Thread: Irish stick fighting
2/22/2009 1:09pm, #1
Irish stick fighting
A highly detailed account of a shillelagh combat between two champions, from "The Works of William Carleton : Traits and stories of the Irish peasantry" (1881):
"Jem Finigan's public-house was the head-quarters and rallying-point of the Ribbonmen ; the Orangemen assembled in that of Joe Sherlock, the master of an Orange lodge. About six o'clock the crowd in the street began gradually to fall off to the opposite ends of the town—the Roman Catholics towards the north, tad the Protestants towards the south. Carson's window, from which I was observing their motions, was exactly half way between them, so that I had a distinct view of both. At this moment I noticed Denis Kelly coming forward from the closely condensed mass formed by the Ribbonmen : he advanced with his cravat off, to the middle of the vacant space between the parties, holding a fine oak cudgel in his hand. He then stopped, and addressing the Orangemen, said,
" ' Where's Vengeance and his crew now ? Is there any single Orange villain among you that dare come down and meet me here like a man ? Is John Grimes there ? for if he is, before we begin to take you out of a face, to hunt you altogether out of the town, ye Orange villains I would be glad that he'd step down to Denis Kelly here for two or three minutes ; I'll not keep him longer.'
"There was now a stir and a murmur among the Orangemen, as if a rush was about to take place towards Denis ; but Grimes, whom I saw endeavoring to curb them in, left the crowd, and advanced toward him.
" At this moment an instinctive movement among both masses took place ; so that when Grimes had come within a few yards of Kelly, both parties were within two or three perches of them. Kelly was standing, apparently off his guard, with one hand thrust carelessly into the breast pocket of his waistcoat, and the cudgel in the other ; but his eye was fixed calmly upon Grimes as he approached. They were both powerful, fine men—brawny, vigorous, and active ; Grimes had somewhat the advantage of the other in height ; he also fought with his left hand, from which circumstance he was nicknamed Kitthouye. He was a man of a dark, stem-looking countenance ; and the tones of his voice were deep, sullen, and of appalling strength.
" As they approached each other, the windows on each side of the street were crowded ; but there was not a breath to be heard in any direction, nor from either party. As for myself, my heart palpitated with anxiety. What they might have felt I do not know : but they must have experienced considerable apprehension ; for as they were both the champions of their respective parties, and had never before met in single encounter, then- characters depended on the issue of the contest.
" ' Well, Grimes,' said Denis, ' sure I've often wished for this same meetin,' man, betune myself and you ; I have what you're goin' to get, in for you this long time ; but you'll get it now, avick, please God '
" ' It was not to should I came, you Popish, ribly rascal," replied Grimes, ' but to give you what you're king '
"Ere the word had been out of his mouth, however, Kelly sprung over to him ; and making a feint, as if he intended to lay the stick on his ribs, he swung it past without touching him and, bringing it round his own head like lightning, made it tell with a powerful back-stroke, right on Grimes's temple, and in an instant his own face was sprinkled with the blood which sprung from the wound. Grimes staggered forwards towards his antagonist, seeing which, Kelly sprung back, and was again meeting him with full force, when, Grimes, turning a little, clutched Kelly's stick in his right hand, and being left-handed himself, ere the other could wrench the cudgel from him, he gave him a terrible blow upon the back part of the head, which laid Kelly in the dust.
" There was then a deafening shout from the Orange party ; and Grimes stood until Kelly should be in the act of rising, ready then to give him another blow. The coolness and generalship of Kelly, however, were here very remarkable ; for, when he was just getting to his feet, ' Look at your party coming down upon me ! ' he exclaimed to Grimes, who turned round to order them back, and, in the interim, Kelly was upon his legs.
" I was surprised at the coolness of both men ; for Grimes was by no means inflated with the boisterous triumph of his party— nor did Denis get into a blind rage on being knocked down. They approached again, their eyes kindled into savage fury, tamed down into the wariness of experienced combatants ; for a short time they stood eyeing each other, as if calculating upon the contingent advantages of attack or defence. This was a moment of great interest ; for, as their huge and powerful frames stood out in opposition, strung and dilated by the impulse of passion and the energy of contest, no judgment, however experienced, could venture to anticipate the result of the battle, or name the person likely to be victorious. Indeed it was surprising how the natural sagacity of these men threw their attitudes ; and movements into scientific form and symmetry. Kelly raised his cudgel, and placed it transversely in the air, between himself and his opponent ; Grimes instantly placed his against it—both weapons thus forming a St. Andrew's cross—whilst the men themselves stood foot to foot, calm and collected. Nothing could be finer than their proportions, nor superior to their respective attitudes ; their broad chests were in a line ; their thick, well-set necks laid a little back, as were their bodies, without, however, losing their balance ; and their fierce but calm features, grimly but placidly scowling at each other, like men who were prepared for the onset.
