IRELAND — Another season of West Virginia Irish Road Bowling is set to kick off March 16 and 17 at the Irish Spring Festival in Ireland, WV, in Lewis County.
Road bowlers will gather at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday as part of the annual Irish Spring Festival.
The Wildcat Road to Duffy Bridge, at 2.2 miles, is the longest course in the state.
How do you play? An iron and steel small cannonball, called a “bowl” is usually hurled down a 1.2 mile country lane, fewest throws to the finish line wins, similar to golf. Throws can roll 250 or even 300 yards.
Road conditions, turns, twists and weather all play a role in this majestic game. It takes skill, determination and even a bit of the luck.
According to the WV Irish Road Bowling website, in 1994 Marie (Burns) Powell, who had been raised on Green Hill above Ireland, WV, traveled with her son David to the country of Ireland. There, in Cork City at Sheehan's Hardware Store, they purchased six Irish road bowls to bring back to West Virginia for the next year's Irish Spring Festival.
A practice match on Feb. 19, 1995, played by "Buzz" Denton King, Sharrey Craig, Beckey Posey, Don Gain, Ken Wood and other Irish Spring Festival volunteers, confirmed that this strange sport was a lot of fun. The course, Wildcat Road to Duffy Bridge, was 2.2 miles long. Fourteen more road bowls were imported from Ireland.
On March 18, 1995, the first official Irish road bowling "score" (match) was played in West Virginia since the American Civil War. Four teams competed, and nine road bowls were lost that first match.
The first champions were the mighty Salem Shooters, Aaron Helmick, Bob Blagg, David Powell and Brad Carmichael. These heroes soon became legendary figures in the history of West Virginia Irish road bowling.
Irish Road Bowling is also a part of the healthy lifestyle solution in West Virginia. Developing this sport is a grassroots initiative, from West Virginia to the rest of the country, an inexpensive rural family sport, developed on country roads. Few sports, if any, combine moderate exercise, just walking, with such high excitement- shots rolling 200, 250, even 300 yards on a narrow country road. It’s amazing.
Irish Road Bowling can be traced back to the 1600s. One story is that Dutch soldiers brought it when William of Orange came to Ireland in 1689. Another legend says that Irish patriots robbed English cannonballs and rolled them down a country lane by the light of a full moon.
Irish troops marched over rugged hills and into deep hollers, cutting their way through vast rhododendron thickets, all over what is now West Virginia during the Civil War, 1861-1863. In 2003, Dan Harvey, Commandant of the Military Museum, Collins Barracks, Cork City, Ireland, wrote" it is highly likely, indeed probable, that Union or Confederate troops of Irish origin played road bowling between battles during the American Civil war - as they did worldwide ... with many foreign armies."
Check out West Virginia road bowling on Facebook or at www.wvirishroadbowling.com.
Also, check out the Irish Spring Festival on Facebook for all of the details on the festival.