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The rising popularity of lawn bowling in Sligo


Jakki Brannigan and Niall McGowan enjoy some bowling.

Jakki Brannigan and Niall McGowan enjoy some bowling.

Graham Cawley, Joan Grennan and Mairead Doyle at the lawn bowling facility at Cleveragh, Sligo.

Graham Cawley, Joan Grennan and Mairead Doyle at the lawn bowling facility at Cleveragh, Sligo.

Helen Gunning playing a game of bowls at Cleveragh, Sligo.

Helen Gunning playing a game of bowls at Cleveragh, Sligo.


Jakki Brannigan and Niall McGowan enjoy some bowling.


Entering the new year is often a time of resolution, an opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to reappraise your actions and activities.

For many, it is a time of new beginnings and a point at which you can finally decide to pick up a new hobby.

One activity that is quickly growing in popularity is the game of lawn bowls at the Sligo Regional Park in Cleveragh. For the last number of years, the Sligo Lawn Bowls Club have been enjoying the outdoor game and have recently increased their capacity for new members.

Newly appointed Club Secretary Graham Cawley says there has never been a better time to join the club and they are excited to welcome new members, young and old, who would like to get involved.

Graham says that lawn bowls often has a reputation as an “old person’s game” but that this is not the case and that at one point they had an 84 year old playing a game against their 8 year old great granddaughter and that this is the only sport where you can “competitively do that” and people are not restricted by their age or ability.

He says that it is a game that only takes 10 minutes to learn how to play but you can “spend a lifetime” improving the intricacies and adding to your skill level.

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“I am very passionate about bowls and I will fight our corner for anyone who says it’s an old man’s game. It has that reputation, but it is changing,” he said.

The lawn bowls facilities were officially launched in September 2016 and the club’s Public Relations Officer Maurren Meehan has been involved since the beginning.

She said the club has been a great success but that’s not to say it isn’t without its challenges.

“You approach the bowling green, walk into the container, collect the bowls, walk out, change your shoes and now you’re ready to play. It appears that’s all you do, but in order to get that there was so much involved,” she said.

“Without the County Council, Sligo Sport and Recreation Partnership (SSRP), and Sports Ireland none of that would have been possible.

“People like Diane Middleton and Lucy Brennan from the SSRP, they were the people involved in setting it up, getting the outdoor green organised in the first place. We owe so much to them for all we have achieved.”

The club currently uses a large container that acts as their clubhouse and Maureen said this presented many challenges when they were first getting it set up.

“People had to carry bowls a long way, that’s not easy, especially when it’s usually an older age group.

“Before the container could be moved to its present condition the ground underneath had to be levelled, it all sounds so simple and trivial but when you attend meetings from one to the next it’s a big step forward.

“The door of the container was another obstacle, it was very heavy and difficult to open, work was done so it’s much easier to use.

“Originally the fence around the green was just half the height it is today, and we had a lot of trouble with youngsters jumping over and bringing in dogs and bikes and playing football. The fence was eventually heightened.”

After the club was first set up Maureen pushed for funding and they were awarded a grant of over €19,000 that has gone a long way in the development of the club.

“A CCTV camera has been installed and we are waiting on our new clubhouse to be delivered, we should have it by March 2022,” she said.

The Lawns Bowls Club has been an incredible social outlet for so many people throughout the trials and tribulations of lockdowns, restrictions, and Covid-19 regulations.

As an outdoor activity it has been able to stay active through much of the pandemic and given lots of people the opportunity to get and out and about when they needed it most.

Last December as so many planned events were being cancelled the club decided to think outside the box and were able to go ahead with their planned Christmas party.

“This year because of Covid we decided we were going to try and go ahead and have an outdoor Christmas party,” Maureen said.

“A group of us got together and we did it. Christmas cheer was in abundance at our outdoor lawn bowls party. Blue skies and brilliant sunshine welcomed our regulars.

“In the absence of our clubhouse we want to say thank you to our local community Gardaí who lent us a pop-up tent for the day. There were savoury bites and sweet treats enjoyed by all and music was provided by Fred Litherland who entertained us for the day.

“It was a great Christmas party with a difference and enjoyed by all. It might have started a trend because it was far better than any indoor party we could have had, people could move around with social distancing and we even had a bowls session thrown in if you wanted a game. It was a brilliant day.”

When the club was originally set up it only had the capacity for a small number of members and would only be open for around six hours per week but Club Secretary Graham is determined that they continue to grow and is hoping their recent successes in gaining new membership is “only the beginning.”

“We have doubled what we used to have. There used to be insurance for just 40 members, then the new committee said we’ll insure for 60, now that we are beyond that we have insurance for 120 members,” he said.

“People say we have enough now and I say we haven’t even started yet!”

The Sligo Lawns Bowls club is the only outdoor club in Connacht, however there are similar clubs around the country and they are interested in collaborating with one another.

“We all enjoyed a trip to the Greenhills Bowling Club in Dublin,” Maureen said.

“That would have been about two years ago, pre-Covid, and they did a return trip to us and stayed in the Riverside Hotel. We’re hoping to do the same this year.”

Graham says that there are clubs in Galway, Roscommon, Clare, Limerick and more.

Those who join the club have access to coaching and training and Graham encourages anyone who has even the smallest interest to have a go and see what they think.

“Recently we had four people on the green playing on a bank holiday Monday. By the time we were finished there were 17 people on the green,” he said.

“That’s just people walking by who had never seen it before and we say come in and play. They say, ‘what about my dog’ but I tell them don’t worry you go and play and I’ll look after your dog. Just like that there’s six new members.”