Gaelic handball

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Boys playing handball at a handball court in Ireland in the 1930s Boys playing handball at a handball court in Ireland in the 1930s (5774774659).jpg
Boys playing handball at a handball court in Ireland in the 1930s

Gaelic handball (known in Ireland simply as handball; [1] [2] [3] [4] Irish : liathróid láimhe) is a sport where players hit a ball with a hand or fist against a wall in such a way as to make a shot the opposition cannot return, [5] and that may be played with two (singles) or four players (doubles). The sport, popular in Ireland, is similar to American handball, Welsh handball, fives, Basque pelota, Valencian frontó, and more remotely to racquetball or squash. It is one of the four Gaelic games organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). [6] GAA Handball, a subsidiary organisation of the GAA, governs and promotes the sport.



A typical Handball court Handballcourt.jpg
A typical Handball court

Handball is played in a court, or "alley". Originally, an alley measuring 60 by 30 feet (18.3 by 9.1 m) was used with a 30-foot (9.1 m) front wall, off which the ball must be struck.

A smaller alley was also introduced, measuring 40 by 20 feet (12.2 by 6.1 m) with a front wall 20 feet (6.1 m) high. The first alley of this size was built in Ireland in 1969. This smaller size is now the standard in the international version of the game, but both alleys are still used in the Gaelic game, with two separate championships run by the GAA in the two codes. [7]

The objective of a game is to be the first to score a set total of points. Points are only scored by the person serving the ball. In other words, if a player wins a rally but did not serve at the start of that rally they only win the right to serve, and thus the chance to score after a subsequent rally. The serving player has two opportunities to hit the ball, from the "service area" (between the two parallel lines), off the "front wall" and across the "short line" (which is located exactly halfway down the court from the front wall).

Players take turns at hitting the ball off the "front wall" before the ball bounces twice on the floor of the court following their opponent's previous shot. Most handball games take place in a four-walled court but there are also three-walled and one-wall versions of the game.


Handball-like games have originated in several places at different times. Hieroglyphs in the temple of Osiris in Egypt portray priests taking part in a game very similar to handball, and civilisations Mesoamerica and South America had a handball-like game.

An early origin for the game in Ireland is supported by recent archaeological finds in the Callan and Mooncoin areas of Kilkenny, which may indicate a Celtic antecedent to the modern game was played in the area in ancient times. An ancient Celtic version of the game is supported by the existence of Welsh handball (Welsh : Pêl-Law), a similar sport, which has been attested in the literature of Wales since the ninth century. [8]

In Ireland, the earliest written record of a similar ball game is contained in the town statutes of Galway in 1527, which forbade the playing of ball games [generic] against the walls of the town. The first depiction of an Irish form of handball does not appear till 1785.[ citation needed ] On the west coast of Ireland, Galway had many trading links with Spain, especially the Basque regions, where the similar game of pelota is played. According to Dublin Handball GAA "It is highly likely that one game is derived from or influenced by the other.". [9]

Irish immigrants brought the game to many countries in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It is still played in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Africa and England. [9]

Father John Murphy, a leader in the 1798 rebellion was one of the best handball players of his time and he frequently held rebel meetings at his local handball alley. [10]

Since the GAA

The GAA wrote the first rules for the modern game of handball. Handball was included in the GAA Charter of 1884 as one of the sports to be promoted by the new Association. In 1924 Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na hÉireann (the Irish Handball Council) was established to promote, develop and organise the sport. In the same year the 'Irish Amateur Handball Association' was founded. [10] It held its inaugural meeting on 27 January 1924 in Croke Park, County Dublin [11] Prominent Irish republicans, Eoin O'Duffy and Ned Broy were members of this association, with O'Duffy serving as its President from 1926 till 1934. [12] [13] The association's work can be seen in corners of rural Ireland where there are many handball alleys in villages and small towns. However many are no longer used. [14]

Prisoners detained in Gloucester Prison during the Irish revolutionary period played handball during their stay. [15]

Taoiseach, President of Ireland and Irish revolutionary Éamon de Valera was a fan of the sport. He played it while interned in Gloucester Prison and also while held in Arbour Hill Prison. Austin Stack records in his diary (while in Arbour Hill Prison) that on 26 April 1924 "Dev [De Valera] beat me decisively a couple of times" at handball. [16]

In 1925 the first All-Ireland Handball Congress was held and the All-Ireland Senior Softball and Hardball Championships were established [7]

In 1971 Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na mBan was founded to administer the sport for female competitions. In 1998 the amalgamation of Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na hÉireann and Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na mBan saw a single national administration. The Irish Handball Council was rebranded as GAA Handball (Liathróid Láimhe C.L.G.) in 2009. [7] [17]

Open-ended school handball courts at Gort Na Mona Secondary School Handball Courts.JPG
Open-ended school handball courts at Gort Na Móna Secondary School

Types of handball

In Ireland, there are four forms or codes of handball. These include the two domestic codes:

and two international as played in Ireland:

Irish competitions

There are many handball competitions that are run in Ireland, such as the Gaelic Senior Hardball Singles and the Gaelic Senior Softball Singles. In 4-Wall, the main competitions are County, Province, and All-Ireland Championships plus the 4-Wall Irish Nationals. In 60x30 Softball and Hardball, the main competitions are County, Province, and All-Ireland Championships and the Junior B Interclub. In 2011 GAA Handball Ireland launched the 60x30 Softball Nationals and this competition will be held in July. In One-Wall handball/wallball, the main competition in Ireland is the Irish Wallball Nationals, and this is now held in Breaffy House Hotel, Castlebar. There are also many competitions during the year held by various handball clubs around the country.

