Not content with creating and curating good times, a few festivals around the country have been trying to break world records. There have been clatters of can-canning drag queens in Kilkenny, columns of Charlie Chaplins in Kerry, hosts of high-nellies in Durrow and hordes of Honda 50s in Westmeath.
Derry's Fleadh has the dubious honour of holding the record for biggest-ever Riverdance line (2,584), smashing the record set only weeks earlier in Dublin when the Gathering gestapo organised a similar event as part of their efforts to kick out a legacy. But it wasn't record breaking hot-steppers, Hondas or high-nellies that won my heart – it was two lads lobbing eggs the length of a GAA pitch in Leitrim.
In a moment of inspiration, the crew responsible for the All-Ireland Culchie Championships decided to include the Irish qualifiers of the World Egg Throwing Championships in their event. Hoofing eggs at prize-winning culchies across a pitch in Mohill gave me a pain in my face from laughing. During the heats, a local lad fired an egg 61 metres and his partner had the skill and technique to follow the flight of the egg with his hands, catching it safely without even a crack. It was a new world record, validated by an official from the World Egg Throwing Federation (seriously, you couldn't make this shit up).
The tosser had an interesting underarm windmilling technique, adopted from his experience as a road bowler. That’s not bowler as in the hat an English banker might have on his bulb heading down to Canary Wharf; it’s usually pronounced in a Cork accent and leans more towards the collective term for innards and entrails, inspiring images of colonoscopies rather than roundy black caps.
You need balls of steel for this sport
Road bowling is a sport that has been traced back to the 17th century, when Irish people gathered on country roads to fling a small cannonball along the lanes and by-ways in exactly the same way they do today. The objective of this sport is pretty simple: fling the metal bowl from point A to point B in the fewest shots possible. Cork is where you'll find most of Ireland's road bowlers: so prevalent are they around the Rebel County that if you asked a local how far away a particular landmark is, they might answer, "Yerra, 'tis only a few shots of a bowl down the road there."
There are growing clusters of bowlers all over the country – Armagh being another stronghold – but it's still in Cork that they gather every year to crown the King and Queen of the Road at an international bowling tournament in Ballincurrig. The Germans and Dutch have a similar sport called Klootschieten, and there were national teams representing both countries in Co Cork at last weekends bowl-off. Stiff competition from around the country and from Continental Europe, but fittingly, two Cork lads ended up in the final. The Germans and Dutch might have the measure of us on a football pitch, but on a country lane in Ballincurrig, we can still knock the Klootschieten out of 'em.
I've seen a few bowlers on country roads around Co Waterford, but was taken aback to see hundreds of people out following the action in Ballincurrig. The roads were lined with spectators who cheered and yelped at every solid shot, jumped for cover when the metal bowl hurtled towards them and slid surreptitious fifties into the hands of impromptu bookies who shouted odds as the crowds made their way towards the next mark; equal measures of excitement, banter, homeliness and sport.
On a sunny autumn afternoon, a jaunt through picturesque countryside having chats, laughs, flutters and yelps is hard to beat. It won’t come as much of a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed King and Queen of the Road. I’ve always been fond of a good fling.
Safe travels, don’t die.