Monday, June 14, 2010

Playing In The Road

John came to Ireland with a keen interest in road bowling. Popular in County Cork, but no doubt seldom seen by American tourists circling around the Ring of Kerry, this is a curious sport. It seems to have been invented by someone who grew tired of hearing his mother say, “Don’t play in the road.’’ The object of the game is to hurl a metal ball as far as possible down a country road and then go chase after it and throw it again. Players get a running start and then pitch the ball, softball style, as far as possible down the road ahead. The running start makes the endeavor look a bit odd. The player who reaches the end of the road, so to speak, with the fewest number of throws wins. Meanwhile, spectators wager on everything. We do not know whether anyone bet on Americans showing up for the match.

Road bowling results and schedules are printed in the local paper. But since matches are held out on country roads, tourists wouldn’t necessarily encounter them. We started asking around about road bowling soon after our arrival here in Rosscarbery. Pascal, the problem-solver at O’Brien’s, was kind enough to point us in the direction of a noonish Sunday match. With Heather at the wheel, we set out in the general direction of where the match was located. We knew we were heading the right way because we saw a sign, “Caution: Road Bowling in Progress.’’ But after that the road twisted and turned and went off in different directions. There were no more signs, but after a while, Heather took a turn, and we arrived upon a small crowd of people in the road, with two cars following behind. As we pulled up, a man waved us on, as if to say, “It’s OK. You can drive through.’’ But Heather told him we wanted to see the match, so we pulled up behind the two cars following the small crowd of people. Heather, John and Carol got out to follow the match. Tom got behind the wheel for the first time and drove about a half mile or so.

The cool thing is that the bowlers and spectators were so pleased to have an American audience that they offered John a chance to make a throw, which he did without hurting himself or anyone else. It is worth mentioning here that John’s throw made an impression on at least one person. In one of those odd men’s room moments at Bernie’s Bar in Clonakilty, a man told John, “I saw you earlier out at the road bowling match.”

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