Article in the Irish Examiner Newspaper

Girls taking a shot at an ancient sport

By Nuala Woulfe, Wednesday, December 03, 2014, Irish Examiner Newspaper

Forget about gymnastics or ballet. Teens inspired by the Hunger Games films are increasingly joining archery clubs. It’s good, discipline says Nuala Wolfe.

F you have a teenage daughter, chances are you’ve heard of Katniss Everdeen, from the Hunger Games series. She’s expert with a bow. If you have a younger daughter, you’ll be aware of Merida, the feisty Scottish princess from Disney’s hit movie, Brave. She’s also expert with a bow.

Archery has gone from a minority sport to a fashionable youth activity and, inspired by their movie heroines, the biggest converts are girls. The success of books and movies that have an archery theme has inspired youngsters to shoot a bow and arrow, but finding clubs that will accept juniors is not easy.

Secretary of Cork City Archery Club (www.corkcityarcheryclub.ie), Bill Cashman, says two years ago they decided to welcome children as young as seven onto target archery courses, while building up the junior squad, as “the best way to build a strong club from the ground up.” Now, 50% of Cork City archers are aged under 17 and there are more girls than boys.

“My seven-year-old daughter is going to be part of the next training group, although archery is very egalitarian; boys and girls are not split up until they get to junior level,” says Cashman.

While recent books and movies “have led to a huge upsurge in interest,” Cashman says the 2012 London Olympics also raised the profile as viewers had the technology to watch minority sports, instead of relying on mainstream media.

Still, some Irish clubs do not accommodate juniors, because the clubs do not have the funds to buy suitable bows or they are afraid of becoming babysitting services, says Cork City junior coach, Tony Barber. Barber joined the club as a “stress-busting activity” and, within six months, his 12-year-old daughter, currently an Irish archery champion, had joined, too.

“When it became clear that she was going to be a better archer than me, I thought it’d be better if I became a coach,” he says. “Some clubs are very small and might not have the coaches for juniors, and coaches for juniors also have to be Garda-vetted, which is an additional factor,” Barber says.

However, target archery is not the only activity young bow-and-arrow enthusiasts can try. Bush or field archer, Gary Byrne, from Archbold Traditional Archery, in County Clare, shows children how to make bows and arrows traditionally, but he also teaches using a light American flat-bow. Byrne runs archery workshops and will even come to your house and teach you how to shoot.

“Recently, I’d be teaching more girls than boys. Girls often have better focus and they listen and take instruction better. Having said that, archery increases concentration and I believe anyone can learn better focus. I often mix in a little bit of Japanese Zen archery, Kyudo, which is all about the mindset. It fits perfectly with the instinctive archery that I teach.” Byrne is setting up a 3D archery school near Killaloe, County Clare, with foam targets, and hopes to be up and running shortly.

In Limerick, the Limerick Yeomen (www.limkyeomen.com) welcome children as young as six on their year-round Sunday-morning bush archery trek; provided the children are accompanied by parents.

“You don’t have to buy anything; we’ve all the gear for the first few weeks. The first two Sundays are free and, after that, we ask for €5 to cover the cost of things like broken arrows and target repair. It’s a fun, family activity and a surprisingly good workout,” says spokesperson, Wilhelm Pfiffer.

If you want the fun of archery without any trekking, you can try new adventure sport, Archery Tag, which was launched here last autumn by the Irish Outdoor Discovery Adventure Company (www.outodoordiscovery.ie).

Players hide behind inflatable bunkers and shoot foam-tipped arrows at each other. ‘It’s a cross between dodge ball and paint ball, without any of the mess or pain. It can be played indoors or outdoors. We’ve organised it for conferences, for hens, school tours and birthdays. The product only existed in 2012 and was played at the premiers of the Hunger Games movies. It’s in 180 destinations worldwide — it’s going to be huge,” says Alex Dawson-Stanley, of the ODAC. When I ask Dawson if archery might be a fad and if young people might lose interest, given that the final Hunger Games movie will be released in 2015, he disagrees. “Archery has been around since man started hunting. It’s huge in Korea. In the US, school kids do archery as part of their curriculum. Archery is only going to expand from here on in.”