Over the centuries, Irish Soldiers, exiles, wayfarers and adventurers have devoted their expertise and most often their lives, in the service of countries, armies and causes around the globe. Often, wherever they went their 'Shillelaghs' went with them. They left a lasting impression on many a battlefield and Shillelaghs continue to be utilised by military units around the world in recognition of the incredible Irish contributions in their past conflicts.
Countless thousands of Irish immigrants ended up serving in the U.S. armed forces. Many, especially, around the Irish famine era, arrived with no work skills or prospects. Many Irish were recruited straight off the famine ships with promises of good conditions and a steady income. Irish revolutionaries fostered the establishment of an "Irish" militia within the New York state militia (circa 1850) to protect the interests of the Irish communities of the area. Though their stated aim of creating an army within America, capable of invading and freeing Ireland from British rule never materialised, this New York militia became a powerful background force in support of pro-Irish political agendas of the time. During the American civil war, which had started badly for the North, this militia was incorporated into the U.S. Army as the 69th NY state militia. They earned the nickname 'Fighting Irish' during the conflict and though no longer drawing personnel from a solely Irish background, the regiment still exists today as the 69th New York National Guard Regiment. In addition to a distinguished military history, this regiment has the distinction of having led every New York St. Patrick's Day parade since its inception. At Olde Shillelagh we are proud to supply the ceremonial 'Shillelaghs' for use by the 69th during the annual parade.
The British Army, and navy was, and still is, a natural home for young Irishmen with a sense of loyalty to the crown and for those who simply had no other means of earning a living on an impoverished island. Many 'Irish' regiments were raised particularly during the two world wars, when thousands of Irish volunteered in the fight for freedom from tyranny. In recognition of their Irish roots, many of the officers of these Irish regiments began to carry Shillelaghs as their regimental canes. These 'canes' gradually came to be standardised as overly long and thin walking sticks. NCOs (Non-commissioned officers) and Warrant Officers in theses units were more often likely to carry the shorter, unblackened 'swagger stick' version of the blackthorn.
Here at Olde shillelagh, we are proud to continue to be recommended by Headquarters of the Royal Irish Guards Regiment to their graduating officers as their supplier.
Video below shows the Irish Guards marching from their barracks in Hounslow, London, on deployment to war in Iraq to the tune of 'With me Shillelagh under me arm'.
The first organised Irish units in foreign armies were the Irish regiments in the Spanish army of Flanders. King Phillip of Spain cited the legendary populating of Ireland by Spanish adventurers, dating right back to the Milesians, in granting Spanish citizenship to the Irish and encouraging Irish recruitment to the Spanish cause in the wars against the British. The British, trying to exert control over Ireland, allowed an English Catholic, William Stanley, to raise a regiment in Ireland to fight in support of their Dutch allies against the Spanish. The regiment when formed, however, due to religious preference and bribery, switched sides and joined the Spanish side instead.
Following the defeat of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1691, the British allowed Patrick Sarsfield to lead his army of the 19,000 strong to serve in the French Army where they trusted they would be rid of them from Ireland and they would be used to fight against Britain's Spanish enemies. These exiled soldiers, and those who followed later, came to be known as 'The Wild Geese'. Irish exiles also made their way to Italy and various other areas to serve as mercenaries. All these exiles utilised Shillelaghs as secondary weapons and we supply sticks of the style of that era to military units who trace their origins to one of those many Irish filled regiments.
Batallon de San Patricio
Many Catholic Irish who were recruited into the American Army were badly treated by their largely Protestant, and often English trained, officers. When war began with Mexico (1846-1848) these unhappy Catholic troops found themselves fighting under Protestant officers against Catholic foes, and many switched sides. Led by John Riley, an Irish officer with experience in the British Army, these defectors formed the St. Patrick's Brigade and became one of the most effective fighting forces in the Mexican War, inflicting serious casualties on the Americans and attaining legendary status in Mexican history as the Batallon de San Patricio. Like most Irish fighting men of the era they carried Shillelaghs for use in close quarter fighting. Their sticks were the same in style as those used by Irish fighters in the American Army but while the American Army's style gradually came to favour the blackened version, the Mexican officer's cane style remained the natural bark colour.