CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Columbus Irish: Irish Road Bowling

Faugh A Ballagh (Clear the Way)

The cry of the Irish Brigade warns that a shot has been launched and people are coming through. About a mile and a quarter from home stands a lone participant. They have but one goal. To get a small 28 oz steel ball from one end of a predetermined course to the other in the fewest number of throws.

The task seems easy. But this bowler and his teammates standing along the road must make sure they successfully navigate the turns and slopes of a narrow road without losing their “bowl” (ball) in the weeds and ditches along the way.

What may seem a ridiculous event, made up after a few too many pints at the pub the night before, is an actual sport. Irish Road Bowling has been played in Central Ohio for nearly a decade. It was introduced by Travis McMahon, who immigrated from West Virginia.

Travis had played this sport in his native state and when he moved to Ohio wanted to see it taken up here. In West Virginia, they had been playing since 1995, when it was introduced at a local Irish festival by people who were familiar with its Ireland roots.

Like many sports, the origin is not well known. But like any good Irish tradition, it is rooted in story. One story is that the Dutch brought it to Ireland during the Williamite War in the late 1600s. Perhaps this is why it is so prevalent in the north in County Armagh.

The other story is that after raiding an English encampment, the Irish rebels rolled the cannon balls home by the light of the moon. This seems a fitting history for its popularity in the Rebel County itself, County Cork.

In its local form, teams of four bowlers take turns rolling the bowl down the road. When the bowl goes off the road, a mark is made at that spot using chalk and the number of that throw is recorded on the road.

Teams roll in pairs and attempt to keep the bowls from careening off the road into some rather gnarly thickets. At $10 a piece to rent the bowls, this can become a costly error.

Teams may use a shower, who stands up the road from the bowler and shows them the preferred line to take. Bowlers may also be directed by a clump of sod thrown in the roadway call the slop. Bowlers will attempt to keep it on that line by “splitting the sop.”  

But bowlers beware, you do not want to “break butt” (i.e., cross the throwing line drawn where last bowl went off the road). This will cost you a throw and you will have to return to the location of your previous throw. Barring any prolonged searches for lost bowls, the 1.5-mile course takes less than an hour and is usually a short stretch of legs on a fine fall morning in a State Park.

There are only two bowling events in Central Ohio. A spring event, hosted by the Patrick Pearse Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and a fall event to raise money for the Greater Columbus Irish Cultural Foundation. In neighboring West Virginia, there is an entire season, with events scheduled at local festivals and their State Parks.

There are other groups around the United States as well. Last year national qualifier was held with one West Virginia bowlers becoming eligible for a championship in Ireland.

The season has ending for us in Central Ohio, but I would encourage you to join us next year or look up the West Viriginia Road Bowling Association to find their schedule. It is some great craic!

Around Columbus

Michael McConahay

The October general meeting of the Shamrock Club marked the 50th and final Blood Drive for Michael McConahay. For 18 years, Michael has coordinated these events, which have collected 2502 pints of blood. (Note: The Red Cross estimates that each pint can save three lives). 

Michael McConahay alone has donated over 473 times. We would like to thank Michael for his long service in this role.

Cover of The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: An Account from Declassified British Documents by Michael C. Mentel
The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: An Account from Declassified British Documents by Michael C. Mentel

A reminder that Judge Michael Mentel will be discussing his book The 1981 Hunger Strike on November 9 at the Shamrock Club in Columbus. Mentel researched his book from previously classified documents. 

The book details the story of ten political prisoners in H-Block of Long Kesh prison and their protests against the British government’s denial of basic human rights. Copies of the book are available at Amazon and other locations. Visit Judge Michael Mentel’s website for more information.

Picture of Andrew Shuman

Andrew Shuman

*Andrew is a transplant to Columbus after graduating from The Ohio State University with a major in History and a minor in Political Science and Folklore. He is past president of the Shamrock Club and a lover of a good story and a pint. You can contact him at [email protected]

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