Known principally as a sculptor, Gabriel Hayes (1909-1978), was born in Co. Kildare, the daughter of J.J. Hayes, an architect with the Board of Works. Initially, she studied painting at the Dominican College, Eccles Street, Dublin, and following a brief period in America, then spent three years in a school near Montpellier and later in Paris. On returning to Dublin, she entered the Metropolitan School of Art from where she began exhibiting at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1932. It was for her sculpture Prodigal Son, that she won the Royal Dublin Society's Taylor Scholarship in 1934.
She undertook several public sculpture and painting commissions including The Three Graces on a corner of the Dublin College of Catering, which was opened in 1941, Stations of the Cross at Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross, Dublin and panels on the Department of Industry and Commerce building in Kildare Street. In 1957, she began work on the life-size Stations of the Cross for Galway Cathedral - a commission that was to take her twelve years to complete.
The present work was undertaken whilst she was living in Cork, having married Professor Séan P. O'Riordain. It depicts the traditional Irish game of Road Bowls or 'Long Bullets'. Dating from the late medieval age and unique to Ireland, it is peculiar to Cork and Armagh where it was associated with the weaving trade. It was played along quiet country lanes, boreens and roads along which bowlers threw a 28 ounce iron ball over a course of several miles. The winner was determined by throwing the least number of shots over a set distance. In Cork the ball is cast overarm and in Armagh, underarm.
Daniel McDonald's view of a Cork bowling match in 1847, was sold by Christie's at the Castlegar House Sale, Co. Galway, 1988, lot 548, and is now in the Collection of the Crawford Gallery, Cork.