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Also known as Bata, Irish stick-fighting, Celtic stick-fighting, Irish club-play
Focus Stick-fighting
Country of origin Ireland
Olympic sport No

In Irish martial arts, bataireacht ([ˈbˠat̪ˠəɾʲaxt̪ˠ], meaning stick-fighting) is the various forms of stick-fighting from Ireland. Today the word bataireacht is used amongst Irish- and some English-language speakers to distinguish between traditional and non-traditional stick-fighting styles.


Bataireacht is a category of stick-fighting martial arts of Ireland. The term is found in most large format Irish language dictionaries such as those published by An Gúm and by Patrick Dinneen.[1] Researcher and author John W. Hurley attributes the reintroduction of the term into modern usage among English-speaking practitioners of Irish stick-fighting to his works, which was where the term first appeared in modern popular culture.[2]

Bata is the Irish term for any kind of stick. In stickfighting, the actual bata or stick used for bataireacht is a Sail Éille (anglicised as shillelagh) or, in earlier texts, a cudgel. Blackthorn, oak, ash and hazel were traditionally the most common types of woods used to make shillelagh fighting sticks.[3] Some evidence exists which indicates that, prior to the 19th Century, the term had been used to refer to a form of stick-fencing used to train Irish soldiers in broadsword and sabre techniques.[4]


The Irish have used various sticks and cudgels as weapons of self-defence for centuries.[5] Since ancient times, the arts of stick fighting had been handed down from fathers to sons or learned in traditional military fencing schools.[4] The shillelagh is still identified with Irish popular culture to this day,[6] although the arts of bataireacht are much less so. The sticks used for bataireacht are not of a standardised size, as there are various styles of bataireacht, using various kinds of sticks.

By the 18th century bataireacht became increasingly associated with Irish gangs called "factions".[7] Irish faction fights involved large groups of men (and sometimes women) who engaged 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.[8] Most historians however agree that faction fighting had class and political overtones, as depicted for example in the works of William Carleton and James S. Donnelly's "Irish Peasants: Violence & Political Unrest, 1780".

By the early 19th century, these gangs had organised into larger regional federations, which coalesced from the old Whiteboys, into the Caravat and Shanavest factions. Beginning in Munster the Caravat and Shanavest "war" erupted sporadically throughout the 19th century and caused some serious disturbances.[9]

Modern practice[edit]

The modern practice of bataireacht has arisen amongst some practitioners from a desire to maintain or reinstate Irish family traditions, while for others a combination of historical and cultural interest has led to their interest.[10] Practitioners, which started independently of each other, exist in Ireland, the United States, Canada and Germany. Bataireacht has also gained popularity amongst non-Irish people, especially in the United States, as a form of self-defence, especially as a cane or walking stick can be easily carried in modern society. As with most martial arts, multiple versions exist.

A few forms of bataireacht survive to this day, some of which are traditional styles specific to the family which carried them down through the years, like the rince an bhata uisce bheatha ('dance [of] the whiskey stick') style of the Doyle family[11] of Newfoundland, taught in Canada, the United-States and Germany, or the Antrim stick (bataireacht Aontroma) which is taught in Canada, the United States and France. Others styles have survived in the techniques used in the sport of hurling and in military sabre fencing. Another is maide bata or maide mear.

Additionally, members of the Western Martial Arts movement have "reconstructed" styles using period martial arts manuals, historical newspaper articles, magazines, pictorial evidence and court documents. Surviving instructional manuals which describe some use of the shillelagh include those by Rowland Allanson-Winn and Donald Walker.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dinneen, Patrick S (1904). Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla/Irish-English Dictionary. Irish Texts Society, Dublin. 
  2. ^ Hurley's website, which uses the term,, was first created in 2002. His book Irish Gangs and Stick-Fighting, which also explains the term, was published in 2002. Others started using the term in about 2004. For example see Ken Pfrenger. Also see this Wiki article which John W. Hurley originally created.
  3. ^ Hurley, John W. (2007). The Shillelagh Makers Handbook. Caravat Press. 
  4. ^ a b O'Donnell, Patrick D. (1975). The Irish Faction Fighters of the 19th Century. Anvil Press. 
  5. ^ Hurley, John W. (2007). Shillelagh: The Irish Fighting Stick. Caravat Press. ISBN 1-4303-2570-4. [1]
  6. ^ 
  7. ^ The Wild Geese Today – Bataireacht: The Art of Irish Stick-fighting
  8. ^ The Agreeable Recreation Of Fighting
  9. ^ Clark, Samuel; James S. Donnelly (1983). Irish Peasants: Violence & Political Unrest, 1780–1914. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-09374-3. .
  10. ^ (dead link)
  11. ^ (dead link)
  12. ^ – Irish Stick-Fighting