Ireland’s famous shillelagh stick is now being used as a martial arts weapon by a Cork group anxious to tackle social isolations.

The Irish Times reports that members of the Shandon Shillelagh Social Club are practising a form of non-combative martial arts with the iconic blackthorn stick.

The club are keen to improve fitness levels among older men as they tackle social isolation in their area.

Instructor Martin Forrest told the paper that he teaches a programme which combines elements of Tai Chi and Pilates and involves the use of the shillelagh for self-defence.

Forrest said: “It’s not about fighting, it’s about self-defence, personal safety, mobility and wellness.

“It gives the men confidence to know they can protect themselves. Above all it’s fun, it’s a good laugh. It’s creating a space where people can talk together.”

The unique club is part of a programme of activities organised by a local men’s group set up to tackle social isolation among men in the community.

Founder Martin Aherne told the Irish Times that the group has already performed demonstrations in Cork and Dundalk.

They plan to travel to London next year for a St Patrick’s Day event hosted by the Irish Cultural Centre.

They have also been invited to perform in Limerick next summer as part of the Gathering 2013.

Community health worker Aherne said: “It’s great for the men, both for their physical and mental well-being.”