Northern Ireland Bowling Association
(B & DPP Inc.)

The following was compiled by the late Wolsey Gracey. It was included in the IBA Centenary 1904 – 2004 booklet giving a short history of Lawn Bowls in Ireland. It has been updated as far as possible to reflect changes and additions since 2004 and has been published here to mark the Centenary Year of the NIBA.

It seems very likely that the beginning of what we know as the Northern Ireland Bowling Association can be linked to the competition known as the Taylor Cup. In the early years of the 20th Century bowlers were not thick on the ground. Ormeau, Falls and Woodvale were the only parks which had bowling greens and it is interesting to note that Ormeau green had no less than four clubs.

In 1910 the Irish Bowling Association was made up of 13 clubs, five of which played in Belfast public parks. The availability of competitive bowling left a lot of spare time in the season and naturally the Parks bowlers began looking for something to do. Early in the year Mr John Gass of Ormeau contacted the well known Glasgow bowls manufacturer and the result was the “Taylor Cup”, a trophy which is still played for today. Once the cup was obtained the only thing left to do was to organise the playing part of the business and with this in mind a meeting was convened in 67 High Street, Belfast (the offices of a Mr D D Young). The meeting was made up of three delegates from each club namely Ormeau, Ballynafeigh, Shaftesbury, Falls and Woodvale. Mr J Gass of Ormeau was elected Chairman, the first Secretary was Mr T Davidson and these two gentlemen along with Messrs J Magill, T Forsythe, A R Pulforth and J McCune, made up the first Committee. Mr J L Gass figures very much in the old records and it would be safe to label him as the father of the NIBA.

The Association was at this stage known as the Belfast & District Public Parks League. It was in 1936 that the present name was adopted.

In many ways 1910 was a memorable year. The Parks got off to a late start as the opening of the greens was postponed for two weeks due to the death of King Edward VII. Later in the same year the Irish Bowling Association were hosts to the home countries International Series and no less than six bowlers from the Parks Clubs were chosen for Ireland. They were R Archer (Ormeau), J Brennan (Falls), G. McMillan and J Pollock (Ballynafeigh) and Dr Rusk. Ireland lost to Scotland but defeated England and Wales.

In the 20’s, Clubs were becoming more organised along modern lines. In 1923 a badge of office was handed over to the President of Ormeau BC and was described as the first of its kind in bowling circles. Not to be outdone Shaftesbury obtained new blazers which were followed by the introduction of the ‘Bowlers Tea’ after matches and the acquisition of clubrooms on the Ormeau Road close to the green. Woodvale too had their share of making history. After defeating Ballymoney they featured in a radio broadcast of the match by Tom Barr, at that time Treasurer of the IBA.

The first green outside Belfast was laid in Bangor. It came as a result of letters in the local press and the Bangor Club was formed in 1911 followed by North Down.

There is no doubt the idea was catching on and local authorities were very much aware of public requirements. Indeed, the 30’s saw the game coming to Portadown (1933), Newcastle (1935), Whitehead (1935), Donaghadee (1939); and in the 40’s we had Banbridge (1941), Lurgan (1944), Carrickfergus (1946) and Holywood (1946). This did not mean that the game had become stagnant in Belfast for many new Clubs started in various parks.

Forth River found the old Forth River Football ground was available so they changed from Woodvale Park. In Bangor, Pickie was another Club that followed the same pattern and moved to Broadway. Shorts, bowling in Woodvale as a member of the NIBA, moved to Aircraft Park. The RUC who played at Alexandra Park changed to Newforge Lane.
It may be said that the Northern Ireland Bowling Association is the birthplace and the nursery of Irish Bowls.

One of the most significant developments came in 1964 when the conception of promotion and relegation was implemented. This idea only succeeded at the third attempt to introduce it. The senior League was organised in 3 Divisions and the Junior League in 4 Divisions. Due to falling numbers Junior 4 was discontinued in 1973 and Junior division 3 in 1983. A new category was introduced in 2003 that of Intermediate League Divisions 1 and 2 which replaced Senior 3 and 4. In 2007 the League was again restructured. Senior Division 1 and 2, Intermediate Division 1 and 2 and Junior Division 1 and 2 were organised into 5 Divisions. Another change that was made was to allow the second side of a Club to gain promotion to a higher Division provided that a side from the same club was not competing in that Division.

In 1937 the IBA introduced Senior and Junior Inter-Association Championships and over the years the NIBA have been victorious in the Senior Inter-Association on 22 occasions. The Junior Championships originally was confined to players not competing in Senior Leagues, the NIBA victorious on 12 occasions from 1954 to 1989. In 1990 this was changed to involve players of 25 years or under. Here the NIBA have won 12 times in 20 years.

