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Irish Road Bowling

Updated on April 12, 2016
James Slaven profile image

James has written for various magazines, including "Celtic Guide," "Mythology Magazine," and "Pagan Forest."

The author, getting ready to bowl as Thor readies some storms!
The author, getting ready to bowl as Thor readies some storms! | Source

Irish Road Bowling

Do you like taking walks on country lanes, but find it lacks the potential to lose things along the way?* Then do I have the sport for you! Irish Road Bowling! (“Bol Chumann na hEireann” in Irish.) This sport combines the calm of walking in the country with the hand-eye coordination of throwing a heavy ball down a country road as far as possible. Of course, when you play it as a true sport, you have many people around, some of whom will see where your ball stops. If you’re out practicing on your own, your eyesight and memory will hopefully be up for the task of keeping track of where the ball ends up.

I came across this sport when I lived in West Virginia. It’s quite big at the Irish Festival in the town of Ireland (go figure). Although a good 2-3 hour drive from where I lived, it had gained enough notoriety that it was featured in my local newspaper. Once I had read about it, I had to try it, and then it was short order for me being hooked.

Daddy-Daughter Duo!  The author and his daughter, girding themselves for fun.
Daddy-Daughter Duo! The author and his daughter, girding themselves for fun. | Source

The game is simple. You have a cannonball… really, it’s a cannonball. Lore states that the game started when the Irish would steal cannonballs from the English and needed to get away from the English army encampments as fast as possible. Anyway, the ball is a small cannonball, made of iron and/or steel, about the size of a tennis ball, weighing around 28 ounces, and is called a bowl or bullet, depending on what region in which you are located. You take the bowl and roll it down the chosen path in as few throws as possible. If you’re playing competitively, the person or team that makes it to the end of the road/path/lane/course in the fewest throws is the winner. If they cross the line in the same number of throws, the win goes to the person/team whose bowl went furthest on that last shot.

The Author's Quite Horrible Windmill Throw

The other bits of playing are easy:

  • You play from where the bowl stops, whether on the road or off
  • You can have people give you advice
    • Someone standing nearby to tell you how to throw
    • Someone ahead of you on the path to help you aim
    • This is an Irish sport after all – talking and socialness is a matter of fact
  • You cannot step over the “butt,” which is the spot where your bowl last landed
  • If you are at a “corner,” or sharp bend in the road, you can loft it over and onto the road on the other side of the corner, but it must land on or past the road – if it doesn’t go far enough, it counts as a throw and then you must throw again from your previous spot

As far as throwing, there are regional variations. In County Armagh (northern style), the bowler extends his/her arm and bowl behind as they run, and then snaps it forward by arching the back and shoulders. In County Cork (southern style), the bowler runs up to the mark, the arm and bowl are lifted and then whirled around into an underhand throw. Of course, there is also Slaven style, where you don’t have enough experience, and instead of running, you stand at the mark and just throw as well as you can.

The author's normal wiener throw

Being rather amateurish, I just wanted to share this in the hopes of sparking interest in new players. I suggest you search online, as there are many excellent informative websites and a lot of fun videos to watch (speaking of which, you can see a couple “starring” me right here, as taken by my daughter, who humors me by road bowling with me on occasion).

I hope you enjoy it! It really is a lot of fun, provided you don’t lose all of your bullets in the underbrush. Slainte!

*Played properly, of course you shouldn’t lose anything, but I tend to not do much of anything proper.

Some of the pretty scenery you can see


© 2016 James Slaven


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