Irish road bowling is a unique sport played mainly in Cork and Armagh. Although nowadays it is played in a lot more counties in Ireland.
In a way, it is like golf on the road. The competitors attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball along a predetermined course of country roads.
It dates back to around 1600 in Ireland. When it is said, the Irish troops stole British cannonballs and rolled them back to their camps.
Nowadays, Irish road bowling is played worldwide, including in many places in the United States. I have included a fantastic video from 1985 at the bottom of this article from Co. Cork.
How do you play Irish road bowling?
The “bowl” or “bullet” is an iron and steel cannonball 7 inches around and 28 ounces in weight. There are two or more players or teams in a “score”.
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.
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.
Terminology of Irish road bowling:
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
Bullet: The bowl that is thrown or “shot.”
Bullets: County Armagh name for the game of road bowling. Also, long bullets. See also bullet.
Butt: The throwing mark on the road. See also break butt
Corner: A sharp curve in the road or a corner where two roads meet. See also open the corner
Fág a Bealach!: (anglicized 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.
Kitter-paw: a left-handed thrower
Loft: 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.
Score: a match
Shot: a throw
Sop: 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.
What does Irish road bowling actually look like?
While there are many videos on Youtube, it can be hard to find a good one. However, I found this great one titled: The Road Bowling King, Co. Cork, Ireland 1985.
You get to see some great footage from 1985. It is a 7-minute video but worth watching the whole thing.
Sunday 20th of November 2022
Folklore in Armagh was that it was a British army artillery regiment based in Armagh city that initiated the sport, and that it went to Cork when the regiment was garrisoned there. Also the story went, to someplace in India where it is played to this day (?). Coincidence that the war cry of the Armagh regiment was/is “faugh a ballagh”. Can anyone authenticate this version? . '