The short mat game was reputedly first played in Wales by two South Africans who came to work there. They had played the outdoor game in South Africa and, when the outdoor season closed in autumn. they began to play a simulation of the outdoor game on a strip of carpet in a church hall. Sometime later, they moved to Northern Ireland and brought the game with them.
Short mat bowling, as we know it, came to Northern Ireland in the middle 1920s but detailed information of the early days before the formation of the Indoor Bowling Association in 1961 is somewhat sketchy. Ballymacarret Presbyterian Chuch claims to be the first club in existence and have, hanging on the wall, a photo, taken in 1929, showing their minister delivering a bowl on what seems to be a three foot wide piece of carpet and through a hoop.
It was after the war that the game began to develop and the first league was founded in 1952 in Belfast. Other leagues were formed between then and 1961, with the laws and rules varying from one area to another. Early bowlers can recall bowling with no fenders while one club possesses a jack from that time which is made of wood and is multisided. Past president, Ronnie McDermott, recalls starting in 1954 in a club in Omagh where there was no jack line but instead three jack spots and, if the lead or second ditched the jack, it was replaced on the centre spot and the game continued.
With the rapid expansion of the game, it became clear that there was a need for uniformity in the rules of the game and consequently it was proposed that an association be formed to regularise matters. An inaugural meeting was held on 13th September, 1961, a constitution agreed and a committee set up to formulate the laws and rules. After several meetings, these were finalised and approved on 16th, February, 1962. The licencing of tournaments started in 1967, again to ensure uniformity in the organisation.
In 1981, 58 clubs and 5 leagues were affiliated to the association and this grew to some 1000 clubs and some 40 leagues, with in excess of 250 tournaments licensed annually and some 40000 bowlers enjoying the sports, The clubs are split into 26 zones, with each zone selecting a convener to represent them at monthly committee meetings.
The success and development of the indoor game in the North West was largely due to the late Jackie Semple. Jackie was the Zone Convener for North West from 1977 to 1981 and, as the Zone expanded, clubs in Derry and Strabane formed Foyle Zone, with Jackie taking over as their convener from 1981 to 1983. As the game began to spread into Donegal, Donegal Zone was formed , again with Jackie as their Convener from 1983 to 1986. The first club established in Donegal was that of Newtowncunningham Presbyterian Church and the Zone now has some 50 affiliated clubs, stretching from Malin to Sligo. Tom Patton took over to 1992, followed by Fred Aicken to 2016. The current Convener is Denis Doherty, Moress, Inch Island.