" At length Kelly made an attempt to repeat his former feint, with variations ; for whereas he had sent the first blow to Grimes's right temple, he took measures now to reach the left ; his action was rapid, but equally quick was the eye of his antagonist, whoso cudgel was up in ready guard to meet the blow. It met it ; and with such surprising power was it sent and opposed, that both cudgels, on meeting, bent across each other into curvea. An involuntary huzza followed this from their respective parties—not so much on account of the skill displayed by the combatants as in admiration of their cudgels, and of the judgment with which they must have been selected. In fact, it was the staves, rather than the men, that were praised ; and certainly the former did their duty. In a moment their shillelaghs were across each other once more, and the men resumed their former attitudes ; their savage determination, their kindled eyes, the blood which disfigured the face of Grimes, and begrimed also the countenance of his antagonist into a deeper expression of ferocity, occasioned many a cowardly heart to shrink from the sight. There they stood, gory and stern, ready for the next onset ; it was first made by Grimes, who tried to practise on Kelly the feint which Kelly had before practised on him. Denis, after his usual manner, caught the blow in his open hand, and clutched the staff, with an intention of holding it until he might visit Grimes, now apparently unguarded, with a levelling blow ; but Grimes's effort to wrest the cudgel from his grasp, drew all Kelly's strength to that quarter, and prevented him from availing himself of the other's defenceless attitude. A trial of muscular power ensued, and their enormous .bodily strength was exhibited in the stiff tug for victory. Kelly's address prevailed ; for while Grimes pulled against him with all his collected vigor, the former suddenly let go his hold, and the latter, having lost his balance, staggered back ; lightning could not be more quick than the action of Kelly, as, with tremendous force, his cudgel rung on the unprotected head of Grimes, who fell, or rather was shot to the ground, as if some superior power had dashed him against it ; and there he lay for a short time, quivering under the blow he had received.
" A peal of triumph now arose from Kelly's party ; but Kelly himself, placing his arms a-kimbo, stood calmly over his enemy, awaiting his return to the conflict. For nearly five minutes he stood in this attitude, during which time Grimes did not stir ; at length Kelly stooped a little, and peering closely into his face, exclaimed—
" ' Why, then, is ît acting you are ?—any how, I wouldn't put it past you, you cunning vagabond ; 'tis lying to take breath he is—get up, man, I'd scorn to touch you till you're on your legs ; not all as one, for sure it's yourself would show me no such forbearance. Up with you, man alive, I've none of your treachery in me. I'll not rise my cudgel till you're on your guard.'
" There was an expression of disdain, mingled with a glow of honest, manly generosity on his countenance, as he spoke, which made him at once the favorite with such spectators as were not connected with either of the parties. Grimes arose, and it was evident, that Kelly's generosity deepened Ids resentment more than the blow which had sent him so rapidly to the ground ; how- e%'er, he was still cool, but his brows knit, his eye flashed with double fierceness, and his complexion settled into a dork blue shade, which gave to his whole visage an expression fearfully ferocious. Kelly hailed this as the first appearance of passion ; his brow expanded as the other approached, and a dash of confidence, if not of triumph, softened in some degree the sternness of his features.
"With caution they encountered again each collected for a spring, their eyes gleaming at each other like those of tigers. Grimes made a motion as if he would have struck Kelly with his fist ; and, as the latter threw up his guard against the blow, he received a stroke from Grimes's cudgel in the under part of the right arm. This had been directed at his elbow, with an intention of rendering the arm powerless : it fell short, however, yet was sufficient to relax the grasp which Kelly had of his weapon. Had Kelly been a novice, this stratagem alone would have soon vanquished him ; his address, however, was i fully equal to that of his antagonist. The staff dropped instantly from his grasp, but a stout thong of black polished leather, with a shining tassel at the end of it, had bound i it securely to his massive wrist ; the cudgel, ' therefore, only dangled from his arm, and it did not, as the other expected, fall to the ground, or put Denis to the necessity of stooping for it—Grimes's object being to have struck him in that attitude.
"A flash of indignation now shot from Kelly's eye, and with the speed of lightning lie sprung within Grimes's weapon, determined to wrest it from him. The grapple that ensued -was gigantic. In a moment Grimes's staff was parallel with the horizon between them, clutched in the powerful grasp of both. They stood exactly opposite, and rather close to each other ; their arms sometimes stretched out stiff and at full length, again contracted, until their faces, glowing and distorted by the energy of the contest, were drawn almost together. Sometimes the prevailing strength of one would raise the staff slowly, and with gradually developed power, up in a perpendicular position : again the reaction of opposing strength would strain it back, and sway the weighty frame of the antagonist, crouched and set into desperate resistance, along with it ; whilst the hard pebbles under their feet were crumbled into powder, and the very street itself furrowed into gravel by the shock of their opposing strength. Indeed, so well I matched a pair never met in contest : their strength, their wind, their activity, and their natural science appeared to be perfectly equal.
