Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bog Sticks – Irish Officers Continuing a Tradition

The Irish potato famine of the 1840s brought thousands of Irish immigrants to New York and other American cities. Unfortunately, many were not welcome, particularly when it came to seeking employment. By 1870, due to widespread political corruption, a more objective system of hiring people for municipal jobs was put in place. Called the Civil Service System, it was an outgrowth of the Civil Service Act passed by Congress in 1871. This gave everyone, including people of Irish descent, a more equal opportunity for finding employment in jobs like policing.

Bog Stick from the Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum.
In the 1870s-80s, a common tool of the trade for police officers was a club. Most officers purchased their own, which all looked similar in appearance. Unimpressed with the American clubs, many new Irish-American police officers sent home to have special ones made, modeled after “shillelaghs.” These clubs are named after a forest in Ireland, home to the oak trees from which the tools are constructed. It is thought that this tradition is what led Irish-Americans to carry bog sticks (like the one pictured above), clubs made of bog oak, which was unique to the ancient peat bogs of Ireland. Bog sticks were typically quite decorative while also heavy and able to deliver a hearty blow if necessary.

Forte, Matthew G.  American Police Equipment: A Guide to Early Restraints, Clubs & Lanterns. Turn of the Century Publishers, New Jersey: 2000.

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