Irish road bowling event taking place in Wheeling Park

ON THE ROAD — A competitor prepares to throw an iron ball on Park View Road in Wheeling during a past Irish Road Bowling Ohio Valley Championship. This year’s event is Saturday. -- File photo

ON THE ROAD — A competitor prepares to throw an iron ball on Park View Road in Wheeling during a past Irish Road Bowling Ohio Valley Championship. This year’s event is Saturday. -- File photo

WHEELING — Bring a strong arm and a few friends to Wheeling Park today and you just might find yourself the winner of the annual Irish Road Bowling Ohio Valley Championship.

Registration for the ninth annual tournament, hosted by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a local Catholic men’s organization, begins at noon at Wheeling Park’s Sonneborn Shelter. A portion of the proceeds go to a charity in the Wheeling area each year.

The sport of Irish road bowling dates back about 400 years and remains popular on the Emerald Isle today. In West Virginia, the sport has grown since the mid-1990s, with almost 20 road bowling events now held around the state each year.

The rules of the game are simple — team members take turns throwing or rolling a steel ball along a country road. The spot where the ball either stops or leaves the road is marked, and the next person up must throw from behind that mark.

The team that requires the fewest number of throws to complete the course is declared the winner.

The balls are slightly smaller than tennis balls, but weigh about 2 pounds each.

Participants really get into the spirit for the tournament. Some have special team T-shirts made for the event, while others even wear kilts.

Last year’s event in Wheeling set records for both participation and performance. More than 700 people on 149 teams took part, while the winning team completed the course in just 17 throws — the lowest number since the event began in 2010.

The trophy awarded to the winning team is named for Msgr. Jeremiah McSweeney of St. Michael Catholic Church, who attends the event each year. He is originally from Ireland.

Following registration, a shuttle will take participants from Sonneborn Shelter to the start of the course at the intersection of Brown’s Run and Boggs Hill roads. From there, it’s about 1.25 miles back to the finish at Wheeling Park.

Following the competition, there will be dinner at the shelter, followed by and evening of Irish music and dancing.

Almost a decade ago, the local Hibernians decided they needed an event that could assist in raising funds.

With Craig O’Leary in the lead, a group from the organization attended a road bowling event in Kingwood, W.Va., and decided that with a little fine-tuning, such an event could provide the major fundraiser the group was seeking.

The Wheeling road bowling event is now the Bishop Whelan division of the Hibernians’ largest fundraiser of the year.

Members of the organization note that in addition to fundraising, the event also serves as an unofficial membership drive, as people often end up joining the Hibernians after attending the tournament.

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