" At length, by a tremendous effort, Kelly got the staff twisted nearly out of Grimes's hand, and a short shout, half encouraging, half indignant, came from Grimes's party. This added shame to his other passions, and threw an impulse of almost superhuman strength into him : he recovered his advantage, but nothing more ; they twisted—they heaved their great frames against each other—they struggled—their action became rapid—they swayed each other this way and that—their eyes like fire—their teeth locked, and their nostrils dilated. Sometimes they twined about each other like serpents, and twirled round with such rapidity, that it was impossible to distinguish them—sometimes, when a pull of more than ordinary power took place, they seemed to cling together almost without motion, bending down until their heads nearly touched the ground, their cracking joints seeming to stretch by the effort, and the muscles of their limbs standing out from the flesh, strung into amazing tension.
" In this attitude were they, when Denis, with the eye of a hawk, spied a disadvantage in Grimes's position ; he wheeled round, placed his broad shoulder against the shaggy breast of the other, and giving him what is j called an 'inside crook, ' strained him, despite of every effort, until he got him off his shoulder, and off the point of resistance. There was a cry of alarm from the windows, particularly from the females, as Grimes's huge body was swung over Kelly's shoulder, until it came down in a crash upon the hard gravel of the street, while Denis stood in triumph, with his enemy's staff in his hand. A loud huzzah followed this from all present except the Orangemen, who stood bristling with fury and shame for the temporary defeat of their champion.
"Denis again had his enemy at his mercy ; but he scorned to use his advantage so generously ; he went over, and placing the staff in his hands—for the other had got to his legs—retrograded to his place, and desired Grimes to defend himself.
"After considerable manœuvring on both sides, Denis, who appeared to be the more active of the two, got an open on his antagonist, and by a powerful blow upon Grimes's ear, sent him to the ground with amazing force. I never saw such a blow given by mortal ; the end of the cudgel came exactly upon the ear, and as Grimes went down, the blood spurted out of his mouth and nostrils ; he then kicked convulsively several times as he lay upon the ground, and that moment I really thought he would never have breathed more.
"The shout was again raised by the Ribbonmen, who threw up their hats, and bounded from the ground with the most vehement exultation. Both parties then waited to give Grimes time to rise and renew the battle ; but he appeared perfectly contented to remain where he was: for there appeared no signs of life or motion in him.
2/23/2009 2:42am, #2
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- Nov 2012
- San Diego
- street paddleboarding
Cool article. Anybody know what an "inside crook" is? Sounds like a shoulder wheel.
2/23/2009 7:12am, #3
DdlR, great stuff as always. Codos, I was thinking the same thing.
2/23/2009 11:31am, #4
FWIW I've read "inside crook" as a reference to an inside grapevine to either leg, preparatory to a throw. However, it doesn't seem to have been standard terminology in Irish collar-and-elbow wrestling (or, if it was, the term didn't make it into print very often).
2/23/2009 9:03pm, #5
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- Nov 2008
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There's much to be said for men to whom a blow to the head with an oak cudgel is a passing inconvenience. Remind me not to hit 19th century Irishmen in the head with a stick and expect the fight to be over.
2/26/2009 4:52pm, #6
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- Feb 2009
Im irish and iv never heard of irish stick fighting :P they were probb using hurleys :D
3/07/2009 4:58pm, #7
the April 20th episode of "Dhani Tackles the Globe" on Travel Channel will show him playing Hurling. I'm not certain, but I have heard that he was going to learn a bit of Irish stickfighting too...Many things we do naturally become difficult only when we try to make them intellectual subjects. It is possible to know so much about a subject that you become totally ignorant.
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3/20/2009 8:26pm, #8
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- Mar 2008
Man, old school MA's were hardcore. :)
3/20/2009 8:42pm, #9
3/24/2009 4:18pm, #10
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- Mar 2004
- Dayton, OH
they were probb using hurleys :D
However, the ample extant documentation from the period of faction fighting indicates that 4 foot, narrow sticks and 3 foot canes (the stereotypical "shillelagh"). The three (known) remaining period written sources which offer instruction are Walker, Allanson-Winn, and Longhurst. There is also a fair amount of pictorial evidence in art work as well as news accounts.
Peace favor your sword,