Nostalgia: Mick Barry — the greatest bowler of all time

Nostalgia: Mick Barry — the greatest bowler of all time

Mick Barry in discussion with supporters before a bowling tournament and left, Mick lets the bowl fly.

TO those of us struggling through UCC in the 1960s, Mick Barry was the ‘go-to’ man when it came to keeping our ancient mopeds, motorbikes and scooters on the road.

Mick, the genial college gardener, was well used to servicing UCC’s collection of lawn mowers so our battered wrecks of bikes were no bother to him. Many a student, heading home to West Cork – or even further afield – for the weekend was grateful for Mick’s ingenuity in keeping an engine going long after its sell-by date.

He had a Pandora’s box of old parts in the gardener’s shed that he’d rummage through in a crisis and that box never failed to produce, if not the actual part required, then one “that’ll get you home, anyway, boy.”

Mick Barry in discussion with supporters before a bowling tournament and left, Mick lets the bowl fly.
Mick Barry in discussion with supporters before a bowling tournament and left, Mick lets the bowl fly.

Two-stroke engines were — and still are — a mystery to me and so I had cause to visit Mick more than most and, in time, I got to know him quite well. I had a vague notion that he was a well-known bowler — a ‘foreign game’ to me — but in conversation with him over time it began to dawn on me that here was a very special sportsman indeed.

After many failed attempts I eventually persuaded him to bring me out to his home in Waterfall where I photographed him with his many trophies. From there it was but a small step to photograph him in action on the side roads north of Cork city.

Here is Seamus ó Tuama’s tribute to him shortly after his death in December 2014.

“Mick Barry, the greatest road bowl player of all time, died on Saturday just a few weeks short of his 96th birthday. He occupied an unparalleled place in the sport and indeed his fame transcended bowling.

“Cork City Council named a road in his honour. University College Cork, where he worked as head gardener, honoured him with an honorary degree and he was named Supreme Bowler of the Millennium by Ból-Chumann na hÉireann in 1999.

“There’s an iconic photo of Barry crouched on his lawn at Waterfall surrounded by a plethora of cups and trophies. That photo says it all. Here was a supreme athlete, oozing confidence, in possession of every award his sport could conjure. He lorded bowling like no player before or since.

“From 1962 until 1975 he was Munster Senior champion in all but three years.

Mick Barry displays some of the cups and trophies he won over the years in his garden. 	Picture: Kevin Cummins
Mick Barry displays some of the cups and trophies he won over the years in his garden. Picture: Kevin Cummins

He twice completed the four in-a-row from 1964 to1967 and 1969 to 1972. For a team that would be incredible, but he had to do it on his own in a highly competitive sport where one mistake could signal defeat.

“At the start of that phenomenal period he was 43 and 56 at the end; is there any sports man in any code who could emulate that? At 75 years of age he covered the road in 18 shots, better than the majority of players could do at 25.

“What is certain is Mick Barry was the greatest bowler of all time.

The sport is littered with his records, like putting a 16 oz. bowl over the Chetwynd Viaduct, lofting Mary Anne’s pub on Dublin Hill, four in-a-row Munster titles achieved twice, it goes on and on. He did things that didn’t seem humanly possible. But more importantly he did those things with a level of integrity equally supreme.

“Bowling fans know there will never be another to fill his shoes.”

All those years ago in UCC we were in the presence of a god and we didn’t know it.

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