Irish road bowling

Road bowling (Irish: Ból an bhóthair) (also bullets or long bullets in Armagh) is an Irish sport in which competitors attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball along a predetermined course of country roads.[1] The sport originated in Ireland and is mainly played in Counties Armagh and Cork.

Spectators often bet on the outcome and proffer advice to their favoured competitor in the course of a match or "score". Road bowling in Ireland is governed by the voluntary Irish Road Bowling Association (Irish: Ból Chumann na hÉireann). The 2016 All-Ireland Series will take place in Madden, County Armagh.[2]

Rules and playing style

The "bowl" or "bullet" is an iron and steel cannonball of c.6.5 centimetres (3 in) diameter and 28 ounces (794 g) weight.[1] There are two or more players or teams in a match or "score".[1] The one with the fewest shots to the finish line wins. If two players or teams approach the finish line with equal shots, the winner is decided by which throw goes farther past the finish line.[3]

A road shower advises the thrower about the throw (or shot) much like a golf caddy, while 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.


Fintan Lane traces the sport to the 17th century and suggests that it was once far more widespread than it is today. Until the 19th century, the game was also played in Scotland, the north of England and in North America. In the past, players were given twenty shots (a score) each, the winner determined by who went the greatest distance. Though the modern game is a fixed distance in fewest shots, the expression "score" for a match survives. Disputes between competitors or spectators often created public disturbance and courtcases resulted down to the 1950s.[4]

Bol-Chumann na hÉireann was formed in 1954 to replace the less organised All-Ireland Bowl Players Association.[4] There were irregular contests between Cork and Armagh champions over the decades,[4] but the first national championship between them was in 1963.[5] The first World Championship was as part of Cork 800 in 1985.[6]


The Irish form of road bowling is concentrated in counties Cork and Armagh (especially south Armagh). It is also played in Mayo (Castlebar), Limerick, Waterford, Louth, Monaghan and more recently in Tyrone and Wexford.[1]

Klootschieten is a similar game played in the Netherlands and northwest Germany (Friesland and Schleswig-Holstein) and international events have been staged between these regions and Ireland.[6]

The Irish game also has players in Boston, Massachusetts;[7] Cambridge, New York, and Bennington, Vermont, vicinity;[8] Middletown, Connecticut; Traverse City, Michigan;[9] the Bronx, New York; New Zealand; Asheville, North Carolina;[10] Savannah, Georgia [11] and is growing in the fairs and festivals of the state of West Virginia.[12] The largest Irish road bowling event in the world is held annually in September in Wheeling, West Virginia, with 737 bowlers participating in 2016.

The first contest in Colborne, Canada was held on May 26, 2007. An annual tournament during the weekend of or prior to Saint Patrick's Day takes place in Portland, Oregon. In this tournament a loose confederation of people claiming Irish descent challenge members of the local Sons of Norway lodge.

Notable bowlers

In popular culture

The song Out the Road by Gaelic Storm is about a road bowling score. Additionally, footage of a road bowling score is included in a YouTube video shot by band founders Pat Murphy and Steve Twigger about their trip to Murphy's native County Cork during the production of their album Chicken Boxer (which includes Out the Road).


Game terminology (as used primarily in Ireland) includes:

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.
break butt
To step over the butt before releasing the bowl
the bowl that is thrown or "shot"
County Armagh name for the game of road bowling. Also long bullets. See also bullet.
the throwing mark on the road. See also break butt
a sharp curve in the road or a corner where two roads meet. See also open the corner
fág a' bealach!
(anglicizated Faugh A Ballagh) — clear the way, to get spectators out of the road in front of the thrower. (Also a traditional Irish battle cry.)
get sight
see open the corner
a left-handed thrower (from Irish: citeóg[16])
to throw through the air.
long bullets
see bullets
open the corner
also get sight. to throw so deeply into the curve that the next throw is a straight shot out.
a match
a throw
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.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 "General Introduction". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  2. Ó Tuama, Seamus (25 November 2015). "Classy Killian Kingston pulls off double". Irish Examiner. Archived from the original on 25 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  3. "In This Kind of Bowling, the Lanes Have Cars". WSJournal.
  4. 1 2 3 "Early History". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  5. "Ból Chumann na hÉireann/The National Assoc.". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  6. 1 2 "International". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  7. WBUR report on road bowling in the Boston area
  8. State Line Irish Road Bowling, Cambridge, New York, & Bennington, Vermont
  9. Northern Michigan Banshees Road Bowling Club
  10. Asheville Irish Road Bowling Association, Asheville, North Carolina
  12. Washington Post - Go Play in the Road
  13. "Mick Barry 'The Bowlplayer of all time'". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  14. "'King of the road' dies, 95". Irish Examiner. 8 December 2014.
  15. "Local road bowler headed to competition in Ireland". Herald Dispatch, Huntington, WV. 19 August 2014.
  16. McArthur, Thomas Burns; McArthur, Roshan (2005-12-15). "Hiberno-English". Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. p. 717. ISBN 9780192806376. Retrieved 9 July 2012.

External links

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