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Celtic Radio Community > Medieval Gateway > Road Bowling

Posted by: Rindy 05-Jul-2007, 04:35 PM
I was wondering if anyone has seen or played this amazing sport? I find it amazing. Slainte

The Sport of Road Bowling in Ireland
Courtesy of Ireland's Own Magazine

Noel Magnier fills us in on the history of a sport which has been around for a long time and is actually growing in strength in Ireland and abroad.

The game of road bowling in Ireland, North and South, can track its roots back to ancient Ulster at Eamhain Maca near Armagh, which was the historic home of the High Kings of Ireland. Further bowling lore has a reference to the Dutch Prince William of Orange, and his soldiers as having a link with the introduction of the game when he came to Ireland in 1690. Forms of the game can even be traced back to the Pharaohs of Egypt. But Andrew Steven, during his research on the Council of Europe Project “Traditional Games of Europe, East and West', traced unique references to road bowling in the North-East of England by miners with potsherd bowls across the English moors.

He also discovered in an 18th century magazine, a mention of road bowling in London, played with a skittle bowl, taking place from Surrey to London. In Ireland, Andrew Steven came across references to 'Bowling' “Long Bullets' or “Bullets” in 17 of the 32 counties.

The game in its present form began to emerge in the 17th and 18th centuries. Stone and iron bowls were used during this period. Somerville and Ross refer to both themselves “Bowling an iron ball along a road” and “a gathering of young men rolling a heavy round stone along the roads”, the common objective being to cover a certain distance in a given amount of throws.

Stone bowls were used in Mayo and Galway into this present century and the use of the modern cast iron bowl was developed from a plentiful supply available from the British Military establishments of the day. The military influence can to this day be seen in parts of Armagh and in County Mayo, where the game of bowling is still known as “Bullets” or “Long Bullets”.

So, the historical roots firmly established, we move forward two centuries and the bowl playing, or a “score of bowls” continued to grow in Ireland, mainly in Cork and Armagh, despite having no structured rules. The term “a score of bowls” meant that whichever player could throw the bowl furthest over twenty throws, was declared the winner. Then towards the end of the last century the rules of the game took shape, and in 1954 the rules were finally formalized and a controlling body established under the chairmanship of Dunmanway schoolteachers Flor Crowley at a meeting in Enniskeanne, Co.Cork. The name of the organization is Bol Chumann na h-Eireann. These initial moves signalled exciting times ahead for road bowling in Ireland. Then in the late 50’s the writings of Flor Crowley in the Cork Examiner under the pen name “Boithreach” and also in other periodicals were instrumental in introducing the game to the Continent.

Through contact with a family named Poorthuis in the Netherlands, an international governing body for bowling was established. Links were forged between Bol Chumann na hEireann and Nederlandse Klootschieters Bond (NKB), the Dutch organization, and expanded to embrace two German associations. And so the International Bowl Playing Association (I.B.A.) was founded m June 1969 in Losser in Holland. Those developments elevated the sport to international status and the first ever Irish bowling team travelled to Holland to compete in the European Championships in 1969 and the same year the first overseas branch, London, joined Bol Chumann na h-Eireann.

Staging the European Championships was the ultimate accolade to the development and organization of the game in Ireland. The European Championships have been held here on three subsequent occasions, in 1970 and in 1977 and more recently in 1992. In 1985, the first world Road Bowling championship was held in Whitechurch in Cork and the games were sponsored by “Paddy” Whiskey. Since 1963, the winners of the Ulster and Munster titles have competed for the All-Ireland Championship in the various grades.

The game is played generally with a 28oz cast iron bowl, about 58mm in diameter,
along selected public roads. Bowling is an inexpensive hobby - all that is required is a tracksuit, runners and a bowl. The rules of the game are straightforward, the basic
objective being to cover the designated course in the least amount of throws or shots of the bowl.

Bowling is a sport enjoyed by men and women, young and old, and is truly a family
sport. The strongholds of the sport are in Armagh and Tyrone in Ulster, Cork, Waterford and Limerick in Munster and Mayo in Connaught. The widening appeal of bowling is evident with the establishment of new regions in Louth and Wexford, Offaly, Kilkenny, Dublin, Kerry and Monaghan.