See also

Other modalities

Related Research Articles

Gaelic Athletic Association Irish amateur sporting and cultural organisation

The Gaelic Athletic Association is an Irish international amateur sporting and cultural organisation, focused primarily on promoting indigenous Gaelic games and pastimes, which include the traditional Irish sports of hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, Gaelic handball and rounders. The association also promotes Irish music and dance, as well as the Irish language.

American handball

American handball, known as handball in the United States and sometimes referred to as wallball, is a sport in which players use their hands to hit a small, rubber ball against a wall such that their opponent(s) cannot do the same without the ball touching the ground twice nor hitting out-of-bound. The three versions are four-wall, three-wall and one-wall. Each version can be played either by two players (singles), three players (cutthroat) or four players (doubles), but in official tournaments, singles and doubles are the only versions played.

Gaelic games Set of sports originating, and mainly played, on the island of Ireland

Gaelic games are sports played in Ireland under the auspices of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). They include Gaelic football, hurling, Gaelic handball and rounders. Women's versions of hurling and football are also played: camogie, organised by the Camogie Association of Ireland, and ladies' Gaelic football, organised by the Ladies' Gaelic Football Association. While women's versions are not organised by the GAA, they are closely associated with it.

Basque pelota Variety of court sports

Basque pelota is the name for a variety of court sports played with a ball using one's hand, a racket, a wooden bat or a basket, against a wall or, more traditionally, with two teams face to face separated by a line on the ground or a net. The roots of this class of games can be traced to the Greek and other ancient cultures.

Sport in Ireland Survey of sporting participation and attendance in Ireland

Sport in Ireland plays an important role in Irish society. The many sports played and followed in Ireland include Gaelic games, association football, horse racing, show jumping, greyhound racing, basketball, fishing, handball, motorsport, boxing, tennis, hockey, golf, rowing, cricket, and rugby union.

Frontenis Sport

Frontenis is a sport that is played in a 30 meter pelota court using racquets and rubber balls. It can be played in pairs or singles, but only pairs frontenis is played in international competitions. This sport was developed in Mexico around 1900, and is accredited as a Basque pelota speciality.

The All-Ireland Senior Hardball Singles title is an all-Ireland Gaelic Athletic Association competition between all 32 counties of Ireland which first commenced in 1925. The first senior hardball singles title was won by W. Aldridge. The current All-Ireland Senior Hardball champion is Robbie McCarthy, who represents Westmeath and Mullingar Handball Club.

The All-Ireland Senior Softball Singles title is an all-Ireland Gaelic Athletic Association competition between all 32 counties of Ireland which first commenced in 1925. The first senior hardball singles title was won by M. Joyce of Dublin, a player from Urlingford, County Kilkenny. Kilkenny have won the most titles, with a total of 22.

Valencian pilota

Valencian pilota is a traditional handball sport played in the Valencian Community. Its origins are not known.

The Irish Collegiate Handball Association is the national governing body for third-level handball in Ireland. It is composed of students and former students. Twenty-one handball clubs are affiliated at present. The ICHA organises 3 intervarsity handball championships each year in 60x30, 40x20 Team and 40x20 Singles, with events held at various locations throughout the year. The defending champions as of 2013 are:

The following is an alphabetical list of terms and jargon used in relation to Gaelic games. See also list of Irish county nicknames

One-wall handball

One-wall handball, also known as 1-wall, wallball or international fronton is an indirect style ball game created to bring together some varieties, and to be played in the Handball International Championships. A World Championships for the sport is also organised by the World Handball Council every three years.

GAA Handball Ireland is the governing body for the sport of Gaelic handball in all of its codes in Ireland. Handball is one of the four Gaelic games organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association.

Pelota Mano Court, Trebonne

Pelota Mano Court is a heritage-listed sports ground at Trebonne Road, Trebonne, Shire of Hinchinbrook, Queensland, Australia. It was designed by Ford, Hutton & Newell and built in 1959 by Idillio Quartero and Ken Duffy. It is also known as Basque Handball Court and Fronton. It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 27 July 2001.

Welsh handball

Welsh Handball is one of the ancient native sports of Wales. It is related to coeval sports such as Irish handball, fives, Basque pelota and is a possible antecedent of American handball. The sport has been continually attested since the Middle Ages and its popularity saw it become an important expression of Welsh culture, offering ordinary people opportunities through prize-money, bookkeeping and even player professionalism.

The National Handball Centre is an indoor handball facility located on the Croke Park campus in Dublin, Ireland. It is due to serve as both the national venue for All-Ireland Gaelic handball finals once it opens and as the headquarters of GAA Handball, the sport's national governing body. The new centre replaces the old Croke Park Handball Centre that was built in 1970.

UK Wallball is the governing body for the sport of Wallball in the United Kingdom.

Wallball is a name given to several sports that involve hitting a ball off of a wall with your hand. It may refer to:


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