Bowling down the lanes of Armagh: Alan Murdoch joins fans of a sport said to have started with rolling cannon balls

UNDER an incongruous 'No Shooting' sign two intense young men from opposite sides of the Irish border are gearing up to launch small solid metal balls over two miles of lush Co Armagh lanes.

Road bowling is flourishing as never before in Ireland despite a curious ancestry - some maintain it arrived with William of Orange's Dutch troops, who played it with cannon balls. This has not stopped it being fiercely popular in what was once called 'rebel' Cork and nationalist parts of Armagh. Now the game is played as far afield as Louth, Monaghan and Sligo.

There are no comparisons with village square boules, the sedate short-range French game for people with weak arms. Here the winner in the head-to-head contest is the man completing the lengthy course in the shortest number of throws.

In this All-Ireland junior final tension is etched into the faces of the two young competitors. Though the prize is only pounds 100 and a coveted trophy, committed friends are backing them to the tune of pounds 750 each. Smaller sums of pounds 30 are gambled in side bets on each shot.

Before throwing, Armagh's Brian Kinchin kneels and scratches the ball on the tarmac. White-coated stewards with CB radios warn of imminent play and hold up the traffic.

As he starts his 20-yard run-up, cacophonous shouts of encouragement come from fans. His twisting, jerking swing seems set to pull his arm off as the ball hurtles towards the crowd and the hundreds watching leap clear.

There is a pause, then partisan followers erupt in raucous cheers, jab umbrellas in the air and jump up and down. 'It's a flyer' one bellows. 'Bonus score]' others yell. There is an element of psychological warfare. Yelling intimidates the opponent and boosts your own man if he is flagging. Disparaging shouts - 'Too slack' or 'It's no use' - are aimed at puncturing morale.

The wiry Corkman Michael Gould's face is contorted with concentration as a deep bellow of 'C'mon ya boy ya]' comes improbably from a pencil-thin young man dressed in the Irish barman's uniform of tight black trousers and plain white shirt.

Gould's throw ends with a curious jerk that lifts the ball a couple of feet. This is the Cork style; Armagh men keep theirs low and straight.

Between shots pipes are lit, chat- up lines exchanged and ice cream and chips devoured by huge ruddy- faced farmers in their Sunday best.

As the Armagh man pulls ahead, life-long fans describe great moments of the game, pointing out the plaque commemorating the course record of 22 shots set by Joe McVeigh in 1955. In 1985, 12,000 spectators gathered to see if anyone could loft their ball over a 90ft Cork viaduct. A German won IR pounds 5,000 ( pounds 4,800) put up by the brewer, Murphy's, for his effort.

Technically the game is illegal as it obstructs roads. It nevertheless has tacit police approval. The 1985 All-Ireland winner was one Bill Daly of Glanmire, Co Cork (occupation: policeman).

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone