Shillelaghs have a history in Ireland going back at least a thousand years. Shillelagh duels, much like sword or pistol duels in other parts of Europe, had a specific code of conduct. However, unlike other forms of dueling, shillelagh “duels” often evolved into full combat between clans, during which all participants needed to obey the code rules. The shillelagh was considered an honorable weapon as much as a practical tool. When Great Britain took control of Irish lands and banned the use of weapons for Irish subjects, these “walking sticks” became a form of resistance against the British. Their continued use as walking sticks allowed Irishmen to carry them openly, but they could double function as cudgels at a moment’s notice.
Many aspects of Irish life, from politics to agriculture and language, were repressed or banned by Great Britain during over eight centuries of English control over the region. As a result, many national traditions have become extremely endangered, or have died out entirely. However, recent generations have taken an interest in not just preserving but actively reviving these practices. This includes creating and promoting a Gaelic-only BBC channel, providing economic support for traditional Irish businesses and farms, and teaching more students the art of Irish handicrafts like shillelagh-making. The most recent conflict between Ireland and the United Kingdom, called The Troubles, ran from about 1968 to 1998.