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Bawbee She Kyles

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Visitors to Ravenscraig Castle are often unaware of this strange pastime once practised on its lawns.

'A Bawbee She Kyles' was played on one day of the year only, originally Handsel Monday.

Although, rather like Handsel Monday itself, the game is no longer familiar to many, it may have been unique to the town, and is surely of some historic interest. It may even be worthy of a revivial?

Bawbee She Kyles
00:00 / 04:55


In depth written study

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"Bawbee She Kyles"


The origins of this game are lost in the mists of time. Although several variations of the game existed throughout Scotland, only in Pathhead was this particular game played. There is a belief that as a cannonball was used as a “bool”, the possibility exists that the game originated in Ravenscraig Castle. When the Castle was occupied, the gates were flung open on New Year’s Day, allowing the friends and families of the retainers to visit. It is possible that the game was part of the sports and games played on the day.

What is beyond doubt, is that the Castle Green was the traditional playing field from time immemorial   until 1911. The game itself was simple. with bowls being the closest modern game. Instead of aiming at the jack, the idea was to roll the “bool” into one of 9 holes from a mark 10 yards away. A “kyle” was when a player achieved that objective. The “bool” weighed 8lbs with a diameter of 5 inches. The holes were only an inch larger in diameter.

The game took place on one day per year, originally  Handsel Monday but eventually on New Year’s Day. If New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday – it was played the following day. These were the only days on which the Castle was open to the public. It was a gala day for Pathhead folk, who met friends and relations, many they had perhaps not seen since the last New Year. Mutton pies and refreshments were for sale, along with a then delicacy – Seville oranges. The event normally commenced at 10.00am and went on as long as participants wanted to play – or until they ran out of bawbees! Reports and photographs from the end on the 19th century confirm that crowds of several hundred attended.

In 1911, the Castle did not open – with a notice warning people that part of the structure was unsafe and there could be no admittance. That January, the game was played at Millie’s Park, which was in Back Street (now Commercial Street) but only for that one year. The game fell into abeyance until it was resurrected in 1930 – the first New Year’s Day since Ravenscraig Park was gifted to the town. Dominic’s Green was the chosen spot and that was its home for the final 21 years it took place.

Most certainly gambling was a great part of the fun for participants and spectators alike.  A maximum of six players were allowed in any one game. Lots were drawn to determine the order of play. Each player placed a bawbee in the kitty and one by one, the players rolled the “bool” until a “kyle” was achieved. The winner scooped the kitty. The sums could be quite considerable, as if no “kyle” was achieved after the initial 6 throws, another 6 bawbees were added to the pot until it was won. Whilst it sounds fairly easy, the ground was bumpy and unkempt, allied to a very heavy ball.

Spectators did not bet on the outcome of each game but rather on individual shots. As a ball started out, a spectator would cry “a bawbee she kyles”. Another would respond with “a bawbee she disnae”. The bet was won or lost on the outcome of that single shot.

The loss of the Castle, plus the years of inactivity saw interest diminish. The older men who had played were now infirm or had passed away. The young had no interest. as they had new and fresh ways to celebrate New Year. The numbers attending fell and fell, until between 1952 and 1954, no one turned up at all.

The one certain thing is that another piece of Kirkcaldy’s rich history has been consigned to memory alone. On a New Year’s morning, instead of Dominic’s Green  being  alive with, bustle, noise and activity – it is now deserted, still, hushed and tranquil - the only sound being walkers calling to their dogs.

A very singular game.

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