Hitting the Road; Roll with It: Irish Road Bowling Has Been Played since 2000BC and Still Draws Crowds around the Country

Article excerpt


On Anthony Bourdains travel series, he visited Cork to witness road bowling. What are the origins of the sport?

THE ancient game of road bowling in Ireland can trace its origins back to prehistoric times to Eamhain Macha (Navan Fort), the capital of ancient Ulster around 2000 BC.

But it would seem that the ancient Egyptians were playing a form of the game a millennium before.

Road bowling in its present form began to develop in the 17th and 18th century with stone and metal bowls, and records show 17 out of 32 counties playing the game.

The pastime also proved popular in the south-east and north-east of England. In the Scottish Highlands, they play with iron bowls and in Italy they use truckles of cheese.

The sport is concentrated today in two main areas in Ireland, Armagh and west Cork, but there are small pockets of enthusiasts in Monaghan, Kerry, Kilkenny, Kerry, Mayo and Waterford.

The official body of the sport in Ireland is Bol Chumann na h[ETH]ireann, which was set up in 1954.

The game is usually played on public roads and, in west Cork, bowling competitions attracting large crowds of spectators, are usually played on a Sunday.

The rules of the game are straightforward. A heavy iron bowl has to be thrown from a fixed starting point to the end point of the race, up to 3km distant.

The person or team that reaches the finishing line with the least number of throws is the winner.

The bowls themselves are quite heavy; for adults, they weigh in at about 800g, while the bowls used by younger players are half that weight.

The present-day bowls are derived from a type of metal bowl that was widely available in military barracks during British rule in Ireland. These old-style metal bowls gave rise to the name given to the game to this day in Armagh and Co. Mayo bullets or long bullets.

One of the great advantages of the game is that it doesnt require any special gear. But spectators have to be careful to keep well out of the way of any of the projectiles. …