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Roadbowling Event

The Vashon Island Roadbowling association will be holding their annual roadbowling event on Sunday August 6th at 2:00pm. The start point is the corner of SW 220th St and Old Mill Road.  

This is an annual event that has been held in the past during Strawberry Festival. But the VIRA decided this year to schedule it later because there are so many events during Festival, people have a difficult time adding one more thing to their lives that weekend. If this year’s event brings out enough participants and spectators, the Association may consider keeping the later schedule for future years.

Roadbowling is an Irish sport in which competitors attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball along a predetermined course of country roads. The sport originated in Ireland and is mainly played in counties Armagh and Cork. Spectators often bet on the outcome and proffer advice to their favored competitor in the course of a match or “score”.

The bowling ball (or officially, “bowl” or “bullet”) is an iron and steel cannonball, 7 inches in circumference and weighing 28 ounces. There are two or more players or teams in a match or “score”. The one with the fewest shots to the finish line wins.

The Vashon club has enough of the small cannonballs for everyone to participate.  It’s a free event for islanders, tourists, amateur roadbowlers, and anyone curious about Irish roadbowling. According to club authorities, it’s “a great way to waste an afternoon.” Refreshments are provided, though if it’s a hot or warm day, people may want to bring their own particular “hydration therapy” liquids.  All ages are welcome.     

The early history of roadbowling on Vashon Island is rather vague - all written records of the sport having been destroyed in the “Great Vashon Fire” of 1892.  However, legend has it that the sport of road bowling was brought to Vashon Island by Brian O’Sullivan, an Irish sailor who jumped ship in Seattle and made his way to Vashon Island in 1872.  Setting up one of the first illegal stills on Vashon Island, O’Sullivan soon started and sponsored several roadbowling teams among the early Vashon settlers as a way to advertise and promote the consumption of his product.  While the sport of road bowling reportedly enjoyed great success on Vashon Island during the late 1800’s - briefly surpassing even geoduck tossing as the favorite sport among islanders - participation declined when O’Sullivan sold his still, and his sports franchise, to a group of investors from Oklahoma and moved back to County Cork in Ireland.
With the asphalt paving of many of the roads on Vashon Island in the early part of the twentieth century (allowing for longer throws than were possible on dirt roads), various attempts were made to revive the sport of road bowling on the Island.  However, these efforts coincided with the passage of Prohibition in the United States, resulting in players not being able to obtain the various forms of hydration therapy that had helped made this sport so enjoyable for generations of islanders.  The result was that road bowling as a sport soon disappeared from Vashon Island until its revival in 2007.

(history courtesy of the Vashon Island  Roadbowling Associaton, a non-profit non-existent recreational organization, established 1873.)