A former prison officer from Co Leitrim has vowed to resurrect the almost forgotten Irish practice of stick fighting.
According to its practitioners, Bataireacht goes back hundreds of years in Ireland – but due to the Famine and British interference, it nearly disappeared.
It involves two people using sticks, or shillelagh, typically made from Blackthorn wood and about four feet long.
Bernard Leddy discovered Bataireacht around 10 years ago and now hopes to bring it to a wider audience.
“The British army began breaking up the stick fights, which were used to resolve disputes or entertain at occasions such as fairs. At first, the British said, ‘Let them fight each other and not us.’ But later they decided to break up the fights, which made them move out of town and into fields,” said Mr Leddy.
“The first time I heard of something like this was from my grandfather, who had seen two men fighting with sticks, where one killed the other.
“Each stick is personal, it is measured to you. They can be made of all different local woods. Sticks would be passed down within families. They would have thorns on them that would rip skin and flesh.”
He began practising Bataireacht after injuring his knee. An avid martial arts practitioner since the age of eight, Mr Leddy searched for something that would help him exercise without putting strain on his knee.
“I tried different martial arts, but they were all too similar to what I had done before. So, I decided to look up if there was an Irish martial art, and to my surprise there was.”
He met Glen Doyle, whose family has continued the Bataireacht tradition in Canada, and spent a week training with him.
“Glen is one of the last hereditary stick fighters in the world. His ancestors moved to Newfoundland and Labrador where there remains a substantial Irish population. Bataireacht survived there, or else it would have died off completely. If it were not for the Doyle family, this martial art would have disappeared,” Mr Leddy said.
For the last 10 years, Mr Leddy has trained and coached Bataireacht around the world in seminars and online sessions, overseeing the creation and operation of 50 schools – four of which are in Ireland.
There are schools as far afield as the US, Canada, Egypt, Mexico, Pakistan, and Taiwan, and Mr Leddy is looking for new recruits.
“Anyone is welcome, I have a student that is 80. Age does not matter in this,” he said.
When asked why Bataireacht is worth saving, Mr Leddy said: “As a martial artist, I immediately see the benefit of it. I want to put it in every school and village in Ireland. It is a part of us, it is the heart of us.
“We are a great warrior nation, and this taps into it. It needs to be saved.”