I may only have been around for a portion of the fifty-year history of tenpin bowling in this country, but the sport, along with its history, holds a very special place in my heart.
From running around Dundrum Bowl as a kid while my parents played in leagues, pulling on the Ireland shirt for the first time and the feeling when I bowled my first 300 game, I have been lucky enough to have been given so many happy memories by a sport that has always been a part of my life.
And then came this year, 2013, and the fiftieth anniversary of the sport coming to these shores. Last Saturday, November 16th, saw the past, present and future of tenpin bowling come together to celebrate everything that the sport has given us over the last half century.
Stillorgan Park Hotel was the venue, and upon arrival there was an unmistakeable magic in the air, a level of anticipation for a night that promised to bring together generations in their love for our sport.
That is the key word, OUR sport. For all its individuality, for the fact that when you step up on a bowling lane it is ultimately on you and you alone to perform, there is something in this wonderful game that simply brings people together.
So the night got underway, the air filled with the mutterings of friends laughing and the babble of old pals reunited for the first time in decades. For a while guests were given time to grab a drink and catch up with those they had not seen in many years.
As you arrived into the room there was a lovely touch, a compilation video of past Junior Irish Open moments from the early 90’s. Put together by Paddy Gibbons, the footage set the tone for a night where nostalgia would take hold and leave many fighting back the tears as memories came flooding back.
On a personal level, the video gave me a picture of just how popular the sport was at that time; the sheer size of the crowds watching the matches is something that I scarcely remember seeing. It was also nice to see players who I look up to as top performers in their teenage years, performing at the highest level.
Dinner began and everyone made their way back to their tables. The quality of the food lived up to the expectation of the evening in general, with beautiful seafood or chicken starters followed by a tender beef or flaky salmon and a dessert of soft tiramisu or warm apple and raspberry tart.
After everyone was well and truly fed, the attention turned to recognising the achievements of those involved in the game over its fifty year history in Ireland. Guests were treated to a fifteen-minute slideshow, showcasing photographs and newspaper clippings from the opening of Stillorgan Bowl, the first ever bowling alley in Ireland, by Jack Murphy in 1963, to the achievements of youth bowlers, such as current European Youth Champion Amanda Larkin, in the present.
The slideshow, like the video playing at the entrance of the room, was put together by Paddy Gibbons, and after the slideshow attention aptly turned to recognising the devotion and dedication which Paddy has given to the sport over the past fifty years.
Paddy was presented with two awards; firstly, the Tenpin Bowling Council of Ireland (TBCI) honoured Paddy for his contribution by presenting him with engraved crystal, and then the Irish Tenpin Bowling Association (ITBA) awarded Paddy with its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award for services and contribution to the sport.
It was an emotional moment, with every guest getting to their feet to give a standing ovation to Paddy as he collected his awards. There is not one person involved in bowling in this country that does not appreciate the dedication and contribution that Paddy has and continues to show to our sport, and there is simply no more deserving person than Paddy to receive these awards.
The formality of the evening then turned to a celebratory atmosphere as the live band took to the stage and the dance floor quickly filled up. Guests enjoyed classic after classic until well after midnight, when a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s timeless classic ‘New York New York’ brought everyone together in a linked circle on the dance floor to sing out a magical evening.
As the room began to empty and people made their way towards home, what was left was the sense that we had together created yet another wonderful memory, one which will join those others that make up the love we all have for this funny old game.
It was truly a night to remember, and all I can hope now is that fifty years from now the 100th anniversary can be celebrated with the same level of fun, the same level of joy and the same level of love as this magical night managed to achieve. Here’s to another fifty!