So what exactly is Antrim Bata? If you came by this website, you probably asked yourself this question, so let’s look at the nature of this martial art, the history and what makes it unique.
The history of Antrim Bata
As the name implies, our style of bataireacht was preserved in county Antrim, and carried on to today by the Ramsey family. Unfortunately, not much is known of the history of this style. Like many vernacular martial arts, this one was practiced by people who had little access to writing or printing, in a culture that relied primarily on oral traditions.
We do know it was practiced by John Ramsey, nicknamed « Ticketyboo », who lived in the 19th century and who acquired a fearsome reputation as a faction fighter. The women of the family were also fighters, like Annie Ramsey, who – as documented in court records- sometimes fought besides her husband.
Though some Ramseys in the UK and America are of English origin, the vast majority of Ramseys (sometimes spelled Ramsay) in Ireland have Scottish roots. The Ramseys are a Scottish clan which appeared when Symon de Ramesie, a Norman nobleman, was granted lands in Mithlodian by David of Scotland in 1145. How and when the family came to Ireland is currently unknown, but travels between Scotland and county Antrim were obviously numerous over the centuries.
By the 19th century, the family lived principally in Larne, but also in different parts of the county. They married with the Kennedys and McLoughlins among others, with whom they stayed quite close.
Although some aspects of the style may be unique to the Ramsey family, the style is probably representative of a regional method. It is very close to the technical descriptions we have from sources like Walker (1840), Allanson-Winn (1890) and the San Francisco Call article (1905) and as such is probably a very good representation of what Irish stick was like in the 19th century, if not much earlier, as there are hints that bataireacht may have links with 12th century fighting methods.
The style came into the public eye in the early 2000s, when the internet raised awareness of previously obscure and forgotten martial arts. Among them was Irish stick fighting, or bataireacht. Mr. Ramsey, still residing in county Antrim, had learned bata through his father, grandfather and uncles, came upon some of the online groups which had been created to discuss the art.
In 2005, he met with Scottish martial arts researcher Louie Pastore, and taught him the techniques he had learned. Two years later, Émile Boudreau and myself met with Mr. Ramsey while staying in Cork, who accepted to teach us the style. After the training, we were given permission to teach it, an honour we were not initially seeking, but which we were honoured to receive. We trained together, still under the guidance of our teacher, and in 2009, back to Quebec City, we decided it was time to share it with more people.
Mr. Ramsey has since retired from teaching, and left the style in the hands of those he had personally taught. I have since been the head of what we have come to name Antrim Bata. I am still corresponding with my teacher, which I am lucky to count as a friend.
What makes Antrim Bata unique
Although Antrim Bata was probably quite similar to how bataireacht was practiced in Ireland, the fact that it is one of the only lineage left today makes it quite unique in the martial arts world.
One of the defining features of Antrim bata is of course its weapon, the famous Irish shillelagh; a forward weighted stick that is not unlike a mace, and which tends to be of walking stick length. The peculiar way this stick is gripped is where things get quite different.
In almost all descriptions of bataireacht, one thing comes back over and over again; that the stick is gripped somewhere around the middle or lower third. This is in part to make the weapon well balanced in the hand, but also to protect the head and elbow. This allows the fighter to take guard positions and use striking mechanics that would be too dangerous to use with a more standard bottom grip. The lower part, or buta, actively shields the arm, which means that shorter striking motions can be used without the risk of the elbow becoming an easy target.
It also allows for surprisingly fast changes in reach. One common question about Antrim bata is why we do not grip the stick lower to allow for greater reach. The fact is that we do, but only when the need arises. Antrim bata has a very unique concept called « the hook » where the off hand comes to grip the stick just below the murlan, allowing to swiftly increase the striking range. This is not unlike what you would see in Kalinda or Bois, but the major difference being that the hands are not held on the opposite ends of the stick. This technique would be impossible to do with a bottom grip, or at least would become a lot more predictable, and is one of the most dangerous and effective techniques in the style, as many of our sparring friends can attest.
Gripping the stick near the middle also allows for seamless transitions to infighting range, where a bottom grip would leave few instantaneous options. The buta and the murlan can be used to stab, as well as to strike with in the manner of an elbow strike with no change in grip or hand position. The shorter upper section also allows for a devastating blow in grappling range called « the lark ». In this technique, the stick is raised well above the head, and with a rotation of the wrist the murlan is sent crashing into the opponent’s head or side. The angle of the strike makes it incredibly difficult to block or seize, and would be difficult to pull off with a longer stick.
When a fighter, or bataire, finds themselves surrounded, another grip comes up: the long grip. Here, the stick is gripped by the bottom with two hands, and the stick is rotated around the body to create an dangerous zone for any opponent wanting to come near. The goal here is not necessarily to fight everyone, but rather to gain time and space to escape back to safety.
Antrim bata also includes punches and kicks. The punches are backhand or palm strikes, while the kicks are reminiscent of savate’s low kicks, as the sole of the shoe is used as a weapon, and the shins, knees and groin become the main targets.
Finally, Antrim bata also includes stick grappling techniques as well as disarms. The techniques offer an effective complement to Irish Collar and Elbow wrestling, by mostly targeting the legs of the opponent, while the disarms seek to capitalize on an opponent who would use his stick somewhat like a sword, seizing it to either disarm or deal terrible larks on the careless opponent.
Is Antrim bata a form of walking stick self defense?
This is also a question that comes back a lot about our style, and the answer is both yes and no. Antrim bata’s weapon is, in its shape and appearance, a walking stick. As such, the techniques we use can easily be applied to a cane. That said, it is not a form of walking stick self defense in the sense that it was not designed and developed for people who need a stick as a mobility aid, and we prefer to be honest about this fact. Bataireacht was mainly used by young people in their prime, who had little need for a walking stick other than as a weapon. It is also not necessarily designed to be used with something like a crooked cane, though the principles can always be transferred to different weapons and sticks.
That is not to say that it cannot be adapted as such, and we welcome students of all ages and can adapt teaching to fit most people’s capabilities.
What Antrim Bata strives for
Beyond its history and techniques, Antrim bata also looks towards the future. Our goal is to preserve and share the techniques that were handed down to us in the best and most relevant way possible. We are always aiming to perfect the methods we use to transmit our skill and knowledge, while staying true to our techniques. We believe in testing out those techniques through pressure and sparring, always pushing us to move forward and better ourselves. We believe Antrim Bata has much to teach in our current world, and is worth passing on.
If this short presentation gave you the desire to start discovering our art, you can find a listing of all the current instructors and schools on this page. Some groups even offer distance learning. So, what are you waiting for?