unwanted people out. It is the iconic bush growing throughout the countryside of Ireland and the reason why it has become the official walking stick of Ireland. The wood is always in short supply because it is very difficult to harvest, and it has to be dried for at least one year before being made into an Irish blackthorn walking stick. A funny fact is that the most common way to get someone to harvest the wood in Ireland is to convince someone at a local bar to harvest the wood after a few pints of Guinness. Blackthorn has been the material of choice for many fine cane makers. It is extremely sturdy and durable, so you can be sure that your purchase will retain its classic beauty for years to come. Our selection of Irish blackthorn walking sticks features a range of designs including thumbstick hiking staffs, authentic ram's horn handles, and of course the classic knobbed blackthorn walking stick. A beautiful Irish blackthorn cane is known to bring good luck to anyone with a bit of Irish heritage. Blackthorn shillelaghs offer a natural beauty not seen in many canes and this classic piece of iconic history can be something you can walk with every day.
Although it is often imitated by using hawthorn woods, none compare to the quality of genuine blackthorn. FashionableCanes.com provides only the best, high-quality Irish blackthorn walking sticks on the market. Order yours today and enjoy the comfort, quality and whimsical appeal of a genuine Irish walking cane. Our selection of blackthorn walking sticks features highly sought-after items.
The shillelagh walking stick has been the walking stick of choice for many European gentlemen for centuries. Now, this durable and fashionable full-sized hiking stick can be yours when you shop our selection of Irish Blackthorn walking sticks. Blackthorn is a very hard, close-grained wood and if grown from the trunk of the tree or bush, it is covered with very sharp, vicious spines. The material of choice for any fine cane maker, it is extremely sturdy and durable, so you can be sure that your purchase will retain its classic beauty for years to come. Our selection of Irish blackthorn walking sticks features a range of designs including thumb canes, ram's horn crook handles and other beautiful Irish walking sticks. For even more options, be sure to look into our Irish Shillelagh canes and enjoy the classic beauty of a real work of art.
Genuine Irish Walking Sticks
If you are shopping for a genuine shillelagh hiking stick¸ beware of imitators. Our Irish canes are guaranteed to be the genuine woods¸ while others may use a Hawthorne shaft (of a genus Crataegus a spring-flowering spiny shrub)¸ and be simply passed off as a Blackthorn cane. Inspect any cane before you purchase to ensure that you are receiving the highest-quality Irish walking stick you can buy. Here are a few things you should look for that will identify a real shillelagh:
- Deep reddish-black bark and the numerous knots¸ which are best when perfected by an excellent cane maker.
- Thorns that are evenly spaced all around the cane.
- The cane must have a fine taper.
- The spurs cut close to the limb and small dimples are left behind each spur.
For even more classic European canes¸ check out our imported French Canes and vintage and antique canes¸ or choose the root-knob handle and natural wood hiking staffs for a similar natural looks. And no matter which cane you purchase¸ be sure to explore our vast selection of cane accessories for cane tips and more. Start shopping now!