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W.Va. embraces ancient sport of Irish road bowling; 9 tournaments planned through Nov. 4

See on Scoop.itDiverse Eireann

BRUCETON MILLS, W.Va. — 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.

 

“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.”


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