W.Va. embraces ancient sport of Irish road bowling

BRUCETON MILLS, W.Va. (AP) — It sounds as if it ought to be a drinking game: Grown men and women hurl a 2-pound cannonball as far as they can down a paved country road, each aiming to finish the 1.5-mile, chalk line “course” with the fewest throws.

But in some circles, Irish road bowling is serious business.

Players and coaches — or players who think they’re coaches — stand in the road as a competitor pauses, studying the slope and the curves before taking a few running steps and pitching the ball underhand, releasing it just before his velocity carries him across the starting line. The ball rolls and the crowd parts, screaming, leaning, gesturing and otherwise willing the iron and steel sphere to stick to the pavement.

When the roll is good, they pump their fists and bellow cheers that echo through the forest. When it’s bad, the hurler hears silence or a few noticeably lower-volume words of encouragement.

“Irish road bowling is the greatest sport you haven’t heard of,” says Dave Powell, membership director and spokesman for the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association.

Road bowling is one of the oldest sports in the world, and one of the easiest and cheapest to get into. It requires no uniform and no gear, save for a 28-ounce cannonball, or “bowl,” that the West Virginia group will rent for $5 per day. Play occurs on paved road but seldom stops traffic. The action merely resumes after vehicles pass. Only during the largest competitions are roads closed to motorists.

The sport originated in Ireland and is played primarily in five counties there — Cork, Armagh, Louth, Mayo and Wexford — where it’s known as “Irish Long Bullets.” Crowds of spectators can number in the thousands, the masses filling the road but parting magically as the bowl begins to roll. There, the game is played every night of the week and provides regular entertainment and income for gamblers, with tens of thousands of dollars routinely and legally changing hands.

Janet O’Mahoney, 42, of Boston, is the wife of two-time All-Ireland champion Florrie O’Mahoney. She’s traveled to his home country more than 20 times to watch some 150 matches, called “scores.”

The biggest counties have the best players “because they’re at it constantly,” she says, but even children under 12 compete.

“Here, obviously it’s a lot smaller and there are less people,” she says, “but as sportsmanship goes, it’s the same.”

In West Virginia, road bowling was first taken up by the Lewis County town of Ireland during the 1995 Irish Spring Festival. The state association has been holding tournaments ever since, mainly at festivals and fairs. Last year, about 1,000 people played, though only 25-30 are what Powell calls “hard-core” regular competitors.

Powell, a photo and film researcher who grew up near Salem and now lives in Washington, D.C., says road bowling can be “a real fun roll-and-stroll for families,” but the tone was “extremely serious” when teams from Boston, New York and North Carolina turned out for the early August North American Region Finals at Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia.

Winners in some classes advance to the All-Ireland finals, or world championships, this September.

Unlike the Boston club, whose members live within an hour of each other and can play twice a week, the West Virginia players are far-flung and have far less time to play together and practice.

“Road bowling really requires a combination of coordination and speed,” Powell says. “If you’re beautifully accurate but you don’t have the speed, you’re not going to be able to excel. If you’re really strong and fast, and you don’t have the accuracy, you’re going to be in the ditch too quickly.”

Some throws are as long as 300 yards, a distance determined by where the bowl comes to rest, not where it leaves the road. And it almost always leaves the road.

In West Virginia, the longest shot on record is a 422-yard roll at the 2001 Irish Spring Festival.

The state association launched a competitive singles league last year, and interest has been growing among spectators and players. The next competition is Aug. 18 at the Doddridge County Fair in West Union, and events are scheduled through Nov. 4, when the season wraps up at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke.

“Anyone who lives in the state of West Virginia can get to one of our events in about an hour,” Powell says. The biggest are the Irish Spring Festival in March and an October tournament at Holly River State Park.

Carl George of Buckhannon says road bowling is harder than it looks, but anyone can do it.

“It’s a lot of fun, a lot of exercise, and it doesn’t cost much,” he says. “It’s really a good time.”

Source: My SA

Top Irish Road Bowler in Monongalia County for North American Finals

WBOY: Posted: Aug 04, 2012 5:25 PM EDT Updated: Aug 04, 2012 7:12 PM EDT

By Andrew Clay, Monongalia and Preston County Reporter



COOPER’S ROCK -One sport competing for a championship right now that won’t be shown during the Olympics, and not likely to make ESPN either, is Irish Road Bowling.