It would be amiss of anyone to write a short history of the Association without a mention of some outstanding players.

The famous pairs of Elder & Gault (Woodvale), Webb & Carr (Musgrave) and Rankin & Millar (Bangor)

Billy Tate (Newcastle, Bangor) with 63 Irish caps and a Bronze from the Commonwealth Games.

Jimmy Dennison (Banbridge) 60 caps: Harry Stevenson (Donaghadee) 24 caps and Bronze (CG)

Of the present day bowlers John Higgins (York Road CD, 58th OB) with 51 caps and World Bowls Bronze; John was one of the best leads Ireland ever had. Sammy Ashwood (Balmoral) gained 33 caps. John and Sammy were made Honorary members of the Association in 2002. Sadly Sammy is no longer with us having passed away a few years ago.

When Ernie Parkinson left Ormeau it was a blow to the NIBA for he had gained 27 caps before joining Belmont.

With 54 appearances for Ireland, World Bowls Gold and two Bronze in the Commonwealth Games, John McCloughlin is one of the outstanding bowlers of the present day.

Of the future at least four names come to mind:

Noel Graham (Lisnagarvey) so far has been capped 57 times for Ireland, won Silver and Bronze at the Commonwealth Games, Gold and Silver World Bowls and a BIBC Singles title.

One of our young players Martin McHugh (Whitehead) has already played 54 times for Ireland, gained a Bronze medal in World Bowls and Gold (CG). In the NIBA Open Singles Championships he has won the title 5 times in the last 9 years with a sequence of victories 2003 to 2006. He repeated that series of wins in the IBA Single Handed Championships 2003 to 2006, a record that will surely stand for many years to come.

Clifford Craig, Ormeau, Bangor and Balmoral and Jonathan Ross (Lisnagarvey) deserve mention, as well as many championship wins they have both represented their country – Clifford 48 times and Jonathan 42. Jonathan also has World Bowls Gold in the Fours and Bronze in the Triples.

Although the playing of bowls is the paramount object of the Association without those men who give their time and energy to organise the game things would be chaotic.
One name immediately springs to mind, that of Jimmy McNeice (Castle), a man who had very strong opinions for which he was willing to fight (with anyone). He was devoted to the Association and although he never held office he was a member of the General Purposes Committee and a Selector for many years.

There was Alex Lynn (RUC) who was Hon Secretary for 15 years: Charles Clawson (Shaftesbury) Hon Treasurer for 21 years, and Stanley Allen (Connsbrook) who gave so much to the NIBA. He became Hon League Secretary in 1954, Competition Secretary in 1956 and Hon Secretary in 1968-1984. In all he held office for 30 years.

Houston McBride (34th OB, Whitehead) must be rated very highly. He was a Junior Selector in the 60’s and was elected Hon Treasurer in 1973 until 1984. On the death of Stanley Allen he became Hon Secretary which office he held until 1988. He was President of the IBA in 1984 and President of the BIBC in 2001. He was a member of the General Purposes Committee and Hon Treasurer of the IBA.

Another long serving member is Billy Moreland who is the present Hon League Secretary. He first sat on the GP Committee in 1976 and has remained there ever since. He was President of the IBA in 1981.

A tireless worker for the Association is Alec Murray (Wellman, Woodvale, Sandown Park). He was Junior Selector in 1966 and then became Hon League Secretary in 1985 which office he held until he was elected Hon Treasurer in 1992. He was President of the IBA in 1989.

In Stewart Strange (Glengormley) the Association has a real stalwart. He was Competition Secretary from 1982 until 2007. He was President of the IBA in 1989.

The late Wolsey Gracey was elected to the GP Committee in 1984, became Assistant Secretary in 1988, General Secretary in 1989 and continued until 1997. He was President of the IBA in 1987, President of BIBC in 1992 and BIBC Secretary from 1992-1997.

Of all the Administrators surely Cecil Beck (Banbridge) was unique in that he was also a talented bowler who was selected for Ireland 24 times, won the British Isles Fours in 1967 and the Pairs in 1977. When he retired from bowls, unlike many others he decided to put something back into the game which he so enjoyed. He became Hon Treasurer in 1985 and held the office until 1991. He was Assistant Secretary of the IBA, an Association and International Selector for 20 years, and he managed the Irish team at home and abroad.

Over the past 25 years the strength of the Association has shifted from the Belfast Parks to the country. Of the 20 or so Clubs that have ceased to exist over this period 2 were outside of the City. Of the new Clubs who joined the Association only one was in Belfast. In 1965 of the 16 teams in Division 1, 8 were from Belfast. Today 14 of the top Clubs are from the country. This, however, does not really matter. What does matter is that steps are taken to ensure that the Association continues to prosper into its 2nd Centenary.