Irish road bowling
Dutch competitor Silke Tulk bowling in Northern Ireland
Equipmentcannonball of c.18 centimetres (7 in) circumference and 28 ounces (794 g) weight
Venuea road
Country or regionIreland
World Championshipsno

Road bowling (Irish: Ból an bhóthair; also called [long] bullets)[1][2] is an Irish sport in which competitors attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball along a predetermined course of country roads.[3] The sport originated in Ireland and is mainly played in counties Armagh and Cork. Road bowling in Ireland is governed by the voluntary Irish Road Bowling Association (Irish: Ból Chumann na hÉireann).[4]

A similar sport, Klootschieten, is played in eastern parts of the Netherlands and in northern Germany.[5]

Rules and playing style

The "bullet" or "bowl" (Irish: ból) is a solid iron cannonball of c.18 centimetres (7 in) circumference and 28 ounces (794 g) weight.[3][6] There are two or more players or teams in a match or "score".[3] 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.[7]

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.

The thrower runs to the throwing mark and, in the Northern or County Armagh style, extends the arm and bowl behind him as he runs. At the throwing mark the arm is snapped forward by arching the back and shoulders, releasing the bowl underhand before stepping over the mark.

In the Southern or County Cork style, as the thrower runs to the mark the arm and bowl are lifted up and back, then whirled downward into an underhand throw, releasing the bowl before stepping over the mark.

Wherever the bowl stops (not where it leaves the road surface), a chalk mark is made at the nearest point on the road and the next throw is taken from behind that mark. In Armagh, the mark is usually made by pulling a tuft of grass and dropping it on the road.

Over tight curves, or corners where two roads meet, the bowl may be thrown through the air (lofted). The loft must strike the road or pass over it. If the loft fails to reach the road, it counts as one shot, and the next throw must be taken again from the same mark.

Spectators sometimes bet on the outcome and proffer advice to their favoured competitor in the course of a match.[citation needed]


Fintan Lane, in his book Long Bullets: A History of Road Bowling in Ireland, traces the sport to at least the 17th century and suggests that it was once far more widespread than it is today.[1] While some sources state that it is an "indigenous [Irish] sport",[2] other sources suggest that it may have been brought to Ireland by Dutch troops during the Williamite War in Ireland (1689-1691).[8] Until the 19th century, the game was also played in Scotland, the north of England and in North America.[1]

In the past, players were given twenty shots (a score) each, the winner determined by who went the greatest distance. Though the modern game is a fixed distance in fewest shots, the expression "score" for a match survives. Disputes between competitors or spectators sometimes created public disturbance and court cases resulted as recently as the 1950s.[9]

Ból Chumann na hÉireann was formed in 1954 to replace the less organised All-Ireland Bowl Players Association.[9] There were irregular contests between Cork and Armagh champions over the decades,[9] but the first national championship between them was in 1963.[10] The first World Championship was as part of Cork 800 in 1985.[11]

As part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland, Ból Chumann na hÉireann sanctioned a "temporary ban on the sport".[12] The 2020 All-Ireland road bowling championships were rescheduled to late 2020.[13]


A road bowling event in County Cork in 2008

The Irish form of road bowling is concentrated in counties Cork and Armagh (especially south Armagh).[1][5] The 2015 All-Ireland Series took place in County Cork with the 2016 event planned for Madden, County Armagh.[14]

The sport is also played in counties Mayo (Castlebar), Limerick, Waterford, Louth, Monaghan and later in Tyrone and Wexford and also in Dagenham, London, UK.[3]

The Irish game also has players in Boston, Massachusetts;[15] Cambridge, New York, and Bennington, Vermont, vicinity;[16] Indian Lake, New York,[17] Syracuse, New York;[18] Traverse City, Michigan;[19] Asheville, North Carolina;[20] Savannah, Georgia;[21] and Kansas City, Kansas.[22] The sport is also growing in the fairs and festivals of the state of West Virginia.[23] One of the world's largest Irish road bowling events is held annually in September in Wheeling, West Virginia, where it is hosted by a local division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.[citation needed] In Canada, a contest was held in Colborne, Canada during May 2007.[citation needed]

Klootschieten is a similar game played in the Netherlands and northwest Germany,[5] including in Friesland and Schleswig-Holstein, and international events have been staged between these regions and Ireland.[11]


