1903: THE BEGINNING
In June 1903, Coleraine Bowling Club as we know it now, moved to the Lodge Road on a green prepared by Mr Daniel Leslie from Glasgow. The Club President at the time was Mr Daniel MacLaughlin, who as well as being the driving force behind the Coleraine club, was also involved in the formation of the IBA; and together with W.G. Grace, the English cricketer, helped to draw up rules for the game, some of which are still used in the current setup.
A letter was forwarded to the Honourable Irish Society explaining the aims of a few gentlemen to revive the ancient game of bowling in the town (shown in the book). It was explained that a field had been secured on the Ballymoney Road at an annual rent of £10.00 and that the services of an expert in green laying had been engaged. It was pointed out that debentures of £1.00 had been issued and it was hoped that the Society would assist by acquiring a few. This letter resulted in the Society presenting the club with a sum of money; the relationship between the Society and the club has endured over the years and a further sum was presented to the club in 2002 when extensive renovations were carried out.
Reports would show that the present green was officially opened on a Thursday afternoon in June 1903; the weather while scarcely as bright as had been hoped was not unfavourable with the rain staying away. It was reported that some months prior to the opening, one of the newspaper contributors dealt in a humorous strain with the birth and favourable growth of the club and remarked that the Hanover Gardens – then its home, was not a ‘Bowler’s Paradise’.
“If that description could not be applied to the otherwise pleasant ground adjoining the river, it certainly is appropriate in reference to the new home of the club on the Lodge Road. It would suffice to say there is not a prettier spot in the neighbourhood on a Thursday afternoon. Nature has done something for the locality, but art has stepped in and finished the job, and what was left undone when the laying out had been completed was supplied by the exceedingly picturesque display of bunting arranged for the opening ceremony. The function was attended by a large assemblage of ladies and gentlemen, the variety of costumes adopted by both sexes adding to the attractiveness of the scene.”
Mr Hugh Eccles, Vice-President of the club, gave all those present a hearty welcome to the Coleraine club. He explained a few rules of the game and afterwards asked Mrs MacLaughlin to open the new green as part of the ceremony. As wife of the popular President of the club, it was an appropriate honour bestowed on Mrs MacLaughlin, who in a graceful manner threw the first bowl on the excellent surface amid applause.
After opening the green, Mr Eccles then presented Mrs MacLaughlin with a beautiful silver jack as a memento of the occasion – and to this day the stunning piece of history can still be seen in the club’s trophy cabinet.
“Mr S A Wray, secretary of the club, said he had a notice of motion to propose, which he was sure had only to be mentioned to be received with general acceptance and with acclamation and that the very best of thanks of the Coleraine club be tendered to Mrs MacLaughlin for her kindness in coming this afternoon to open the green. Mr Wray further added that the club was under many obligations to their President who had been the guiding hand which shaped the destiny of the club. Dr J A Kydd in seconding the motion said that Mr MacLaughlin had been the guiding star in this movement of establishing a bowling club in Coleraine.”
Mr MacLaughlin, who was cordially received, stated that he had another item on the programme, before the arranged match, which he wished to mention. He wished to join the Vice-President in extending a hearty welcome to those present before recounting the “trouble and pain” they had in getting the green up to its state of perfection. Daniel went on to state that Coleraine were fortunate to secure the services of Mr Daniel Leslie from Glasgow. Mr Leslie was known throughout the bowling world as an expert at that time when it came to laying and maintaining greens. The President then paid tribute to a Mr W J Given for his services to the club and in recognition of this; he presented him with a set of bowls – which once again can be viewed in the Coleraine clubhouse.
1903: THE BEGINNING (CONTD.)
After the official opening, the following matches were played:
Town Bachelors (J.D. Wilson – skip) 25 v Waterside Juniors (J.A. Reid – skip) 16
Married (Dr. Kydd – skip) 14 v Single (C. Mooney – skip) 19
U.D.C. (W.J. McKenney – skip) 17 v Ratepayers (P. Merrilees – skip) 21
Town (H. Eccles – skip) 12 v Waterside (W.J. Given – skip) 22
Scotland (J. Merrilees – skip) 28 v Ireland (D. MacLaughlin – skip) 22
Afternoon tea was served by the club in a tent, erected on the green, after the matches concluded.
The members of Coleraine had worked extremely hard to get a bowling club up and running in the town and following the opening ceremony of the new facilities, a game against Belmont Bowling Club was arranged to test the mettle of the newly founded Coleraine Bowling Club.
“A match was played at Belfast on the Belmont green on Whit Monday between the teams of the Belmont Bowling Club and one of the Coleraine Bowling Club. The former club is the oldest established in Belfast, its existence running now close on thirty years and it numbers among its players some of the best in Ireland. It was rather an ambitious venture for the members of the Coleraine club to try a game with such veterans but our local players, having gone into the matter seriously, are determined to take up their position among the recognised clubs of the Three Kingdoms, and I think that the sooner they begin to play matches with experienced clubs the sooner they will themselves teach excellence. Of course the result of the game was a foregone conclusion. Not only were the members of the Coleraine team novices at the game, but even during the short time of their experience in playing they never had the advantage of bowling on a properly laid green. This is an excuse, which no longer do duty, and we are sure that after some practise on the new green on the Ballymoney Road our locals will be able to give a good account of themselves. The Coleraine men were often out in their play from the novelty of the experience of a proper green, and the interested spectator and listener might have frequently heard the rather extraordinary ejaculations of ‘Ye’re no’ up’, ‘Ower steemy’, ‘Ah ye’re nerra’, ‘Giver her more green’, ‘Play to the forehand’ etc. etc.
The visitors were hospitably entertained by the Belmont club, and after the game, the President, in a few happy remarks, welcomed the Coleraine men to Belmont, and hoped they would have many such pleasant meetings. The President of the Coleraine club returned thanks on behalf of his team, and said that the Coleraine club would always feel under a debt of gratitude to Belmont for the friendly interest they had taken in their new club. Anyone from Belmont would always be welcome on the Coleraine green. The following are the scores:-
Belmont versus Coleraine
Rink One – W. McLetchie (skip) 23 v J. Lowry, R. McCandless, C. Mooney, D. MacLaughlin (skip) 21
Rink Two – J. Mitchell (skip) 32 v T.G. Lynd, H. Eccles, H.A. Stuart, W. Hay (skip) 13
Rink Three – D. Barnett (skip) 31 v R.F. McCartney, Dr. Kydd, W.J. Given, S.A. Wray (skip) 7
Rink Four – J. Boyd (skip) 26 v W.J. McKenney, J. Warren, J. Merrilees, J. Bain (skip) 15
Belmont 112 – Coleraine 56
Majority for Belmont: 56”
Coleraine were given a tough introduction to the world of bowls by a strong Belmont side. However, the result was immaterial as a friendship with the Belfast side had been struck after the sides played out their friendly match, which was the provincial sides first ever game of lawn bowls, and more importantly it was the beginning of something special for the Bannside club. Since that balmy Whit Monday game against the Kincora Avenue side, the Co. Londonderry lads have went from strength to strength and are now rightly regarded as one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the NIPBA and arguably, the whole of Ireland.