Lofting the Viaduct

Words and image courtesy of Plunkett Carter.

On Sunday the 8th of September 1985, a huge road bowling fraternity augmented by five thousand plus thrill seekers, headed west towards the Viaduct Railway Bridge on the Bandon Road where elite bowlers were attempting the ‘impossible’ – lofting 28 ounce bowls over the imposing structure referred to as the Mount Everest of road bowling. They said it couldn’t be done and the £5,000 prize money offered by Murphy’s Brewery for a clear 28oz bowl loft of the 90 foot high 21 foot wide Viaduct was likely to be unclaimed. For decades, our finest bowl players had failed to achieve the ‘impossible’ though ancient followers claimed of hearing that Bandon thrower Dan Hurley and Killeady all-rounder Bill Bennett succeeded in their attempts (bowl size unspecified) in the earlier decades of the century cannot be confirmed.  In 1955 legendary bowler Mick Barry, eight times All-Ireland champion, who resided under the shadow of the Viaduct came within inches of making history but, unfortunately, his bowl rebounded off the iron structure. Within minutes the 8,000 spectators applauded excitedly as a 16 oz bowl lofted brilliantly by Barry bounced over and down to the road on the opposite side. Fifteen years later a German player Arno Domeyor, in Cork for the European Bowling Championships, equalled that feat. 

Bill Daly attempting to loft the Viaduct Railway Bridge on the Bandon Road on Su

Fast forward to September 1985 and Murphy’s Brewery’s £5,000 Challenge. Five Bol Chumann na hEireann competitors Bill Daly (World Road Bowling champion), Dan O’Halloran, Denis Collins, Eamonn Bowen, Denis Scully and Donie Crowley were joined at the Viaduct by Germany’s European Lofting champion Hans Georg Bohlken and his fellow countryman Reimnard Christensen.  Lofting is the speciality of the German teams, particularly the mighty FKV (Friesischer Klootschiefer Verband) of which Bolhken was the star.  The Ostfrieslanders are generally tall, powerful  athletes who had dominated the championships for years.

The huge crowd were at the Viaduct hoping to see history made. The first seven competitors failed, some gallantly, in the historic bid. All hopes were then pinned on the 6’6” Bohlken who used a different technique to the others; running on to a ramp and propelling himself into the air as he lofted the bowl. To say he disappointed in his first two lofts was an understatement and hopes of a record diminished. His third throw was a mighty one and cleared the bridge hitting the top on the way over. Crowds swarmed around him offering their congratulations and after the excitement died down a little he ran towards the ramp for his fourth and final throw. With one last gut bursting effort he propelled an almighty bowl skywards and it sailed over clearing the top by an unbelievable ten feet as a crescendo of clapping and screaming filled the air. At 4.48 on September 8 1985 Hans Georg Bohlken became an instant celebrity after overcoming that invincible obstacle that had stood unconquered since 1849 when it was built. Dr. George Reilly, then a lecturer in mathematical physics in University College, Cork was asked by Cork Examiner journalist, Val Dorgan to give a theoretic account of what it would be to loft the Chetwynd Viaduct. Dr. Reilly said that to get a 28 oz. bowl over the Viaduct, one must stand back about 45 feet, pitch it at an angle of 77 degrees and give the bowl a velocity of at least 20 feet per second. Three  of the other contestants Corkmen, Garda Bill Daly (Glanmire), Dan O’Halloran (Bandon) and Eamonn Bowen (Carrignavar) shared the consolation prize of  £1,000 after lofting the structure with a 16 oz bowl.

Hans Bohlken lofting the Viaduct Railway Bridge on the Bandon Road on Sunday the

I will leave the last word to Brendan Roche of Bol Chumann who, speaking to the Examiner, rejecting criticism that the German gained an unfair advantage by using a ramp, said,

Some of our guys tried it and couldn’t manage it at all. There is an incredible technique to it. You have to run onto the ramp, land with your two feet and throw.  Bohlken  is an incredible athlete. He is wasted in lofting. He put the 28 oz bowl almost into the Regional hospital, laughed Mr Roche.

Witnessing history.

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