The centuries old Irish sport stopped in West Virginia for the Irish Road Bowling North American Region Finals where more than 20 of the top competitors faced off for a chance to travel to Ireland.

“Very simply, its taking a steel ball, and throwing it down the road, and running after it. That’s road bowling,” said John Nelson of the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association.

It may not be Cowboys Stadium or the Superdome, but Cooper’s Rock was the home to this year’s Irish Road Bowling finals.

Athletes from across the country gathered to compete head-to-head, throwing 28 ounce steel-balls down a more than one mile stretch of road.

“It’s kind of like golf,” said Scott Koon of Morgantown. “It just takes practice being able to learn how to be consistent”

“It’s hand to eye coordination,” said Con O’Callaghan of Boston, MA. “It’s pretty much like hitting a baseball, once you get used to it, you either have it or you don’t have it.”

Each year West Virginia is well represented in the competition, but it’s no secret that many Irish immigrants are the top players in the country.

“It’s like an American playing Baseball, or American Football. We’ve been doing it since we were kids growing up, 9, 10, 12 years of age,” O’Callaghan said. “We’ve been doing it all our lives, it’s the same as you guys play little league baseball, we would be playing road bowling in Ireland.”

“I got a chance to play with them in Boston last year,” Koon said, “and these guys are great at it, so it’s just fun to compete with them.”

Players make the tournament through local and state competitions. The champions crowned on Sunday, August 5, are then invited to Ireland to compete.

Of course the game is not all about winning.

“We come to West Virginia once a year, they come to us and meeting a lot of old friends and going for a few beers after, having the chatter and having the banter. It’s a fun sport,” O’Callaghan said.

To learn more about Irish Road Bowling visit the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association’s web site

Source: WBOY

Irish Road Bowling Is Gaining Popularity In The Mountain State


Written by Fallon Pierson
Last updated on August 05, 2012 @ 12:01AM
Created on August 04, 2012 @ 11:25PM
Irish Road Bowling has gained a lot of popularity here in the Mountain State over the last seventeen years. As word spread, and people began to realize how fun this sport is, more state parks and festivals have started to pick it up.

Saturday evening, bowlers from all across the U.S. and Ireland, came to the last tournament of the fifteen game season at Cooper’s Rock.

“Growing up in the area I grew up in Ireland, everyone competed.  My family played it, my friends played it, so-it started from there I think,” says Adrain Lappin, of All Ireland Road Bowling.

From New York to Boston to right here in the Mountain State, Irish Road Bowling is taking over!

The game is played with a small 28 ounce cannon-like ball.  Teams or individuals with the fewest shots to the finish line wins.

The game can be traced back to the 1600’s, in the country of Ireland.  And it can be traced back 17 years in the town of Ireland, here in our state, and with only five players.

“Now, over the course of ten years, it’s grown to 368 bowlers the first day,” says Judy Mize, the Secretary of WV Irish Road Bowling.

It’s appeal lies in the fact that anyone, of just about any age and skill level, can play.  It’s also inexpensive.

“Children,people in their 70’s and 80’s can play,” says Mize. “It’s a competition available no matter what level you’re on,which makes it interesting for all ages and types,” adds Adrian Lappin.

Irish Road Bowling promotes physical fitness, celebrates nature, and also camaraderie and sportsmanship.

“It’s great for a get-together on a Sunday morning.  When we were brought up in Ireland, it’s a thing we’ve done since we were 10 or 12 years of age,” says Cian O’ Callaghan, Chairman of Boston Road Bowling.

Though it’s a game enjoyed by families, it’s also considered a serious sport, where players spend years perfecting their skills, and travel the world for competitions just like this one.

Judy Mize adds,”There’s skill involved, and maybe a little power.  Yes, it’s just like any sport, you do need to practice.”

The tournament has lasted all weekend and whoever wins the championship on Sunday, will travel to Ireland to compete there.

Road Bowling events are going on all year, and if you’re looking for fun stuff to do with the family, or if you’d like to compete visit wwww.wvirishroadbowling.com to get more information.

Source: WDTV