By Jackie Linehan

A member of Inniscarra Community Centre approached me lately and asked me if I would write an article on road bowling in the Berrings area. I suppose writing an article on anything is a challenge so I decided to give it a go.

Since I was a young lad growing up bowling was played on the Berrings Road. I’m sure most people know where I live, between Berrings Cross and North Kilmurry. That is the place I grew up watching the game of bowls being played on that road. From a very young age I watched them playing on the long Summer evenings and after second mass on Sundays. I’m talking now about the forties and I remember especially, the local curate playing with the lads on a Sunday. He was a Fr. Fitzgerald and I found out later that he was a great player. As young lads going to school we would always be playing coming home in the evenings. So by the time we were teenagers we were well used the bowling. As time went by we go to know most of these players and in later years may have played with or against them in local challenge scores.

One of those men was a Berrings local, by the name of Jim O’Mahoney and he lived on the Berrings Road, where Frank Horgan and family live today. At that time around 1932, a bowling tournament was organised for all the top players in the county. Jim O’Mahoney was one of the top players and he entered it. The best players from West Cork, Crossbarry, Cork City, Killeady and many more places entered this competition. I think it took three months to finish and the Berrings man won the final. It was played from Cloghroe Church to the Yellow House. He beat the man from the city, a great player who was known as the Shin Feiner. By all accounts it was a wild evening in Cloghroe and it was a great win for Jim O’Mahoney. Jim was a farmer and when we would have holidays from school he was always looking for us to do jobs with him on the farm. There would always be seven or eight of us there during the holiday time. Jim had a keen interest in all sports including bowling & G.A.A. He had great big silver cups for winning bowling tournaments, and tug of war. He was a powerful man, but a real gentle giant.

Bowling continued in the Cloghroe area from the 1930’s to the late 1950’s. A lot of local scores between local players were played on the Ballyanly Road between the Community Centre and what was then known as Thomas Healy’s Bar, now known as Blairs Inn. The Healy family were heavily involved in the bowling around this time. The bigger scores for the bigger players were played between Thomas Healy’s Bar (Blairs) and Ballyshonin Creamery. The senior players around this time were Con Desmond, Callas and Jackie Callaghan, Upper Cloghroe. I remember also the Cotter brothers from cloghroe, Paddy and Jack Cotter who would have been to the forefront of bowling around this time. I remember following these players with all the other local people all over Cork County to see them playing. We would travel on the back of an open back lorry, each passenger maybe contributing a few bob towards the cost of the diesel.
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All-Ireland Bowlplaying final at Cloghroe 1954. Liam O’Keeffe, Waterfall was the winner.

Bol Chumann Na hEireann as it is known was formed in 1954 and this organisation still exists today. This organisation is responsible for the rules and regulations governing Road Bowling. The first All Ireland under the New Bol Chumann rules was played in Cloghroe from Cloghroe Church to the Fountain Bar. This was won by a Corkman called Liam O’Keeffe from Bantry. Susan Greene who is the current Chairperson of Bol Chumann is a niece of Liam O’Keeffe.

Traffic on the Cloghroe Road got very busy around the late fifties, so bowling ceased there altogether. About three miles further on up the road, bowling got going again around Ballyshonin Creamery. First up the narrow road across from the creamery and later on the main road towards to Rea Bar. This was a lovely smooth road that everyone liked to play on. Lots of local tournaments were played there. Around this time bowling was extremely popular and was played on many roads throughout the parish including the Berrings to North Kilmurry Road, the Ballyshonin to Rea Road, the Ballyanly Road, and the Dripsey Road from Feeney’s Bar, past the mill to the pond. In the early fifties a bowling club was formed in Berrings. Dermot Murphy and I formed the original committee. Scores started in Berrings Cross and finished in North Kilmurry. Bowlers used to travel from far and wide to play on the Berrings Road. As I have already said bowling has been there long before I took an interest in it. But the club in Berrings continued to exist until the early 2000’s.

As time went on the Ballyshonin Road became popular for the bigger scores. Bol Chumann was responsible for bringing All Ireland Championships to Ballyshonin. Hundreds of people came from all over Ireland. Bowling at that time was only played in two Counties in the Country, Cork and Armagh. The Cork Champion would play the Armagh Champion in the All Ireland Final. Huge crowds would watch the score. When the All Irelands would be over, the roads would be quite again and we would start local tournaments between ourselves. These were called the doubles. A doubles tournament is where two payers play together against another two players and it takes the format of every second shot. These scores were the best of all as you would have great craic, although they could be very serious at times when big money stakes would be played for. Anyone who wanted to play could pay an entry fee and this fee would cover insurance for the road.

Most locals would play in these tournaments, the Sullivan Bros.,the Regan Bros., Murphy’s (Donoughmore), Barrett’s, Buckley’s, Linehan’s, Pat Healy, Denis, John & Liam Walsh, Tim Sullivan, Mick Looney, Bill Donovan, Barry Murray, Owen O’Brien (RIP), John Coleman, E.J. Murphy Dripsey, Pat O’Herlihy, Christy Naughton, Johnny Connors (RIP) & Dan Healy to mention but a few. One such local doubles tournament which was extremely popular with all locals was the Jack McCarthy (scarteen) memorial tournament. This was a tournament in which many locals played over a number of weeks or months and great nights were had in Rea bar on tournament final night. This tournament was also played on the Berrings road in later years and equally great nights were had celebrating in Murphy’s bar North Kilmurry. There were a number of singles tournaments played on the Berrings to North Kilmurry road in more recent times. These Scores were played maybe from Matthew Healy’s farm to north Kilmurry. These local tournaments always attracted huge local interest and everybody seemed to get huge enjoyment from them.

I suppose bowling at local level has died out a lot since the early days of the fifties in Berrings, where we started to play. I suppose all places like that are always very dear to us. Kilmurry will always hold special memories for me and the people who ran the tournaments with me. The late Dermot Murphy, his wife Mary who was always very good to us, Christy Naughton and who could forget the best of all, the late Johnny Connors (RIP). Johnny gave a lot to bowling in the Berrings area, always there when he was wanted and was probably one of the best players around. It was a sad evening for Berrings Bowling and for all the players that knew him so well when they heard he had passed away so suddenly. May he rest in peace.

Ar dheis de go raibh a h-anim.