By Tracey Savell Reavis
The mountains and farms that dot the landscape of Ireland, West Virginia, make the perfect setting for the revival of the ancient sport of Irish Road Bowling. Older than football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and golf, the sport traditionally played in the country of Ireland for 300 years found a home in the Mountain State in 1995. You can load your gear and your team into the 2014 Chevrolet Traverse, with seating for up to 8,* and take a ride along the winding and scenic roads on your way to the fun and excitement this treasured game brings. Meanwhile, the available Chevrolet MyLink** system can keep you connected to your road bowling competition across the country.
Irish road bowling dates back to the 1600s and proliferated in County Armagh and County Cork in Ireland. Legend has it that Irish soldiers created the game after finding cannonballs left along roadsides. Historians believe it is likely Irish troops brought the game to the United States when they played road bowling in West Virginia during the Civil War.
Today, the game is played essentially the same. A small, iron and steel ball about the size of a tennis ball, but weighing 28 ounces, is the game’s only equipment. Players take a running start, then wind up, almost as in softball, and hurl the “bowl,” as it is called, underhanded. The goal is to throw as far and as straight as possible along a set course—a country road of about 1.2 miles. Chalk marks the spot where the bowl lands, which is where the next throw starts. The player who reaches the end of the course with the fewest number of shots to the finish line wins. Think of a game that takes elements from golf, softball, bowling and bocce, and you’ve got a sport that’s fun, challenging and can be played by all age groups. It combines the thrill and excitement of shots rolling 300 yards or more. For those who want to watch the competition, it’s a chance to enjoy the quiet ambiance of a leisurely walk down a beautiful country road with family and friends.
“The whole point is to get people outside, walking on country roads,” said David Powell, who started the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association and spearheaded the revival of the game in West Virginia. After first seeing it played in 1992, Powell organized an exhibition of the game with a few friends and curious adventurers at the Irish Spring Festival in Ireland, West Virginia. What started with 16 players has grown to nearly 200 who participate in the many state fairs and festivals on the WVIRBA yearlong schedule. Crowds of hundreds line the roads and cheer on players. Bowlers and clubs have cropped up in several states across the country, and the sport continues to gain fans and athletes as it grows.
When Con O’Callaghan arrived in Boston in 1985, the County Cork native wanted to continue with the sport he grew up playing in his homeland. He started the Boston Irish Bowling League years later, and today they have more than 60 players. And he's thrilled to see his country's heritage being preserved. “It’s a very social activity—families, friends, women, kids,” said O’Callaghan, chairman of the Boston Irish Bowling League. “It’s a sport I love, and I’d love to see it spread in the United States.”
If you are interested in starting an official Irish Road Bowling league or club in your own area, order a Starter Pack of supplies—two road bowls, a Rules and Strategy booklet, chalk and score cards—from the WVIRBA’s online store. Then load up your 2014 Traverse and head out to one of these upcoming events.
2014 Irish Road Bowling Events
Missoula Celtic Festival & Ancient Order of Hiberians, Missoula, Montana
The fourth Irish Road Bowling Tournament will be held on the walking trail inside Caras Park.
July 26, 2014
The North American Championships
The Boston road bowlers will host this annual tournament, pitting the best players from West Virginia and Liverpool, New York, in Wamputck Park, the first weekend of September.
Info: 781-492-2593 781-492-2593
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Tracey Savell Reavis is a freelance sportswriter who has worked for Sports Illustrated, the NBA and CBS Sports. Her book, The Life and Career of David Beckham, Football Legend, Cultural Icon, will be available this summer.
* Standard on LS and 1LT. Available on 2LT. LTZ shown seats seven.
** MyLink functionality varies by model. Full functionality requires compatible Bluetooth and smartphone, and USB connectivity for some devices.
MyLink on Traverse does not include Gracenote functionality.