March 23rd, 2019 Brittini Ray
Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day festival may be over. but there was no shortage of celebration of Irish heritage on Saturday with the 2019 Irish Road Bowling tournament. Held at the International Racetrack on Hutchinson Island, teams of local bowlers gather to celebrate the sport in an event sponsored by the Savannah’s Ancient Order of Hibernians.
“It’s sort of an ancient sport from Ireland,” said Jerry Hand, chair for the local Irish Road Bowling committee.” You’ve got a beautiful day, you’re with friends and family, drinking a cold beverage — how can that be bad?. . . I’ve never met anyone who road bowled and didn’t like it. Everybody has a good time.”
Part golf, part bowling and part fast-pitch softball, the 400-year-old sport had remained popular in Ireland but had all but died out in the United States other than in Irish communities in New York and Boston.
Road bowling came to Ireland in the 1600s when, so it’s said, bored soldiers of King William of Orange started throwing cannonballs to take up the time, according to The Irish Times. The sport made its way to Savannah in the last couple of decades. “We started doing this in 2007,” said Chris Hagan, former AOH president. “We do it twice a year— the Saturday after St. Patrick’s Day and the Saturday before Georgia-Florida because it’s a bye week for Georgia.”
Each team has three participants. The team that throws its 28 oz steel ball around the track in the fewest number of throws wins. On Saturday, more than 55 teams participated in the event, which doubles as a charity fundraiser, Hagan said. The money goes toward scholarships and other causes. And the event attracts more than local Savannahians.
Participant Dennis Pierson and his team “Jared’s Trash Pandas,” hailed from West Virginia, another hub for Irish Road Bowling. “We heard this was a good event to come to,” he said. “And it’s been a great turnout. . . I started in Irish Road Bowling after my friend told me about it. He explained it to me and said I should try it. So we went and had a blast. That was four years ago.. . . That’s the nice thing about Irish Road Bowling. Everybody comes out and does it. We have people back home that normally wouldn’t hang out in the same circle but we get together at the events and have a great time.”