Lovers of French sport pétanque get their very own city centre court as part of Linen Quarter district’s regeneration
October 23, 2023
Linen Quarter Business Improvement District (LQ BID) recently installed a pétanque court at Blackstaff Square as part of ongoing efforts to regenerate and revitalise the area.
“In the last two years we have had a considerable degree of growth. That is possibly connected to Covid because pétanque was something people could do, as it’s played outside on gravel,” says Dawn Kirk, honorary secretary of the Irish Pétanque Association (IPA).
The aim of French boules, or pétanque, is to throw the heavy metal balls (boules) and position them as close to the small jack as you can. To play, a player must step onto the pitch and keep both feet on the ground when throwing their boule. Boules are thrown out of the back of your hand.
“People like myself who are involved with the IPA would be interested in playing competitions and national competitions,” says Dawn.
“There’s different levels of play. If you want to play at national level you can, but you can play for leisure or you can play in some of the many interclub tournaments that we have, which is a wee bit of competition. It’s fun and all you need to play is a set of boules which aren’t expensive.”
The community has come a long way – from six clubs to 14, the majority based in Leinster. An incredibly accessible sport, it caters for all abilities and ages.
“It doesn’t matter who or what you are. You can play at any level, for a bit of fun,” explains Dawn. “It’s outdoor, it has a social side to it. You don’t have to be very physical; you’d have people with disabilities who can play because the objective of the game is that you just play on gravel and you just throw boules so there’s no restrictions physically for anybody being able to play, any age group can play.”
Is there an element of luck to perfecting pétanque?
“I believe there’s an element of luck in every sport,” admits Dawn. “At the level we play, certainly there is an element of luck in it but it’s a good thing about the game because that means that everybody can get that lucky start in the game.
“Sometimes you play a shot you don’t really mean to but it can work out really well. But I feel that adds to the game because everybody can get a lucky shot. But obviously the higher up you go, the less luck comes into it and it becomes more and more skilful. If you’re planning the World Championships, there’s no luck, it’s all skill,” she laughs.
The association hopes to build a youth club and attract younger players
“One of the things I was reading on developing sport among young people is how many young people, in their sort of late teens and early 20s, how they give up sport and particularly young women, because of part-time jobs, or maybe university or training for a job, or because they just can’t fit it in,” says Dawn.
“Then they miss out on the sort of social side and the mindfulness, as well as being out in the air and a bit of physical activity, whereas pétanque is something that they can do anytime.”
While having a pétanque court in Belfast city centre is one way of attracting new and more experienced players, the association hopes to establish a competition venue in Northern Ireland.
“The only bad thing about pétanque is because it’s outdoor, come this time of year, it’s dependent on weather. On the continent they have the luxury of what they call indoor bouledromes, that would be our dream,” says Dawn.
“Since 2021, we have completed a number of interventions on and around Blackstaff Square to improve its appearance, reduce disruptive behaviour, and promote the Square as a vibrant destination in its own right,” adds Chris McCracken, managing director of LQ BID.
“Part of this included the installation of the pétanque court — our thoughts in doing so were rooted in providing people living and working in the area with a common area to come together. This simple pétanque court proves that by thinking imaginatively, we can restore vitality and transform a semi-derelict area into an iconic plaza and social space.
“Enhanced greenery, pedestrianisation and defined outdoor spaces such as Flaxx (a new outdoor market in the Linen Quarter) all improve the aesthetic in support of increased footfall for businesses.”