Irish Indoor Bowling Association
Irish Indoor Bowling Association

About us



Short Mat Bowls in Ireland


Short mat bowling, as we now know it, originated in Northern Ireland but detailed

information of the early days before the formation of the Irish Indoor Bowling

Association in 1961 is somewhat hazy. Myth has it that the game was started, or

conceived might be more appropriate, around 1926 when bowlers from the outdoor

club of Victoria in Belfast were rained off their green and retired to their Church Hall,

Strand Presbyterian. To pass the time they rolled bowls up and down the bare floor

and someone suggested that a piece of carpeting might help matters. What

happened after that is not clear and the next relevant information comes from

Ballymacarret Presbyterian Church which claims to be the first club in existence and

have hanging on the wall a photograph as evidence. This, taken in 1929, shows

the Minister delivering a bowl on what seems to be a three foot wide piece of

carpet and through a hoop. What developed from there until the early 1950’s is

unclear although it does appear that there were indoor bowling clubs of some sort in

existence in the Belfast area.

It was after the second world war that the game began to develop and records

show that the first league was founded in 1952 with Past President and Past t

reasurer of the Association, Howard Mullan as secretary. Several other leagues

were formed in 1954, 1959(2), 1960 and 1961 prior to the formation of the Association.

Laws of the game varied from one area to another. The game spread rapidly in the

1950’s extending beyond the Belfast area. In those days mats consisted of a top felt

surface and an underlay of standard carpet under felt with a total cost of £30. 6 feet wide mats became the standard width, on of the standard widths of carpeting at that time with the length

depending upon hall size. Clubs at that time were exclusive to Church Halls

and almost completely in Northern Ireland though there were small pockets around

Dublin and Cork. In the North West and Dublin areas mats of 9 – 12 feet wide were

used with 3” diameter bowls. A few clubs in the Dublin area still exist but using 6 feet

wide mats.

As indicated earlier, there were great variations in rules, with fenders and touchers

often not existing while some clubs used a flat multi-sided jack.. In some cases no

jack line was used but instead 3 jack spots and if a lead or second ditched the jack it

was replaced on the centre spot and the game continued.

As the game rapidly expanded, it became clear that there was a great need for

uniformity of rules and consequently it was proposed that an Association be formed to

regularise matters,. Some 200 – 300 secretaries and representatives of clubs held an

inaugural meeting on 13 September 1961, which was attended. A constitution was put

forward and generally accepted subject to some amendments. It was decided to call the

Association, the Irish Indoor Bowling Association.

The first officers of the Association who were elected at the meeting were;

President: 1961-64 P T Watson
Chairman: 1961-66 M H Henry
Vice Chairman 1961-66 J A Boomer
Secretary: 1961-66 S B Robinson
Treasurer: 1961-70 R A Richey
Comp. Secretary 1963-74 N Kennedy.


The fact that Short Mat was excluded from the title was because at that time no

stadium bowls existed in Ireland. It was left to a Committee to formulate the Laws and

Rules of the game and after several meetings these were finalised and approved on 6

February 1962.

By the end of 1961 – 62 season, 58 clubs and 5 leagues were affiliated to the

Association .By the following year this had grown to 84 clubs and by 1970 there

had been a dramatic increase to 530 clubs and 10 leagues. The licensing of

tournaments is first recorded in 1967 with 23 and this had increased to 60 by 1970.

Since then there has been a steady increase in the number of clubs, leagues and

tournaments. In 2001 there were just under 1100 clubs of which 170 were in the

Republic of Ireland, 41 leagues were affiliated and over 300 licensed tournaments

organised. The game has now spread to community halls, golf clubs, rugby clubs etc

and there has been a major growth in the Republic.

Initially the Association had been divided into 16 geographical areas or zones
 - Ballymacarret, Central Belfast, East Belfast Zone (amalgamated with Stormont and

the combined Zone kept the title of East Belfast in 1994), North Belfast, South

Belfast, West Belfast, Stormont, East Antrim, Armagh, Mid Down, North Down, Lisburn, Mid Ulster, Northern, Southern, Western - and this has now increased to 26, 5 of which are in the

Republic - South Down (East) South Tyrone , North West, Mid Antrim, Foyle  (formed

by splitting North West Zone), Donegal (formed by splitting Foyle Zone), West Down

  (formed by splitting South Down), Mid Tyrone (formed by splitting Western Zone),

Monaghan (formed by splitting Donegal Zone), Cork, North Eastern (formed by splitting

Northern Zone, Larne (formed by splitting East Antrim Zone, Meath (formed by

splitting Monaghan Zone, Oriel (formed by splitting Monaghan Zone). These zones

annually appoint Zone Convenors who with the officers of the Association form

the Executive Council managing the affairs of the Association. Zones average s

ome 40 clubs although individually they vary from 17 – 69, representing some 30,000


The main event run by the Association is the National Championships which began in

1962 with 1612 entries in open singles, pairs and fours. These were, and still are,

open to both men and women but in 1969 ladies singles and pairs were added

followed by fours in 1972. Triples were added in 1977 followed by the junior

singles in 1979. The championships were originally held in a central venue 0 the King’s

Hall Belfast, but with the increase in entries they became decentralised to the Zones with

the Zone winners coming together in the final stages. The entry has now increased to

over 8000 in all eight competitions with the National Singles alone standing at nearly

3000, the largest bowling entry of any kind in Ireland.

Other competitions include the Inter Zone Championships, first introduced in 1962 when

teams were mixed but a Ladies Competition was formed in 1976. The winners of the men’s

competition now enter the Top Team competition against the English and Welsh regional

champions. A shield competition, for those knocked out at the first stage of the inter zone

was introduced in 1982. Finally the Champion of Champions was introduced in 1982

with those who win licensed tournaments able to enter.

The game of short mat bowls has now spread to many other countries with

International and World Championships being played. The initial competition was held in

1981 in Larne when the Association played Scotland. It was not until 1986 that the British

Isles International and Championships were introduced but these incorporated a variety

of rules. It was not until 1990 that the first truly Short Mat event was held in Carlisle

and from then the games have been played under rules agreed by the British Isles Short

Mat Council. World Bowls was introduced in 1989 and is now held every two years.

While copies of the first Irish rules agreed in 1962 are not available, it is remarkable

that the rules in the 1966/7 Year Book vary only slightly from present day rules and this is

a great tribute to those pioneers of the game and the Irish Association is proud to have

instigated a game capable of being played at all levels from purely social to International

level and which has been instrumental in bring together people from different countries

and of all classes, creed, colour, age and sex.



DATES FOR 2017/18

Tournaments 2017/18


Cookstown High Irish Club Champions

Chris McKnight receives the Irish Club Championship Shield from

IIBA President Mrs Flo McNally

Print Print | Sitemap
© Irish Indoor Bowling Association