An Old Sport Makes A Comeback

West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association WVa Irish Road Bowling Assc.

Within the emerald hills of Ireland, W.Va., CBS News correspondent Bill Geist stumbles across a seemingly odd sport: Irish road bowling.

"Irish road bowling is a sport that's over 300 years old it goes back to the 1600s and it's played in Ireland, primarily," says David Powell. "And we know it was played during the Civil War here in West Virginia."

"The Irish troops played with small cannonballs that were used in battle and they played between battles," Powell adds.

Powell wanted to bring back the game, but no one around here knew how to play.

"I went to the Library of Congress and in the 128 million odd items there was only one book on Irish road bowling," Powell says. "I brought it out and we tried to figure out the rules of the game."

It's fairly simple. You toss the ball, or bowl, down the road for a mile or two and the player with the fewest shots wins.

"Irish immigrants from Boston came down and really taught us to take the game more seriously," Powell explains.

Con O'Callaghan was one. He's the North American champion.

"In Ireland, I started when I was 5 years of age," O'Callaghan explains. "You develop the technique when you're very young. It's the same probably as a kid in America playing baseball or football. That's what he gets good at."

With the help of the Irish, West Virginia now has its own bowling tour. The sport attracts athletes of widely varying styles and abilities.

"One road bowler, Jared, a logger by trade, lets go a mighty heave, while mine more closely resembles a skee-ball toss," Geist admits.

A simple game, but there's much to learn.

There are hazards to the game, like traffic. There are even road bowling injuries.

One bowler reports he came down with a case of Irish road bowling elbow.

Spectators don't know what to make of the whole spectacle.

"They wonder what it is and you have to explain it to them," one road bowler says. "What do you tell 'em? Take two balls and go out and play in traffic.

"It's just something new to us, never seen before," says one spectator.

Despite individual instruction from O'Callaghan, Geist's ball keeps straying off road.

"I quit. I'm retiring. I'd like to announce my retirement," Geist says.

But Geist learns that almost every shot from everyone winds up in the rough. Search parties are formed. Special equipment brought in.

Nevertheless, Con O'Callaghan says Americans are mastering the game of Irish road bowling, including the most essential part: a good finish, at the pub.
  • Sean Alfano

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