The treasured art of crafting a walking stick stretches back through time to when Man first walked on two legs. At first simple tools, they would quickly have become carved and decorated. Many pilgrims would have also brought specially crafted walking sticks on pilgrimage with them. Today this tradition lives on.
Michael Walsh has recently returned from Santiago de Compostela after walking the Camino del Norte. By his side was a handcrafted walking stick, made from the ash tree, which was sourced in Co. Galway. Michael learned how to cut his first stick from his late father, and other stick makers. The sticks he makes are not made for sale but are only for gifts to fellow walkers. Hazel from Tipperary, Kilkenny, Laois, and Connemara is normally used. The stick is first cut in the Winter, between November and March and left in a cool dry place for about 12 months. It is then steamed to straighten it, cleaned, sanded and shaped to suit the end user. A ferrule (iron ring) is then added to the base, a strap to the handle and finally, the stick is treated with boiled linseed oil or Danish oil.
Michael has made a few blackthorn sticks as well, which is a much more difficult task, as blackthorn needs about 2 years to season as opposed to hazel and ash which only take about 1 year. He also has a few pieces of holly, still in the seasoning process (drying out).
Michael likes to personalise any stick he makes, adding some artwork or charms. A label is then put on each stick that says “The Magic begins when you take the stick for a walk…Ar Aghaigh Leat”.