I have had the pleasure of meeting James Irwin MBE after being introduced to him by Ron McArthur, a Silver ParaSports Lawn Bowls Medallist in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at the UK Visually Impaired and Blind Championship at Kelvingrove in June this year. James was at Kelvingrove as an Umpire for the competition. A very important role to undertake to ensure the matches are carried out fairly and has the responsible for presiding over the game from a neutral point of view and making on the spot decisions that enforce the Laws of Lawn Bowls. It was only a few weeks before Glasgow 2014 would begin to get underway and I knew straight away, James Irwin MBE would become one of many stories I would endeavour to encapsulate on my ParaSports venture.
The Commonwealth Games was billed as the ‘friendliest Games’ in Glasgow and when I caught up with James at Dumbarton Bowling Club where he is a member, he echoed the remarks further saying ‘it was down to the people of Glasgow who made it friendly’.
On an extraordinary sunny day in September, 2014, I was delighted to pay James a visit to his Dumbarton Bowling Club, near St Mary’s Way. It was an opportunity to find out more about James’s passion for Bowls and a dedicated gentlemen who has given so much the community, bowling community and the people he had coached in the area.
James has been playing bowls for thirty years taking up the sport in 1984 and twenty four years respectively for coaching bowls. He was also the founding member of the committee for the people of Dumbarton to have their own Indoors Bowls Centre. He recalls that his wife started playing bowls before him and lots of his friends began to take up the sport too. However, it was the words of wisdom of a neighbour, Kenneth Millian who encouraged James to take up bowls and hasn’t looked back since.
James has had a very successful story on and off the Bowling Green, he has been a member of Dumbarton Bowling Club for thirty years; he had been appointed as the Club’s President three times, 1991, 1996 and 2012. (In 1996, he served as President alongside his wife of Dumbarton Bowling Club.) The present President of the Club is Margaret Shield. It is currently unified. Margaret Shields has been previously the President of the Scottish Women Bowls Association. However, what makes Dumbarton Bowling Club universally different, Margaret Shields is the first Women President in 182 years of Dumbarton Club. James cited that is ‘quite an achievement’.
There was no doubts during my interview with James, I became engrossed with what he had to say when he recalled the moment the journey began, he wasn’t particularly brilliant at the games through practice and practice, he became a better bowler and soon began representing his club at competitions. It wasn’t long before he started winning titles. His list of titles speak for itself: Club Champion, Singles Champion, Fours Champion, Triples Champion and Twice in the Pairs Champion category. He used to coach the current Scottish Singles Champion Kevin Anderson.
An area that I was so looking forward to hearing from James was he his dedication, time and desire to coaching children, young adults in the community as I’ve yet to come into contact with another coach other than Ron McArthur who I have had great admiration for and display the same trustworthy, loyalty and understanding about disability. James quickly whipped that this club had catered for people with disabilities and I happened to know a former member of the club who had a complex disability. I soon realised that there are clubs within the local communities, you just have go searching and hopefully you feel at eased with club.
As James mentioned earlier, he had been a coach for twenty four years and goes onto say that Bowls has become his passion now. He would sorely missed Bowls if he wasn’t playing. He conclude that in order for Bowls to survive in generations to come, the young boys and girls will be key to ensuring that Bowls grows and prosper.
When I first met James at Kelvingrove in June this year where he was an umpire. The role of an Umpire who can be seen in action at all lawn bowls events, from club and county events to national finals, international matches, Commonwealth Games and World Championships. Umpires are qualified through an intensive training and examination process, and the desire to commit time and dedication to the sport. James emphasised the word “considered” as you have to be “considered to be an Umpire at Lawn Bowls competition following an ITO (International Technical Official) exam which allows Umpires like James to hold an accreditation for up to five yearsrs. James’s accreditation has nearly expired and has indicated to Tom Weir who oversee the Bowls Scotland’s Umpiring Committee that he would like to his renew his accreditation
It is clear from James’s passion, commitment, dedication and wealth of experiences have served him and not only confined to home soil, he has been incredibly fortunate to Umpire at the previous Commonwealth Games in Delhi four years ago. It was a magnificient experience, different culture and the people in India were so kind says James. James highlighted that Lawn Bowls is not a big sport in Delhi. The matches during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi were ‘streets away’. Scotland’s Lawn Bowls team suffered their worst performance and came home without a medal.
James has also followed Lawn Bowls closely, travelling to New Zealand to watch the World Lawn Bowls Championships. He said he was glad to travel and watch it as when you are umpiring at these Games, you don’t have the opportunity to explore the country as umpiring is a long day from being up at 6am and not finishing till 9pm.
Our attention turned to Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Like Jim, I was incredibly fortunate to have played a part in the Games. For me personally, I was in a unique position compared to most Clyde-sider volunteers that I had been engaged with the Bowls community from countless of people I have met along the way. Jim elaborated further that Glasgow 2014 in particularly at Kelvingrove, while it was low key, it was very atmospheric and he believed the people who were involved made it the friendliest Games.
During my shifts at Kelvingrove, Jim and I caught up on numerous occasions and we really appreciated each other involvements. I was assigned to the Print Distribution Team within Results Technology who were responsible for distributing the results to clients meanwhile James was umpiring matches. Catching up with James was a pinnacle highlight of my ParaSports, (Clyde-sider) journey during the Games.
Jim has been instrumental to the success of Bowls in his community of Dumbarton. He has impacted on many different lives already. James was awarded an MBE for his services to Allied Distiller and part of a community team which raised over £500, 000 for various causes.
After having been on the road for two years covering the ParaSports for Glasgow 2014 and the Glasgow Evening Times, Jim and I have partnered up as he wanted to relishes the challenge of coaching me with complex impairments associated with my Cerebral Palsy. Within eight weeks, Jim has transformed me into a bowler with his steer determination.
The next Taylor Bowls’s blog update will focus on Jim’s attribute to ‘get’ me bowling and what inspired him to do so.
Jim couldn’t have made it clearer “Bowls is a Game for life as long as you want to play it. Lawn Bowls is the most simple Games, come to this club”.