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A shillelagh (Irish: sail éille, a cudgel with a strap), commonly pronounced /??’le?li/ “shi-LAY-lee” or “shi-LAY-la”, IPA: [?a’le?l?]) is a wooden club or cudgel, typically made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob on the end, that is associated with Ireland and Irish folklore.
Shillelaghs are traditionally made from blackthorn (sloe) wood (Prunus spinosa) or oak. The wood would be smeared with butter and placed up a chimney to cure, giving the Shillelagh its typical black shiny appearance. Shillelaghs may be hollowed at the heavy “hitting” end and filled with molten lead to increase the weight beyond the typical two pounds; this sort of Shillelagh is known as a ‘loaded stick’. They are commonly the length of a walking stick (distance from the floor to one’s wrist with elbow slightly bent). Most also have a heavy knob for a handle which can be used for striking as well as parrying and disarming an opponent. Many shillelaghs also have a strap attached (hence the Irish name), similar to commercially made walking sticks, to place around the holder’s wrist.
There is no actual connection with the village or forest of Shillelagh (Irish: Síol Éalaigh, meaning ‘descendants of Éalach’) in County Wicklow, other than the fact that both the original Irish names have ended up with the same anglophone interpretation.
Although originally used for settling disputes in a gentlemanly manner (like pistols in colonial America, or the katana in Japan), the shillelagh became almost a weapon associated with Irish martial arts, and eventually became a symbol of stereotypical violent Irish behavior, and has thus become nearly a tabooed topic of discussion for some Irish people. Modern practitioners of Bataireacht study the use of the shillelagh for self defense and as a martial art. Of the practice, researcher JW Hurley writes:
In modern usage, the shillelagh is recognised (particularly in an Irish-American context) as a symbol of Irishness. For example, the NCOs of the Fighting 69th carry shillelaghs as rank badges in parades, the Boston Celtics logo has a leprechaun leaning on his shillelagh, etc. In San Diego, Padres broadcaster Mark Grant popularized the shillelagh as a rally call, by using terms like “Shillelagh Power” to describe late game heroics by the Padres. (The success of the phrase led the San Diego Padres store to carry inflatable shillelaghs). Similarly, in college football, a Jeweled Shillelagh is the trophy given to the winner of the rivalry game between the USC Trojans and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. WWE superstar Finlay carries a shillelagh to the ring as his signature weapon.
Shillelaghs are sometimes referred to in a similar context in folk songs, such as in “Finnegan’s Wake”, where the term “shillelagh law” refers to a brawl, and in the 19th century song “Rocky Road to Dublin”, where references are made to fashioning a shillelagh, using it to hold a tied bag over one’s shoulder, and using it as a striking weapon.
The MGM-51 Shillelagh anti-tank missile was named for the club.
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