The sport of road bowls is popular in Holland and Germany and was once played throughout Ireland, but is now limited mainly to Cork and Armagh, where it’s also known as “road bullets”.
The principle of the game is simple: a pair of rival contestants each propels a 28oz (800g) solid-iron ball along a course of country roads (usually about two-and-a-half miles long), the winner being the player who reaches the finishing line with the fewest number of throws. In practice, it’s a complicated business. The Armagh roads twist and turn, up and down, and bowlers are assisted by a team of camp followers, including managers and road guides who advise on the most advantageous spots to aim for and the force of the throw. Traditionally a male sport, it’s become increasingly popular with women, who’ve held their own championship since 1981.
Roads around Armagh where you’re likely to catch sight of the game – usually on Sunday afternoons – include Cathedral Road, Napper Road, Blackwater Town, Rock, Tassa, Keady, Newtownhamilton and Madden roads. The most reliable information on forthcoming games is probably to be had in local pubs. The Ulster Finals are held in the city over two weekends in late June, with the All-Ireland Road Bowls Final in early August.