The Bowls

Author: Philip Robinson

Date: 1994

Source: Ullans: The Magazine for Ulster-Scots, Nummer 2 Spring 1994

Whilk sports o wor ain wud we hae here in Ulster? Wud there be onie sairt o a traditional sport for the Ulster-Scotch? Ye cud say Shinty, seein its wes a bit like the Hurlin an monies an Ulster poet used tae mak mention o it. Mebbe yinst it micht a bin, bot wha’s iver heerd o onie Shinty matches gettin playit noo-a-days? Fitba, ay, an mebbe motor-bike racin tae, hes aye pu’d mair folk thegither nor onie ither sport ye cud mention. Thae wudnae be ca’t ‘traditional sports’ bot, an the’ hinnae much o a Scotch connection forbye. Bowls is mair the thing — divil a Meetin-Hoose or toon in the hail kintra ’at hisnae gat a Bowlin Club, an a wheen o years back did Jim Baker no bear the gree o the World Title? The Bowlin gat a quare heft whan Jim brung thon title hame til Coontie Antrim. Richt roon the wurl theday, the Bowls is organised wi rules set doon bi a boy fae Glesca, an Scotlan haes aye bin big wi Bowlin Clubs. O coorse, the Bowls gat a guid playin bi Sir Francis Drake in the days o Elizabeth

I. In them days Carrickfergus hed its ain Bowlin Green tae, fur whan the wa’s o Carrick toon wes biggit in 1618, the new wa cut the oul Bowlin Green in twa fornenst the North Gate.

Efter 1605, whan hoards o Scotchies come owre tae north Down fae Scotlan — alang wi the Big Plantin o Ulster — Bangor, Newton, an Comber wes near aa Scotch, an yin or twa o thae toons wes pit doon on wee maps made in 1625. Baith Bangor an Comber hed a ‘Ball Greene’ mairk’t on thair plons in 1625. Sae, fur near fower hunner year the Bowls haes bin play’t bi the Ulster-Scotch. Bot whit o the Long-Bowls or Bullets ’at gets play’t alang the kintra loanens o the Coontie Armagh yit? Weel, theres a brave wheen o sic places in Antrim and Down ’at gets ca’t the ‘Lang-Shot’, an thae airts used tae be gaitherin places fur Lang-Bowls. Map makers o the 1830s daein thair days darg in South Antrim wud gie reports o Lang-Bowls, an way bak afore that, ‘long-bullets’ wes the favourite sport o the Rev. Philip Skelton. He wes born in 1707 at Derriaghy near Lisburn, an as a wee lad he cudnae be bate at the bullets bi oniebody in the Parish. Yinst he tuk a holiday tae the Mournes, an gat bate there bi a wee runt o a craytur.

The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue makes mention o ‘lang bowlis’ in Scotlan bak in the fowerteen hunners. Seein Lang-Bowls wes play’t wi an iron ba, it was aye gey an dangerous. Skelton, in 1728 wes playin’ long-bullets whan a three pun ba come fleein aff a stane an gied him a sair dunt on the heid. Ither folks ses thon dinge in his heid wes the cause o aa the daft things the wee meenister gat up tae efter.

The Bard o Moneyreagh, Bab Huddlestone, niver made much o a mention o Bowls in onie o his poems, bot in yin o his letters tae a freen in America, he toul him at he hed gat a hit on the shank fae a lang-bowl twal year afore an wes near a cripple syne. That was aboot the year 18 an 70, an he ax’t his freen did he no min’ the guid oul days the’ used t’hae at the bullets whan the’ was wee fellas.

The baith sairts o Bowls haes aye been the sport o the Ulster-Scotch bards. Ma ain favourite is James Orr, the Bard o Ballycarry, wha pit doon aboot the year 1800 a poetic epistle tae an ithir great bard, Samuel Thomson o Templepatrick. Orr ends up wi thir lines:

“I’ll hae to quat my humble strains

The moon-beams gild my frost-wrought panes

An’ I’ve a bit to gang:

I hope your muirlan muse ye’ll woo

To tell me how ye wrastle thro’,

Some time when ye’re no thrang

Atween an’ May, gif bowls row right

I’ll meet ye in Roughfort

An’ aince again devote a night

To Frien’liness an’ sport.”

Philip Robinson

Plan showing Bangor bowling green

Map of Bangor in 1625, showing the old Bowling Green



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A new edition of Michael Montgomery’s From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English recounts the lasting impact that at least 150,000 settlers from Ulster in the 18th century made on the development of the English language of the United States. This new edition published by the Ulster-Scots Language Society documents over 500 ‘shared’ vocabulary items which are authenticated by quotations from both sides of the Atlantic. A searchable online version of this dictionary is now also available here.


The Ulster-Scots Academy is currently working on the digitisation of Dr Philip Robinson's seminal Ulster-Scots Grammar and the English/Ulster-Scots part (with circa 10,000 entries) of a two-way historical dictionary of Ulster-Scots. These projects are planned to be completed and available on the site in 2016.



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