Irish road bowling
(Ból an bhóthair) is an ancient sport. It is centered in Ireland
- primarily in County Armagh
and County Cork
. However, it also has players in Boston, MA
, Cambridge, NY, Traverse City, MI Riverdale, NY
, New Zealand
and is growing in the fairs and festivals of the State of West Virginia
. The first contest in Colborne, Canada
was held May 26 2007
Road bowling in Ireland is governed by the voluntary Irish Road Bowling Association (or Ból Chumann na hÉireann in Irish).
The basic premise is similar to golf
. Participants, usually single opponents, throw a 28 ounce
(800 g) bowl or "bullet" along a country road course, up to 4 km long, and the fewest throws to traverse the distance wins the contest.
Participants in or from Ireland traditionally bet during the contest. Those who have bet on a player will follow him/her around the course, giving advice.
It is a sport which suits all ages, although serious participants acquire styles and achieve distances that casual bowlers can only imagine.
A history of the game has been written by the Irish academic, Dr Fintan Lane. Titled Long Bullets: A History of Road Bowling in Ireland (Cork: Galley Head Press, 2005), his book traces the sport to the 17th century and suggests that it was once far more widespread that it is today. Until the 19th century, the game was also played in Scotland, the north of England and in North America.
Rules and playing style
A 28 ounce iron and steel cannonball
the size of a tennis ball
(a "bowl" or "bullet") is hurled down a country lane. The player or team with the fewest shots to the finish line wins.
A road shower advises the thrower about the throw [or shot] much like a caddy, whilst another helper stands ahead of the thrower, feet apart, to show the best line or path in the road.
The thrower runs to the throwing mark and, in the Northern or County Armagh style, extends the arm and bowl behind him as he runs. At the throwing mark the arm is snapped forward by arching the back and shoulders, releasing the bowl underhand before stepping over the mark.
In the Southern or County Cork style, as the thrower runs to the mark the arm and bowl are lifted up and back, then whirled downward into an underhand throw, releasing the bowl before stepping over the mark.
Wherever the bowl stops (not where it leaves the road surface), a chalk mark is made at the nearest point on the road and the next throw is taken from behind that mark.
Over tight curves, or corners where two roads meet, the bowl may be thrown through the air (lofted). The loft must strike the road or pass over it. If the loft fails to reach the road, it counts as one shot, and the next throw must be taken again from the same mark.
If two players or teams approach the finish line with equal shots, the winner is decided by which throw goes farthest past the finish line.
Game terminology (as used primarily in Ireland) includes:
- A Score - a match. (In the past, players were given 20 shots each, the winner determined by who went the greatest distance.)
- A Shot - a throw.
- Bowl of Odds - when one bowler is one full shot fewer than his opponent, i.e., when a bowler is equal to or farther in distance than his opponent, but has thrown one less shot.
- Bowl or Bullet - the 28-ounce (c. 800 g) small cannonball, with a circumference of 18 cm, used in Irish Road Bowling.
- Bullets or Long Bullets - the County Armagh term for road bowling.
- Butt - the throwing mark on the road. To step over the mark before releasing the bowl is to "break butt."
- Clear the Road - to get spectators out of the road in front of the thrower.
- Corner - a sharp curve in the road or a corner where two roads meet.
- Faugh a Ballach! - traditional Irish battle cry (Clear the Way!).
- Get Sight or Open the Corner - to throw so deeply into the curve that the next throw is a straight shot out.
- Kitter-Paw - a left-handed thrower.
- Loft - to throw through the air.
- Sop - a tuft of grass placed in the road at a spot where the bowl should first strike the surface. An experienced bowler can "Split the Sop."
- Stylish Bowler - a bowler with a smooth well-coordinated delivery.
- Travis Craig of Lewis Co., WV is the current North American Road Bowling Champion
- Mick Barry (born 1919) of Co. Cork was All-Ireland Champion on eight separate occasions between 1965 and 1975.
- 'Red' Joe McVeigh (1925-1990) of Armagh renown won several All-Ireland titles in the 1950s. He famously broke the record for the the famous Knappaph course just outside Armagh, completing it in 22 shots. The record still stands today, and a commemorative headstone is placed at the roadside to acknowledge the feat.