Road bowling is a singular sport which is confined to counties Armagh and Cork, and few other places. It was hugely popular throughout much of the 20th century though the modernisation of Ireland has marginalised the sport somewhat. In essence the game is contested by two or more players between two fixed points. Each in turn hurls a 28oz. metal bowl along the course. He (or she) that completes the course in fewest throws wins the contest.
Times past big matches would attract thousands of spectators and betting was rife. The game has its own tradition and vocabulary. The greatest exponent of all was Corkman Mick Barry. He was born in Waterfall near Cork city in 1919 and took up the sport in 1937. He retired in 1997 aged 78. Between 1937 and 1962 he won no fewer than 13 Irish championships. The All-Ireland series was introduced in 1963 bringing together the best bowlers from north and south of the border. Barry won this on eight occasions, the last of these in 1975 when he was aged 56. A story is still told of his shot at Dublin Hill, Cork, in the All-Ireland final of 1964. He declared his intention to loft the bowl over Mary Ann’s pub to the road beyond. The pub was cleared for safety and a crowd estimated at 15,000 saw a perfect shot land on the far side. Nevertheless he lost that final to Armagh man McParland by a single shot but got his revenge on his opponent’s patch the following year. There is some disagreement over his feat in lofting the Chetwynd Viaduct (on the Cork – Bandon Road) in 1955. He certainly cleared it in front of 6,000 spectators, but was it with the 16oz bowl? Hans Bohilen of Germany certainly managed the feat with the full weight in 1985.
Barry is still living happily in Cork at the age of 93. Like his namesake Tom he’ll live on in song as a true Cork legend.
*Sadly, Barry died on 6th December 2014*