How many sticks are enough? The tradition of the two oaks. 2

How many sticks are enough? The tradition of the two oaks.

Judging by our collections a sensible man would need to own at least forty sticks before he seriously felt ready to face the world, but we might be extreme cases.

We talk a lot here about different shillelagh having different roles, and a man (or woman) might have a longer rambling stick for the countryside, a thin cane for the city, and maybe a club or kippeen spirited away in case the unfortunate need for mayhem struck. Not to mention maybe  a duelling stick and something robust but unlovely for fair-fighting duties.

That’s a lot of sticks.

At the other end of the spectrum, many people reckon the folk tradition around shillelagh suggests a man would just have the one – made from an oak tree planted the day he was born (next to the oak tree that would one day make the wood for his coffin).

However most people in interpreting this tradition seem to be thinking of making a shillelagh from oak the way one does with blackthorn – simply waiting until the sapling is about the right thickness for about the right length, and yanking it out of the ground and hoping the root ball is workable.

But it’s important to remember that this was done because people couldn’t get staves from plantation (or wild) oak any more, and so blackthorn was harvested to get a stave that could have grown in only a year or two.

If we figure a lad might first need a shillelagh at ten or fifteen, then an oak tree planted on his birthday would produce  half dozen decent staves at that point (and interestingly would be at a stage where the top branches would have a long supple form, often coming from thick ancillary crowns). As such a man could start harvesting plenty of oaken shillelagh by the time he started learning to use it (usually from his father or the local dancing master).

How many sticks are enough? The tradition of the two oaks. 3

Certainly any man that could yank a ten year old oak out wouldn’t need to carry a weapon at all.

From that we’re taking the tradition of the two oaks to mean that all men (and indeed some women) had at least half a dozen shillelagh by the time they were teenagers, and would have had more besides as the years rolled by.

And there’s no way we’d be biased at all…

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