Kilkenny Pastimes: Archery, Tennis, Bowling

Written and read by Paddy Neary

Archery, Tennis, Bowling

It would appear from Corporation records the afore mentioned trio were excluded from the category of unlawful games. The place in which the butts or targets for the practise of archery were usually set up in Kilkenny is still known as the Butts’ Green. On the statute book, there were many orders for enforcing practice with bows and arrows. In the reign of Henry VIII, the Government were apprehensive of the decline of archery, and so in the year 1537, a report of a commission recommended “that because the strength of this country is much decayed in default of archers, therefore provision should be made that 3/400 bows of all sorts be brought hither and sold among the common people. With commandments that butts be made in every parish, and no other game be used.” The chief Justice in the same year suggested that fletchers be sent to Ireland “to make children’s bows and shafts and the children after school to use archery one hour or two every day. And also to have much bows sent hither at the King’s charges. Men and children to be archers are to practice on holy days, the constables with the over sight of the justices to see this occupied and used.”
The Corporation classed tennis with archery as a manly sport. It appears from Roques map of the City in 1752 that the Tennis Court was situated in James’ Street. The game is said to have originated in France and was known in England in Henry VII reign as the accounts of the King’s losses are preserved in the public records. Henry VIII had a tennis court built at his Whitehall Palace. James I recommended the game to his son Charles as an exercise becoming a prince. Tennis did not become popular amongst the common people until the reign of Charles II. It is curious to find it popular amongst the burghers of Kilkenny in the reign of James I. It was probably brought over to Ireland by the Ormondes, whose example Kilkenny citizens would be anxious to follow.
Another game, that of bowls appears to have occupied the attention of Kilkenny people for a time, it having been patronised by the Second Duke of Ormonde. Old maps of Kilkenny show a bowling green in the Castle grounds, they also show a second green in the neighbourhood of Bishop’s Hill. In the year 1698 a visitor to Kilkenny recorded his time in the Castle and next went to the bowling green which he described as an exact square, fit for a Duke to bowl on, Church and State were here at play. When the Doctor and I came to the Green, the Duke was flinging the first bowl, next trowled the Bishop with four clergy.” Fifty years later visitors described the ruinous condition the Castle had fallen after the flight of the Second Duke to France. They observed the Bowling green is now common for any gentleman that pays for his pleasure. It is generally the rendezvous of both sexes for an evening’s walk. No traces of the Bowling Greens exist today.