Have you a MurtAthy Walking Stick?
Martin Reid, known to his many friends simply as Murt, is my father and this blog post is about him and the walking sticks he makes. As a hobby, Murt likes to source, dry and make walking sticks. And over the years as his hobby grew and developed my father gifted many of these to his family, friends and relations. Many of these sticks have travelled the world and reached far flung places. His walking sticks are never sold and only gifted or left in locations/countries where they may be found or picked up.
Making A Walking Stick
The process involved in making a stick often takes over a year, from sourcing it, to the finished product. Murt only collects his sticks from regenerative sources and is very mindful to only take what is needed, ensuring not to impact negatively on any local source. In this regard, Hazelwood and Willow are the preferred and most plentiful of sources available. Both Hazel and Willow are easily coppiced and provide fresh shoots year on year without damaging the plant or over exploiting it. In fact, there are a number of locations around south Kildare where hazel coppicing has been carried out for several hundred years and more. Many of these trees still display the features of being harvested decades and centuries earlier. Another readily available wood type that Murt likes to use is Sycamore. While Sycamore is not a native Irish tree having been brought here in the 16th century, many see it as an invasive plant. However, realistically it has been naturalised into the Irish countryside and it is now extremely common throughout hedgerows and gardens. This plentifulness not only makes it a good source but the wood itself always makes a fine stick. Some of the other woods with which Murt likes to work include Blackthorn, Whitethorn (Hawthorn) Ash, Yew, Beech, Birch, and Holly. However, given the ever depleting resources of the countryside and the rapidity at which our hedgerows are disappearing from the landscape due to the industrialisation of farming, Murt has seldom worked with these woods in recent years. Sticks that he occasionally makes for these woods are now usually only from hedges/trees that have been removed or from an extremely plentiful source/location.
In making the sticks, which require a long “drying out” period, no machinery is used. The sticks are sanded, shaped, and treated by hand. The only exception to this is the use of a small electrical drill which he uses to bore a hole where in he places a Benedict medal. The Benedict medal, after St Benedict offers protection against the Devil and evil spirits. It carries the inscription “ Vade Retro Satana” meaning “Begone, Satan!”. In addition to the medal, Murt also signs each stick with the inscription MurtAthy. This is then followed by the number identifying the stick. With sticks now numbering in the high hundreds, Murt holds a catalogue of Names, Dates and Locations across the globe from which his sticks have either been gifted or left to be picked up/found. When family members or friends have travelled anywhere in the world, they’ve always brought a stick and gifted it to someone they’ve met on the journey. There have been some good conversations and stories formed across numerous countries as a result of the sticks. My most recent gifting of a stick was to a German speaking Italian family I met in the Czech Republic.
People have often offered to pay Murt for the sticks but this is always refused. He does it solely as a hobby when he has time and as he explains, to accept payment would turn it into work, thereby taking the joy out of his past-time. Instead, Murt suggests that those wishing to thank him, do so by getting a Mass Bouquet (For the Living) in the name of the Reid Family. For those unfamiliar with a Mass Bouquet, it is a special card where a name is entered and remembered in mass or prayer, usually by the local priests/church. These can usually be purchased for a small nominal fee at most catholic churches. However, if a Mass Bouquet is not available locally, some opt to make a small donation to a charity of their choice.
I hope you liked this little blog post about the story of my father’s walking sticks, and if you have a stick or have been gifted one or left one somewhere, maybe leave a comment below explaining its story and where it has ended up. If you have the number of the stick, all the better as I’ll show my father and he will be able to identify it. Many thanks.
Photos of MurtAthy Sticks
I’ve handled a few pf these myself. Sturdy and stout, like their maker, they offer great comfort and support on a long trip.
I had one of his first sticks, a long staff-like willow with an unusual twist for a handle that I unfortunately lost in Glendalough about fifteen years ago – still miss it!
Murt is my brother and he makes fantastic sticks Murt has Number one stick and I’m privileged to say I have Number 2 stick. Every time I go away on holidays to Usa or anywhere in the world Murt gives me a stick to take with me and I give them to random people who are so thrilled to get a free stick They are so well made And a lot of time goes into making a stick so keep up the good work Murt you are making a lot of strangers very happy with your kind gesture 👍
Have the pleasure of having 2 of murts sticks at home, 1 for me and one for my daughter. Lovely craftsmanship, the numbering and record system is a nice feature and the addition of the holy medal is a nice touch. I also got 2 from murt to give as gifts to a dutch/australian couple who now never leave the house without them.