John McCullagh March 8, 2008
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I was a little unfair to AA: if you look carefully you will see the ‘bullet’ still in the right hand of this acrobatic player. Anyway here is AA’s story!

‘So after so many years of hoping to see what a Bullets match was truly like, I got my wish on Sunday 2nd March 2008.

As a youngster I had spent summers at a place called Aughnagurgan between Keady and Newtownhamilton when I became puzzled over the throngs of people who lined certain roads on a Sunday afternoon.  I became fascinated by the whole idea of this pastime.

I had passed through this mass of people on a few occasions in a car and had asked my Uncle what they were all doing.  His reply confused me when I heard the word Bullets.  All I knew was that the people were really interested in their sport.

So Walter Murphy who hailed from Newtown and who had been a very active member of the Newtown Bullets/Road Bowls Club made the arrangements for me.

I arrived and my main preoccupation became the weather and would it might spoil things. 

So there was a bit of waiting around for the Blackwaterstown Club to arrive.  They prefer to be called An Port Mor just to keep things right.  They did arrive and I watched as the first match pairings were made. The betting began as well and there then grew up a level of expectation and anticipation as we all waited for the break off.

The reader must understand that I am still learning the language of this sport but the break off – the start – was about to happen.  Thankfully the practice throws immediately made me aware of one of the sayings of the sport, ‘do not turn your back on the thrower.’

The road bowl is a rounded piece of heavy metal and it can do a lot of damage to the human body.  The spectator has to be alert to all the shouts of warnings and to the power of the thrown bullet.  I was truly amazed at how powerful the bowl was and how it could react to various things.  It could bounce and bounce high, it could travel and cause damage.

So off we went and I had no idea where the finish line was.  I had to pick up the idea and rules of the sport as I walked along. There were marshals at the front and behind the throwers to stop cars. This at times caused a delay but is accepted as part of the ritual.  As has been stated, a bullet could do real damage to a car so there has to be a great level of care taken.

I was well wrapped up and was hoping to at least get some good photographs but my modern digital camera missed some great shots.  The photographs give some essence to the start and the skill factor of the sport.  Just as I was beginning to master the camera, the battery power failed.

Walter was proved right when he spoke to me about a lot of the elements of play: the need to read the lay of the road, what side of the road to take, the taking of a bend, all the shouted commands and encouragements, the unpredictability of the bounce of the bowl, the cheering and the sense of loss if that was to occur.

I found as I walked along that I could be behind the thrower or well in front to watch the bowl.  I also found that in each match I was walking along with different people at different times.  It added to the sense of occasion.

The course is about two mile long and the first match went right to the finish line.  

The second match found us back along the same road and thereafter the third and fourth matches also followed the same route.  So I walked eight mile roughly and watched so many individuals being either elated or dejected.  There were at times moments of sheer intensity and craic about the old times.

The second match went to An Port Mor and was over early and so was the third match.  It seemed the long trek back to Newtown on the fourth match could be even longer, since the young ‘uns were not as good as their elders.  So many heads down and shuffling along as the match begun but then smiles as someone said Newtown had a shot advantage.  The atmosphere livened up again and even with the approaching shower of rain imminent, it still did not lessen the tension over the possible victory.

So it was with the finish line in sight, An Port Mor called an end to the fourth match:  they could not recover the shot.  It was break-even time for a lot of those who wagered the money. 

So what did I think of it all? Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  I saw the skill factor and the need for luck.  I heard of old timers and matches of long ago between Armagh and Cork.

If golf is not your game and a person is looking for something different with a long walk then this is it.  It is great to be out in the countryside and it is great to be involved in conversations. The people who play or played Bullets are proud of what they belong to.  It is a part of our culture and heritage.  I think visitors would love to be seeing it and to be part of the walk and the course. Imagine going to France and watching a game of Boulles, so what cannot be imagined here about this sport?

So afterwards, to the Cosy Pub where there was hot Irish stew and bread awaiting us and after the bit of a soaking we got from the rain, it was all oh so welcome!

I was asked if I wanted to go next Sunday to An Port Mor for the return leg and I have to say I quickly affirmed my interest. I am hooked.’

 

 

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