Road named after bowling legend

ROAD BOWLING legend Mick Barry said he was “taking it all in his stride” yesterday as his native city named a road after him and hosted a City Hall reception in his honour.

“Sure, isn’t it grand?” the self-effacing and fit-as-a-fiddle 91-year-old said, clasping a 28-ounce road bowl in his right hand, as he stood proud on the newly named Mick Barry Road which links the Kinsale Road to the South Link Road in Cork.

The area was a popular road bowling location from the 1940s onwards.

And at the reception afterwards, Mr Barry, who turns 92 next month, declined some canapés because his beloved wife, Betty, was at home cooking dinner.

“The spuds are on. I’m trying to get out but I can’t,” he joked, as dozens of friends and well-wishers queued to shake his hand.

His son, Pat, attributed his non-smoking and tee-totalling father’s good health to decades of outdoor work, sport and physical activity.

Mr Barry is widely regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest ever road bowlers.

He was born in 1919 in Waterfall, just outside the city. His road bowling career started in 1937 and spanned six decades until his retirement from active competition in June 1997, at the age of 78.

He won 13 championships under the auspices of Ból Chumann na hÉireann.

He was 44 when the All-Ireland series was inaugurated in 1963, and he went on to win eight senior all-Irelands, the last in 1975 at the age of 56.

He won gold in the novel discipline of moors bowling in the first international championships, which were held in the Netherlands in 1969.

One of his rare losses was to the late Danny McParland of Armagh, at Dublin Hill in 1964. But he won the return score in Armagh in 1965 for what was then a record stake of £1,700.

And he is also famous for conquering the ‘Bowler’s Everest’ — lofting a 28-ounce bowl over the Chetwynd Viaduct on the Cork to Bandon Road, on St Patrick’s Day 1955.

Mr Barry was accompanied by his son Pat, his daughter-in-law Mary, and his granddaughter Deirdre for yesterday’s ceremonies.

Among the dignitaries present were Lord Mayor Michael O’Connell, Bishop of Cork and Ross Most Rev Dr John Buckley who has bowled against Mr Barry, Ból Chumann na hÉireann chairwoman Susan Greene, and its president, Liam O’Keeffe.

Mr O’Connell borrowed lines from former taoiseach Jack Lynch’s oration at the graveside of hurling legend Christy Ring and said: “...as long as bowling is played, the story of Mick Barry will be told. And that will be forever”.

Mr O’Keeffe, who first played against Mr Barry in 1954, was the last man to play against him in competition in the Vintage Championship (for over-70s) on the Monkstown Road in Cork in 1996. “He won, and he shouldn’t have,” Mr O’Keeffe joked.

“After the third bowl his leg went and he couldn’t stand. The rule is if the man who’s injured can’t continue, the other man is the winner.

“But how could I take it from a man I know? I couldn’t so I said we’d play it another day.

“We played six months later and he beat me by a few feet.”

Mr O’Keeffe said Mr Barry was the perfect bowler and a great sportsman. “He had everything, physique, and everything that the bowler needs,” he said.

“He was a mighty strong man and had the perfect delivery. He is a gentleman. He loved to win but he lost a few times and he took his beating in a fine way, like a great sportsman.”

Ballyvolane man Finbarr Coffey, who took up bowling in his 50s, said Mr Barry is the greatest player he has ever seen.

“It was his tenacity, accuracy and speed. He had a lot of followers and that kept the sport going,” he said.

Noel Magnier read the late Denis McGarry’s poem, Mick Barry, in which the Waterfall man is described as a “man of steel”.

Mr Barry, who began raking leaves on the grounds of UCC in 1933, aged 14, and who rose to the position of head gardener — a position he held for 20 years until his retirement in 1985 — received an honorary degree from the university in 2003.

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