Throwing the bullet: Road bowling photographic exhibition in Armagh

The incredibly niche pastime of road bowling features in a new photographic exhibition in Armagh.

Monday, 9th August 2021, 3:28 pm
The Market Place Theatre in Armagh will hosts a photographic exhibition by Michael Bradley, Colin Robins and Joonas Aitonurmi
The Market Place Theatre in Armagh will hosts a photographic exhibition by Michael Bradley, Colin Robins and Joonas Aitonurmi

Also known as ‘throwing the bullet’, the game is primarily associated with the counties of Armagh and Cork and involves participants taking turns to throw a solid iron ball weighing 28oz as far down a country road as possible whilst many frequently wager not insignificant amounts on the prospective winners.

Fintan Lane, in his book ‘Long Bullets: A History of Road Bowling in Ireland’, traces the sport to the 17th century.

Running until Saturday, September 4, The Market Place Theatre hosts a free exhibition of photographs by Michael Bradley and Colin Robin, assisted by Joonas Aitonurmi in Armagh as part of the John Hewitt International Summer School.

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Joonas is a Helsinki journalist, Michael teaches Photography at Middlesex University and Colin teaches at Plymouth University.

Colin said: “Joonas and I had worked on another project in Helsinki in 2018 and he’d mentioned this unusual game he’d heard about whilst studying at Queens in Belfast – road bowling. We decided it would be interesting to have a look at, with me making the photographs and he making some written observations of the game.

“Michael and I met by coincidence in a London cafe whilst overseeing our respective students’ hanging their degree shows in the Free Range student photography exhibition in 2019. During our conversation the idea of doing a joint exhibition came up and the project developed from there.

“Neither of us are sports photographers so whilst there are some images of the game being played, there is much emphasis on the spectators and the landscapes through which they pass – the photographs essentially record a piece of social and cultural history.”

Asked if he was aware of anyone from the unionist community playing what is an almost exclusively nationalist pursuit, Michael said: “I’m not sure about the politics of road bowling, that’s one of the most fascinating things about it – it occupies local communities in two different parts of one island. They’re united by the sport but also by the cross border aspect as well.

“When taking the photos I saw a lot of good natured repartee. It seems to be something that brought the local community out. It was interesting to see the same faces would appear at different matches. They followed it for the appreciation of the sport as much as anything else, it’s a social thing as well.

“It requires physical fitness, it requires you to read the road, it requires a great deal of stamina as well. The weather does not stop them.”

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