Archery in Athenry – Winter 2002

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Archery in Athenry

Why not come down to the Heritage Centre and add another string to your bow? You don’t even have to be fully fit, says Seamus Lynch

One of the most popular facilities provided by the Athenry Arts and Heritage Centre, since it was opened to the public, has been the daily activity, involving the sport of Archery. There are fully qualified instructors on hand at all times, and it is available for most of the year. The Have-A-Go situation, which pertains, is particularly suitable to young and old, as well as the fully fit and maybe not, so fit participants alike.


People are generally attracted to the Centre, because they have access to real bows and arrows, a first class target, and a very adequate sheltered firing range. Because we use fibre-glass and wooden arrows, which have steel tops, they are in fact, real weapons. Safety is obviously paramount. Every session is fully supervised by trained personnel so a period of enjoyment and relaxation is guaranteed.

Longbow and Yew Wood

Nowadays, Archery is a hugely popular indoor and outdoor sport, which is practiced in many different forms. There, are many makes and sizes of bows including the Long Bow and the Cross Bow.

The longbow, famed in history and legend was, generally, if not always made of wood from the Yew Tree. Indeed the word Yew became synonymous with bow. It is probable that in the several centuries beginning with the 11th, bows in England were made of native grown yew wood, which was uniquely suited for the longbow because of its combination found in relatively few other kinds of wood. When the use of the bow became widespread, prior to the advent of firearms, the quality of yew wood grown in England of suitable quality for bows was inadequate to meet the needs.

It became necessary- and statutes were enacted to this end – that staves of yew be imported from Italy, Switzerland and elsewhere to supply the demand.

The Battle of Athenry

Fought on August 10th 1316, the Battle of Athenry is undoubtedly the greatest battle ever fought in the history of the town. The Anglo Normans, led by Sir William De Burgh and Richard De Bermingham who was known for the numerous successful battles he fought against the Irish, met a strong Irish side at Athenry.

The Irish proved no match for the Anglo-Norman side, whose bowmen cut the Irish side to pieces. It was reported that 8,000 lrish men were slain, including O’Connor and most of his chiefs.

Target and Field Archery

Target Archery is the most popular form of sport in this country, but a growing number of people are taking up Field Archery which normally takes place in woods and rough fields. Targets of various sizes are used instead of the standard four-foot one, and they are placed in all sorts of awkward places over a roughly circular course. The target faces are either black and white circles or pictures of animals. No sights are used, nor are the distance of the targets known, for shooting is purely intuitive. In other words, the archer must guess the distance and must also guess where to aim, but with constant practice the field archer can become very accurate indeed. The archers move around the course in small groups, shooting at each target in turn from marker pegs.

Flight Shooting

Slightly similar to this in appearance is Flight Shooting, but now the archers are no longer trying to hit a target. They are simply trying to shoot an arrow as far as possible. Considerable skill is needed to shoot an arrow a long way, but also special bows are needed that are designed solely for this purpose, and are never used for any other form of shooting. Advances made in equipment for flight shooting gradually improve the design or materials used in equipment for target shooting, so it is an important branch of the sport.

ln the 1960s the record distance was more than 850 yards (777 metres). In 1970, in an English National competition, one contestant using a modern flight bow – a ‘foot’ bow, with which the archer lies supine, pushes the bow with his feet, and draws with both hands – exceeded a mile (1.6 km) by more than 100 metres.

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About this record

Written by Séamus Lynch

Published here 13 Aug 2023 and originally published Winter 2002

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