Christy Mullins first started road bowling in 1971 and has competed with consistent excellence in West Cork, Cork county, Munster, All-Ireland, and European championships ever since. Last year, after 44 years of competing and mentoring prodigious young talented players in this most famous and ancient of sports, Christy Mullins was recognised for his bowling process when he became the first ever road bowler to be inducted into the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Hall of Fame. Christy's bowling heroics were also recently recognised in his native Bantry, when he was rewarded for his bowling legacy and prowess with an award at the Bantry Sports Gala Awards held in the Westlodge Hotel. John Bohane says the award was a fitting tribute to a man who has represented Bantry and West Cork with great distinction in road bowling.
A humble but visibly proud Christy Mullins was delighted to be recognised by people within his own community with an award at the Bantry Sports Gala award night. “To be honest with you I didn’t expect it at all, I’m glad and honoured to have received it as it meant a lot to me.”
Christy has lived in Bantry all his life and says that, “local recognition is the best of all at the end of the day. It means a lot to be honoured and recognised by people within your own community.”
Christy recalls with great vigour how he initially took up bowling as a young lad growing up in Bantry. “I probably took up bowling because we had nothing else to do in the evenings. When I first started bowling we did not have a television which shows how long ago it really is. The only thing we had was a bowl, which we used when we went out on the road in the evenings after finishing our bit of farm work. I was about eleven when I took it up. None of my family were involved in bowling whatsoever. Within 300 yards of our house, there were four junior players who used be up and down the road bowling and we used to watch their every move and throw. We would then try and copy their every move. They taught us how to bowl really and it was trial and error after that.”
Christy took to bowling with great ease. His natural ability, superb technique, strong physicality and sheer athleticism were key factors in his early promise. Christy underlined his growing potential when he won his very first tournament, as he recalls with great pride. “My earliest bowling memory is from 1971 when I entered my first bowling championship. I took part in the West Cork U16 championship when I was only 13 and I won it out. I progressed to the county final but unfortunately I was beaten in the final. The lad I played in the county final was too strong for me. He was on the age, which meant he was physically too strong for me. It was a great experience and from that moment on I was completely hooked and fascinated with the sport.”
Christy’s earliest bowling hero was the late great Mick Barry, who he holds in the very highest esteem. “Mick Barry was always my hero. He was always the man. A brilliant player, he was the best out of the whole lot. I loved bowling from a young age. It was a great past-time. Anything I suppose that you are half good at, you stick with it. It is great to win also, to come out on top following a hard dual is a great feeling.”
Christy was still competing in scores up until last year when he was forced to briefly curtail his playing involvement due to a long-standing injury. Following a period of rest and recuperation, he hopes to be back playing again in the imminent future. Christy, who always prepared diligently for every score, puts his longevity on the bowling circuit down to his natural fitness built up from working on the farm. “Fitness played a big part in my success, I was also strong, which was a help against my opponents. I was always naturally fit. I never smoked and drank very little. I suppose I looked after myself well, which helped me during my bowling career. I was also doing physical work I suppose on the farm which ensured I was also mobile and physically fit and strong. I just had a love for the game and I suppose just a natural ability, which helped me along the way also. I always tended to look after myself and mind my health and thank God it enabled me to play competitive bowling all my life. I had an operation last year which has curtailed my bowling over the last few months but I will be back hopefully playing again in the near future. I am involved as a manager with the Ireland bowling team for the last eight years, which is a great honour and privilege. We took a very strong team to Ootmarsum, Holland for the 15th European Championships, which were held in early May and we came back with 15 individual medals — a great achievement. It is great to meet up with fellow bowling enthusiasts both from home and abroad.”
Christy’s love for the game ensures that he has no immediate plans to retire from participating in the sport he truly loves. The Bantry ace cannot wait to recover from his injury and hit the various roads around West Cork once again playing the sport of dreams. “I have no plans to retire at all. It all depends on my health basically. I’m 58 at the moment, I hope to go on for a long time yet; I love the sport. Even when I am not playing, I love nothing better than travelling around West Cork to watch a score. It is an addiction and love really. I love seeing young people playing it and I would always try to encourage, support and give them pointers to help their game.”
Christy is concerned however that young people are not taking up the sport in the same large numbers they had previously when Christy himself was a teenager. He accepts it is hard to compete with modern technology and other sports. “Television, computers and mobile phones have taken over in a big way at present. We also we face a lot of competition from soccer and rugby, which are very popular sports. It is hard to get young people involved in the game now.
“Bowling I hope will always have a strong future. The organisation is going into the schools now, which is great. You have to get them out playing from a young age. Bowling is a great sport with a rich tradition, particularly in West Cork which we must continue.
“There is a lad in Ballineen who is doing great work, he’s there every Sunday morning with the underage players. Ted Hegarty from Lyre is his name, he is bringing a lot of young players through. There was a lull there for a while but it is picking up again, it is great to see.
“There is great history attached to the game of bowling; there are eight junior players competing in the county this year. Going back 30 years, it was the first 64 to get into the West Cork junior championship. That is a big decrease, that shows how many were playing it back then, numbers have dropped, other games have taken over I suppose in the meantime. It is a strenuous game, the interest has dropped in recent years but hopefully it will pick up again. It is important to get as many youngsters playing as possible as they are the future. It is important to maintain our heritage and tradition.”
Another potential source of concern for Christy is the vast sums of money involved in bowling today, which he feels is acting as a deterrent to new players participating. “Bowling has changed an awful lot. The gambling has become very big and there is too much money involved in it now. People won’t play it now unless there is money in it. The way it is going now people can’t afford to lose money, which means that people won’t play anymore. It is hard to entice people into playing it then.”
The highlight of Christy’s brilliant career was when he teamed up with fellow Bantry native Martin Coppinger in 2008, to defeat the Murphy brothers from Brinny, before a massive crowd in Castletownbere. He recalls it with great relish. “Winning a big score in Castletownbere was definitely a major highlight. We played for 47,000 aside. It was a benefit score. Martin Coppinger and I played against the two Murphy’s from Brinny. There was a massive crowd, it was a double score and the stake was huge. It will never reach that amount of money again for another score.”
Christy also experienced the crushing agony of succumbing to three Munster senior final defeats. They are without doubt his only regrets from a quite brilliant bowling career. “Losing three senior Munster finals is my only regret. I lost three finals in four years, which is very hard to take. It would have been great to have won one. I played well enough on each occasion, but each time I just lost out to the better player on the day. I lost to younger players; it was great to reach the finals but losing is tough, there is no doubt about it. It would be my only regret not winning one Munster senior title. That is the way it goes. I enjoyed a great career, I took part in memorable scores, I have great memories, I made great friends and enjoyed every minute.”
Christy also had the honour of representing his country in road bowling. He made his international debut in 1977. He still harbours great memories from representing Ireland. “It was a great honour to have represented Ireland. I have represented them practically every year since. Only for being injured at present, I would have played with them in the European Championships also this year. The competitions take place every four years and I first participated in 1977. I have plenty of great memories of taking part. It is great to travel abroad representing your country, playing a sport you love. I have made great friends from travelling with Ireland.”
Christy has two sons but they never shared their father’s unbridled love for the game. Christy is indebted to them however for their support and love during his playing career. “I have two sons but neither of them took it up. I took them bowling when they were young and they were keen on throwing the bowl but not the looking for the bowl aspect of the game. They follow me around and come to my scores. It is great to know they are in my corner supporting me, it means a lot. Without their help I wouldn’t still be playing today, they have always been there for me.”