Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Making of a Shillelagh-Part 3

Many do not know the origin of the Shillelagh other than it is an Irish icon. Claims bounce back and forth between Ireland and Great Britain as to who made it and used it first, but most authorities give the Irish credit for its invention.  

"Sticks have been used as weapons since fighting began, however the skilled use of hardwood clubs by the people of Shillelagh led to these clubs to be called Shillelagh's by Richard II in 1395. With the dispersion of these peoples through the ages the term Shillelagh spread throughout Ireland and the new world in reference to a weighted fighting stick.  The unique qualities of these sticks were first developed by the Siol Ealaigh people of this region more than 1200 years ago.

When it became illegal for any Irish person to carry a weapon their Shillelagh's were often elongated to appear as a walking stick but were just as effictive  a weapon when the need arose. These irish who emigrated to America enjoyed the right there of all men to carry arms and Shillelagh's became very promenant in the faction fights in the turbulant years of the young United States. Many Irish Americans can remember this kind of Shillelagh in use or will have heard stories about them while most English and Irish people will remember them as walking sticks or lucky charms from home."  ---Olde Shillelagh Stick Makers, Shillelagh, County Wicklow, Ireland.

These sticks are of all designs.  It is the maker who decides what it will be.  This design is primarily for walking, but can be used in the traditional manor as a weapon for self defense, if ever needed.  Not its intention, but what is tradition if not to replicate it?

The carving phase is now finished.  This was fairly easy, a bit time consuming though.  The hardest part was making the wrist strap hole at the bottom of the stick.  The same knife used for carving made the hole.  Since the knife had only a half inch long awl and the stick is almost an inch wide, careful measurements were taken to assure the holes on each side would line up.  They did.  Next will come the smoothing phase.  This will be interesting.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Making of a Shillelagh-Part 2

Had some free time today so it went toward the Shillelagh project.  It was determined the handle would be sort of form fitting to the hand.  A sharp knife was used to carve the finger and palm impressions.  This will give the handle a comfortable grip and a bit of style.  Not sure what the end of the handle will look like yet.  Once the handle is finished, the whole project will be smoothed out for finishing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Making of a Shillelagh-Part 1

In the spirit of our last post, I wanted to do something a bit different with the enormous amount of time on my hands.  HA!  If you believe that, I have a few bridges I would like to sell you.  Since we were under the weather on St. Patrick's Day, we did not attend Savannah's gigantic parade so we opted to watch it on TV.  Coverage was excellent and we probably got a better view than had we been there.  It was three hours and fifteen minutes long from beginning to end and well worth every minute.  Hopefully, next year we can see it in person.

For those who have ever attended a good St. Patrick's Day parade, a majority of the entries are families whose ancestors originated in Ireland.  They form in family groups and walk the parade route waving and showing their pride as an Irish descendant. Many of the parade walkers carry the traditional walking stick known as a shillelagh (usually pronounced shill-lay-lee).  For more history of the shillelagh, click on this link:  Irish Culture and Customs.  Many of those who carried the shillelaghs had one feature about them; they were all different.  It was obvious some were store bought, but most were hand made.  All of them, however, were very attractive.

I did some research and found many web sites explaining how to make a shillelagh from scratch as did the Irish  so many years ago.  I decided to try my hand at this art craft.  Knowing the wood used was not readily available here in the Low Country of coastal Georgia, I looked for a wood that would be comparable to the oak or blackthorn tree used in original shillelagh construction.  Our most common small tree/large bush here  is the Mayberry (Vaccinium elliottii).  Mayberry is, actually, a blueberry bush that grows very large, up to 10-15 feet.  The wood is light and very hard so it should make a good substitute.  During the process of clearing Berry Oaks, we have cut many of these bushes.  I looked in our pile of brush and found the best piece.  It had been drying for several months so it was perfect.

First, the protruding branches were cut off with a small buck saw so the piece would be the approximate size necessary.  The handle is a bit big, but it can be carved that down to a good size.  A measurement was taken of the arm at a 90 degree angle to the ground.  Several inches were added to assure it could be trimmed, if required, later on. Most important, at this phase, is to have enough wood to work with.  You can always cut it, but you cannot add it back on.

First the  bark was shaved from the piece.  This was easy since it had been drying for several months.  Next  the excess remaining bark was scraped with the pocket knife resulting in a some what smooth surface.  The pocket knife will be the only tool used for the remainder of this composition. The term composition is used for it will be a work of art. 

That's all for now.  Stay tuned for Part 2.

Signing off from Berry Oaks.