By Chris Hong
Kilts. Cannonballs. Plenty of beer.
All of this made for a Sunday afternoon of Irish road bowling at Clinton Lake State Park. The eclectic event was a fundraiser for local charities hosted by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee of Lawrence. Charlie Upton, one of the event’s organizers, claimed it was the first such event west of the Mississippi.
For a $30 donation, participants received entry to the event, and beer, food and shuttle service to the lake provided by 23rd Street Brewery, a sponsor of the event.
By now, some may be asking, “What exactly is Irish road bowling?”
It’s a sport that, not surprisingly, originated in Ireland in the 1600s. Using an underhand motion, players roll a 1 3/4-pound metal ball — called a “bowl” (they are cannonballs) — down a road that has preferably been closed to traffic. The object of the game, like golf, is to complete the course with the least amount of rolls.
Kevin Kelly, another organizer, was first introduced to road bowling while watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s television show “No Reservations.” Kelly said he thought the sport would be a sure way to raise money for this year's parade’s six local charities: Just Food, Homegrown Lawrence, Tiny-k Early Intervention, Lawrence Police Department's Blue Santa Program, Theatre Lawrence Youth Education Program and Headquarters Counseling Center.
The bowling began at noon, with groups of four tackling the one-mile course that circled a grassy camping area. The course’s initial curves challenged the bowlers, before settling into straighter sections of road. Equipped with painted steel balls, growlers of beer and the proper attire — think beads and scally caps — participants enjoyed Sunday’s warm yet windy weather while they tried to keep the ball on the road.
Colleen Callahan, a participant, said she was excited to try the sport she saw people play in the Irish countryside during a recent trip.
By 1:30, about 92 people had registered for the event and polished off six pony kegs of beer. Near the finish line, a crowd gathered in a grassy area with a clear southern view of Clinton Lake. Some had just finished bowling, while others were there simply to watch.
Billy Williams and Bobo March, both of Lawrence, said they enjoyed the camaraderie of rolling cannon balls down the street over a couple cold ones. They were dressed for the event, with Williams in a kilt and March in a blue suit with a light green bandana in the front pocket.
“You gotta have costumes; it changes everything,” Williams said.
Kristin Rennells, a committee member for the parade, said she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“It was so much fun,” she said. “My brother is trying to do it in Kansas City.”
By mid-afternoon, the score to beat was 19 rolls. The winner received a $25 gift certificate to On The Rocks Liquor, 1818 Mass., a spot in this year’s parade and free entry in next year’s tournament.
Other sponsors included 105.9 Kiss FM, 92.9 The Bull and KLWN 1320 AM.