The History of the
Irish Martial art of Bataireacht (Irish stick fighting)
That’s right you read it right, the Irish Martial art of Bataireacht.
If like me you were brought up believing that the only martial arts around were Japanese, Chinese or even Indian, well frankly you’d be wrong. The Irish have had martial arts for centuries more, and they are just as lethal when properly used.
How is it I never heard of it? Is the next question you will be asking by now, the truth is you have!
You probably seen the cuddly fluffy leprechauns holding a Shillelagh or a blackthorn cane we sold to tourists, or the little Shillelaghs people had hanging on their walls or have seen the film “gangs of new York”.
Well, these are the weapon and this is the fighting style of Bataireacht.
The History of Irish Stick Fighting
The stick as a weapon goes back centuries in Irish history, it is believed it goes back to the Irish Celtic warriors, who used short swords in combat, as most of the fights was mainly individual matches, also they were ideal for raiding cattle from on your enemies camp.
After the Norman invasion men were no longer allowed to carry swords as this could fuel an uprising, so, the general populous started carrying blackthorn sticks which were strong, virtually indestructible and ideal for walking and, just as lethal as a sword in the right hands.
This is what Wikipedia says: Pronounced "Bata-rokt", it is the traditional art of the Irish shillelagh, which is still identified with popular Irish culture to this day, although the arts of Bataireacht are much less so. By the 18th century, Bataireacht became increasingly associated with Irish gangs called "factions". Irish faction fights involved large groups of Irish men (and sometimes women) who would engage in melees at county fairs, weddings, funerals, or any other convenient gathering. One social historian, Conley, believed that this reflected a culture of recreational violence. However, most historians (best summarized by James S. Donnelly, Jr. (1983) in "Irish Peasants: Violence & Political Unrest, 1780") agree that faction fighting had class and political overtones, as depicted for example in the works of William Carleton.
By the early 19th century, these gangs had organized into larger regional federations, which coalesced from the old Whiteboys into the Caravat and Shanavest factions. Beginning first in Munster, the Caravat and Shanavest "war" erupted sporadically throughout the 19th century and caused some serious disturbances. Over time, traditional rules and methods of Bataireacht and Shillelagh Law degenerated into more murderous fighting involving farm implements and guns. As the push for Irish independence from Great Britain gained steam toward the end of the 18th century, leaders of the Irish community believed it was necessary to distance themselves from customs associated with factionism and division, to present a united military front to the British, hence the United Irishmen of the Republican movement. Foremost of these customs were the arts of Bataireacht, and the shillelagh was soon replaced with the gun of the new unified faction of the Fenian Movement.
Another theory and a more likely reason, was the Great Famine, which decimated the Irish population and along with it a large part of Irish traditional life.
Stick fighting lineage.
Traditionally, stick fighting was passed from father to son, from generation to generation, evolving with each generation as new techniques and ideas came along. Over time many Irish men went to Europe fighting in the European conflicts as mercenaries. Here they would learn fencing and other war arts which they would combine with their Bataireacht and, upon return use and teach these skills in the faction fights.
The style of stick fighting that we do is from The Doyle Clan 'Rince an Bhata Uisce Beatha (The dance Whiskey Stick).
This was handed down to Glen Doyle, a prominent, legendary, and skilful Canadian martial artist, from his late father Greg Doyle, a war hero and skilful pugilist.
Glen can trace his family back generations to when the first Doyle arrived from Wexford to the shores of Newfoundland.
Here the family carried on the tradition of stickfighting, and passed it on from generation to generation. Glen is the last of the Doyle clan stickfighters and with the kind permission of his late father; Glen has started teaching the art to non family members to prevent it dying out.
I was fortunate enough to train with Glen and become his representative here in the Ireland and the Europe, and like Glen, I am determined to spread the word of Irish stick fighting, and make it accessible to all.
Click the history button for transcripts from Dublin City University Archives