The winners of the men's and women's All-Ireland competitions are referred to as the "King of the Roads" and "Queen of the Roads" respectively.[24] Other game terminology, as used primarily in Ireland, includes:

bowl of odds
when one bowler is one full shot fewer than their opponent, i.e., when a bowler is equal to or farther in distance than their opponent, but has thrown one less shot.
break butt
To step over the butt before releasing the bowl
the bowl that is thrown or "shot"
County Armagh name for the game of road bowling. Also long bullets. See also bullet.
the throwing mark on the road. See also break butt
a sharp curve in the road or a corner where two roads meet. See also open the corner
fág a' bealach!
anglicised as Faugh A Ballagh and meaning "clear the way" (to warn spectators on the road in front of the thrower)
get sight
see open the corner
a left-handed thrower (from Irish: citeóg[25])
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.
a match
a throw
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". (from Irish: sop, meaning a "small bundle (of straw)")
stylish bowler
a bowler with a smooth well-coordinated delivery.

In popular culture

The song Out the Road by Gaelic Storm is about a road bowling score. Additionally, footage of a road bowling score is included in a YouTube video shot by band founders Pat Murphy and Steve Twigger about their trip to Murphy's native County Cork during the production of their album Chicken Boxer (which includes Out the Road).[citation needed]

Notable bowlers


  1. ^ a b c d Lane, Fintan (2005). Long Bullets: A History of Road Bowling in Ireland. Cork: Galley Head Press. ISBN 095421594X.
  2. ^ a b Toal, Brian (2010). "Ból-Chumann na hÉireann". Seanchas Ardmhacha: Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society. 23 (1): 294–307. JSTOR 41698528.
  3. ^ a b c d "General Introduction". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  4. ^ "Ból Chumann na hÉireann Code of Governance". Irish Road Bowling Association. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b c "Festival Fit: Airborne eggs in Leitrim and flying 'bowels' in Cork". Irish Times. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  6. ^ "Bol Chumann na hEireann - About Us". Irish Road Bowling Association. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  7. ^ Maher, Kris (14 June 2013). "In This Kind of Bowling, the Lanes Have Cars". Wall Street Journal.
  8. ^ a b O'Riordan, Sean (6 December 2014). "William of Orange troops may have given us road bowling". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  9. ^ a b c "Early History". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Ból Chumann na hÉireann/The National Assoc". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ a b "International". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ O'Connell, P. (24 March 2020). "Road bowling gathering in defiance of ban slammed". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  13. ^ O'Tuama, Seamus (30 June 2020). "Roadmap to complete All-Ireland road bowling championships unveiled". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  14. ^ Ó Tuama, Seamus (25 November 2015). "Classy Killian Kingston pulls off double". Irish Examiner. Archived from the original on 26 November 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  15. ^ "Local Sporting Group Wants Irish Tradition To Roll On". WBUR. 13 April 2010.
  16. ^ "State Line Irish Road Bowling, Cambridge, New York, & Bennington, Vermont". Archived from the original on 2012-07-05.
  17. ^ "Irish Road Bowling in Indian Lake". Retrieved 2023-02-02.
  18. ^ "Irish Road Bowling - Onondaga Lake Park".
  19. ^ "Northern Michigan Banshees Road Bowling Club". Archived from the original on 2012-11-13. Retrieved 2008-10-01.
  20. ^ "Asheville Irish Road Bowling Association, Asheville, North Carolina". Archived from the original on 2010-03-12.
  21. ^ "Home".
  22. ^ "KSAOH Irish Road Bowling".
  23. ^ Slayter, Mary Ellen (30 March 2005). "Go Play in the Road". Washington Post. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  24. ^ O'Tuama, Seamus (26 September 2021). "Road bowling: David Murphy and Silke Tulk the King and Queen". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  25. ^ McArthur, Thomas Burns; McArthur, Roshan (2005-12-15). "Hiberno-English". Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. p. 717. ISBN 9780192806376. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  26. ^ "Mick Barry 'The Bowlplayer of all time'". Road Bowling. Ask About Ireland. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  27. ^ O'Mahony, T.P. (8 December 2014). "'King of the road' dies, 95". Irish Examiner.
  28. ^ English, Eoin (16 December 2010). "Road named after bowling legend". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 9 January 2023.