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On the Road Again

Irish Road Bowling is a St. Patrick’s Day tradition

March 2024

Irish Road Bowling in Staunton, Va.

Irish Road Bowling in Staunton, Va. (Photo courtesy of Steve Taetzsch)

by Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer

Ireland, 1803

Ireland, 1803 (Image courtesy of Dave Powell)

WANT TO TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT AND TRULY IRISH THIS ST. PATRICK’S DAY? How about getting together with three of your closest friends and each taking turns throwing a 2-pound ball made of steel and iron down a road about a half-dozen times? In Staunton, Va., they have been doing it every St. Patrick’s Day for the last decade and loving it.

It’s called Irish Road Bowling and its history is as interesting as the game, which is scored pretty much like golf but played with a 28-ounce metal ball, or “bowl,” thrown underhand by each player.

According to avid player John Byrer who brought the game to Staunton from West Virginia, the sport of Irish Road Bowling can be traced back to 1600s Ireland, when it was originally played with military cannonballs.

“One story is that Dutch soldiers brought the game with them when William of Orange came to Ireland in 1689,” he says. “Another legend says that it started when Irish patriots robbed English cannonballs one fateful night and rolled them down a country lane by the light of a full moon.”

Irish immigrants eventually brought the game to America and are believed to have played it during both the American Revolutionary and Civil War.

“Irish troops have traditionally played road bowling wherever they were stationed around the world, usually between battles,” says Dave Powell of West Virginia Irish Road Bowling. “We have been playing it here since 1995, when on March 18 of that year, the first official Irish Road Bowling match since the Civil War was played in West Virginia.”

Byrer left West Virginia in 2014 and moved to Staunton, bringing the game with him. He introduced it to Steve Taetzsch of Staunton Parks & Recreation Department, who began holding annual matches on St. Patrick’s Day in Staunton’s Montgomery Hall Park beginning in 2015.

“People love it,” Taetzsch says. “They generally play in threesomes or foursomes, like golf. Some teams decorate their metal bowls with their team colors.”

Players take turns standing behind a mark and throwing their bowl as far as possible down a road. Their teammates are stationed 20 to 30 yards ahead of them to note where the bowl eventually stops. If it lands on the road, that spot is marked with chalk. If the bowl lands off the road, it is brought back to the road at the same distance and marked there. The goal is to reach the 1.5-mile marker with the fewest throws.

This year’s match will be held on Saturday, March 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton.

For more, call the Staunton Parks & Recreation office at 540-332-3945.