Every year, residents of my hometown of Buckhannon, West Virginia celebrate the Strawberry Festival in mid-May. It’s a week that the city of maybe 10,000 welcomes nearly four times that number to partake in parades, carnival games & rides, art shows, music venues, and off-the-cuff competitions. Easily the greatest and only must-do of these seldom seen competitions would be Irish Road Bowling. But what is it?
Comparing Irish Road Bowling to yard games like cornhole (bean-bag toss to some of you) or can-jam doesn’t really work. Cornhole and can-jam are stationary activities. Irish Road Bowling requires movement, in particular, hurling a baseball sized metal cannonball down an old country road and walking–sometimes running, depending on how wild of a bowl you have–after it. It also requires spotters. These are the people who watch where you’ve tossed the ball to make sure it doesn’t go flying wildly off the path into some farmer’s hayfield.
Speaking of those spotters. The amount of people that can play also separates road bowling from traditional yard games. Typically there are two teams of two playing against each other in these games; not with road bowling. Teams can be made up of two, three, four, and if need be, more players. Multiple teams can play simultaneously bowl as well, which in my opinion, is the best way to play. There are times that four teams are bowling down the same stretch of road. Playing this way, you’ve got almost twenty people keeping an eye on the balls, and they’re cheering you on.
Most games are played on a stretch of road between 1.5 – 2 miles for friendly outings. At Turkey Run, the course is about a mile and a half. It’s a two-day event. On the first day is the team competition while the second day features individual bowlers. I’ve never played on the second day, but Irish Road Bowlers compete for the opportunity to play in the country of Ireland. Winning individual events like the one at Turkey Run helps them achieve that goal.
Whether you are looking for a new sport to play competitively or casually, Irish Road Bowling offers exercise, camaraderie, and plain fun. Check out this video (please excuse the small bit of language), it offers a taste of what Irish Road Bowling is all about. If you still have questions, ask the local coordinators, they’re typically extremely friendly people looking to get more bowlers on the roads.