Gaelic handball
Two men playing handball
Highest governing bodyGaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
Nicknameshandball, GAA handball
First playedmedieval period or earlier, Ireland
Team membersSingles or doubles
Mixed-sexNo; some mixed doubles played in juvenile grades[2]
TypeHand and ball-striking games
EquipmentGaelic handball ball, goggles, non-marking gum soled shoes
VenueIndoor or outdoor (with glass court)
Country or regionIreland and Irish diaspora
World GamesOne-wall handball was included as a Demonstration sport at 2013 World Games, Colombia[3]
Boys playing handball at a handball court in Ireland in the 1930s

Gaelic handball (known in Ireland simply as handball;[4][5][6][7] 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,[8] 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).[9] GAA Handball, a subsidiary organisation of the GAA, governs and promotes the sport.


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.[10]

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.[11]

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.".[12]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[13] It held its inaugural meeting on 27 January 1924 in Croke Park, County Dublin[14] 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.[15][16] 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.[17]

Prisoners detained in Gloucester Prison during the Irish revolutionary period played handball during their stay.[18]

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.[19]

In 1925 the first All-Ireland Handball Congress was held and the All-Ireland Senior Softball and Hardball Championships were established[10]

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.[10][20]

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 All-Ireland Senior Softball Singles Championship, All-Ireland Senior 4-Wall Championships and Irish Wallball Nationals to name a few. In 4-Wall, the main competitions are County, Province, and All-Ireland Championships plus the Irish 4-Wall 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.[citation needed] There are also many competitions during the year held by various handball clubs around the country.

Notable players

Fiona Tully playing handball, wearing gloves and goggles.

See also

Other modalities


  1. ^ "GAA Handball - Official Website". GAA Handball.
  2. ^ "Gael Linn". 18 January 2016.
  3. ^ "World Games, Colombia – Team GB Battle Hard". UK Wallball. 15 August 2013.
  4. ^ "Ultach » 2010 » March". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 11 August 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  5. ^ "Weekly handball preview". RTÉ News. 16 March 2010.
  6. ^ "Handball: Model stars see off alley Cats". Irish Independent. 7 December 2009.
  7. ^ "Record attendance at One Wall festival". 17 October 2013. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 15 January 2018.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  8. ^ "St Coman's Handball Club". 23 October 2008. Archived from the original on 23 October 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  9. ^ Our Games | About the GAA | GAA Archived 15 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b c "Handball". 5 August 2008. Archived from the original on 5 August 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  11. ^ Dicks, Kevin (2017). Handball – The Story of Wales' First National Sport. Y Lolfa. ISBN 9781784613761.
  12. ^ a b "Dublin Handball". 12 September 2009. Archived from the original on 12 September 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  13. ^ a b Collins, Tony; Martin, John; Vamplew, Wray (2005). Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports. p. 143. ISBN 9780415352246.
  14. ^ Egan, Sean (January 2002). Celts and Their Games and Pastimes. p. 81. ISBN 9780773471719.
  15. ^ Osborne, Chrissy (2010). Michael Collins: A Life In Pictures. p. 80. ISBN 9781856357180.
  16. ^ McGovern, Avice-Claire (November 2010). "Eoin O'Duffy Papers" (PDF). National Library of Ireland. p. 4. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2021.
  17. ^ Scally, John (April 2011). The GAA: An Oral History. ISBN 9781845969479.
  18. ^ Tim Pat Coogan (16 December 2015). De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow. ISBN 9781784975371.
  19. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat (16 December 2015). De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow. ISBN 9781784975371.
  20. ^ "WORLD HANDBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS IRELAND 2012 : POSTER" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  21. ^ a b c d "GAA Handball Clár Proposals 2018 (Draft)" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 October 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  22. ^ Advertiser, Mayo (5 July 2019). "Wallball nationals roll into Castlebar". Mayo Advertiser. Mayo Advertiser. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  23. ^ "About GAA Handball". GAA Handball. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  24. ^ John Lawlor Dictionary of Irish Biography.
  25. ^ "Legendary Kilkenny handballer Michael 'Ducksie' Walsh dies". RTÉ. 4 August 2016. Retrieved 7 February 2022.