Overseas, the popularity of the sport is spreading; bowling is being played In Holland, Germany and now Italy where international competitions took place for the first time in May 1997. The Dutch and Germans have their own separate and distinct variations of the sport.

Next year, 2004, is the golden jubilee of the founding of Bol Chumann na h-Eireann and a year of festivities is planned with players and supporters coming together in celebration from many points around the globe, including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, London
and the U.S.A.

Noel Magnier is the author of “Is That You Boy”, a book about growing up in the Cork of the 40s and 50s.

Posted by: Lady of the Loch 05-Jul-2007, 05:25 PM
that is different. I have never heard of it before now, but I would like to see someone play it.

Posted by: thecelticgiraffe 04-Mar-2008, 06:21 PM
I saw this sport once on public television and was fascinated by it and was dying to participate. I find the traditional sports of baseball, football (American), soccer, and basketball oh so boring!!!

Posted by: Rindy 09-Mar-2008, 05:50 PM
lol thecelticgiraffe. It is one of those games I would only want to watch and be on the end that the bowler is just thought it was wild.


Posted by: UlsterScotNutt 13-Jun-2008, 03:14 PM
While in Ireland I was looking at a photography book in one of the BnB we stayed at. In this book was a whole series of photos of Road Bowling. Some of the photos would show all the contorsions the bowlers make as they throw the bowl from spot to spot, some across rivers and bridges and walls and other obstructions to make the bowl more challenging. Through towns and entire crowds of people behind the bowler. The photos were very captivating.

Posted by: Rindy 14-Jun-2008, 03:16 PM
USN-So it is true can't imagine throwing one across a river!! I'll bet those photos were really neat to see. It amazes me noone is killed by this sport. Thanks for sharing this USN.


Posted by: UlsterScotNutt 16-Jun-2008, 07:01 AM
Rindy, Lynn, my wife says she just saw a travel program featuring Irish Road Bowling!! Most likely on the Travel Channel. I missed it.

Posted by: Rindy 16-Jun-2008, 02:56 PM
USN, let me know if you do see it on TV. There's a few youtubes on it but haven't found a really good one as of yet. I say if that is coming down the street and your in the way you best move bounces too..haha..


Posted by: UlsterScotNutt 16-Jun-2008, 03:42 PM
Rindy, I will ask her tonite and keep you posted.


Posted by: Rindy 17-Jun-2008, 08:31 AM
QUOTE (UlsterScotNutt @ 16-Jun-2008, 03:42 PM)
Rindy, I will ask her tonite and keep you posted.


Thanks USN!


Posted by: UlsterScotNutt 17-Jun-2008, 10:33 AM
Rindy, She saw Road Bowling on the Travel Channel with Anthony Bourdaine.

Posted by: ctbard 17-Jun-2008, 02:15 PM
QUOTE (UlsterScotNutt @ 17-Jun-2008, 11:33 AM)
Rindy, She saw Road Bowling on the Travel Channel with Anthony Bourdaine.

I saw that one with Anthony Bourdain too, road bowling looks pretty cool.

Posted by: Rindy 17-Jun-2008, 03:18 PM
I just wrote it down. Thanks USN and ctbard. I will keep my out for it on the Travel Channel.


Posted by: Amergin 11-Jul-2008, 08:25 PM
I used to know a fellow who was trying to get it going here in the Western U.S. They were doing it on Colorado Mountain roads. It was pretty cool.

There's an association for this in Ireland, called <a href=>Bol Chumann na hEireann</a>.

They also have branches in New York and New Jersey

Posted by: UlsterScotNutt 13-Jul-2008, 07:34 AM
Amergin, Great pic, that was like the ones on tv and the photo book I saw. They get into all kinds of gyrations and contortions to throw the bowl. I can see some serious rotator cuff injuries if I tried!!! laugh.gif

Anthony Bourdain on the tTravel Channel was just on again this past week with his Ireland trip and Road Bowling. It was filmed down in County Cork.


Posted by: Rindy 19-Jul-2008, 02:59 PM
That is a great picture Amergin. I can't imagine this thing bouncing down the high mountain wouldn't want to be in its path. It could cause falling rock.."sorry I had to say that!" I think it would be very fun to watch this sport. Thanks for the picture. thumbs_up.gif


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