As the map below shows, Dublin is the main centre for bowling in the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, it’s Antrim/Down (or Belfast, to be more precise). These areas contain the highest number of bowling centres, which have the most lanes sanctioned by the two bowling organizations, the I.T.B.A. in the Republic and the N.I.T.B.F. in the North of Ireland. The geography here could be explained by a higher population, which provides a higher demand. But infrastructure also affects the location of bowling centres: Dublin and Belfast are well connected to their hinterlands, which makes it easier for bowlers from other countries to get to competitions held in these bowling alleys compared with bowling centres in more remote locations that couldn’t handle major competitions and everything they entail.
No matter what the reasons, the fact is, if you don’t live close to these concentrations, it’s unlikely that you will make it to the top. Harsh, but true! Viewing the top men and women in 2009, from the I.T.B.A. rankings and N.I.T.B.F. rankings, it is difficult to find a bowler who doesn’t live in these two regions. In the Republic of Ireland, out of the 20 top men and woman, only two are not located in Dublin. Conan Mackey lives and bowls in Wicklow. Although he isn’t in Dublin, he is close to it. Working in the Bray bowling alley, he gets free bowling. This may contribute to his ranking. The second exception is Stephen O’Connor. He is Irish, bowls in Dublin, but lives in England. The concentration of the bowling alleys that hold ranking tournaments allows him to commute to these competitions. In Northern Ireland, 90% of the bowlers live within 20 miles of Belfast – only two ranking bowlers live further away: Kevin Horton lives in Derry and travels to bowl in the Jet Centre, Coleraine (he was a top ranking bowler before he moved away from Belfast); and the second is Paul McCauley, who bowls in the same centre.
Bowling centres outside of Dublin and Antrim/Down tend to have fewer lanes and usually don’t include a pro-shop. They are more relaxed, community based centres. Bowling in these centres will not prepare you for what it’s like to bowl in a ranking tournament. Many major competitions, including the Irish Open, National Championships and the World Cup are held in Dublin. The only exception is the City Limits tournament in Galway. This alone shows that Dublin bowlers will have an advantage over bowlers not from Dublin. Dublin bowlers have access to lanes all year round and will have used these lanes on a regular basis. To come and bowl in a tournament in Dublin can be very intimidating if you are not used to it. Nothing prepares you for the sickening nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach as the music blares over the speakers for your five minutes of practise. It’s terrifying!
A guest post written by Sarah A. Keogh, 3rd Geography Student