Echoes from a Handball Alley

There’s a splendid handball alley in the quaint village of Stradbally here in Co. Waterford and I often stop there on summer evenings and think.

Handball 1

Handball is one of the Gaelic Games in Ireland, alongside Gaelic Football, Hurling and Camogie. It is a game of amazing speed and skill, with a long history. One of its greatest fascinations for me lies in its rawness ~ hitting a ball against a wall with the hand or fist.

My father, who grew up in West Clare in the 1920s and 30s, played lots of handball in the alley in Kilrush. It was a real gathering place in the Summer and the gang took turns to play. There was a grassy spot above the alley where spectators congregated.

Entrance to the Alley and Steps to Viewing Place
Entrance to the Alley and Steps to Viewing Place

Playing handball late into a Summer’s evening and lazing about on the dewy grass afterwards was a life-changer for Dad when he was fourteen. He ended up getting pneumonia at a time before antibiotics and almost lost his life.

Stradbally Handball Alley
Stradbally Handball Alley

Not surprisingly, this experience made him very wary of sitting on damp grass or the like ~ something that was drilled into us as kids.

As I sat on the dryish grass above the alley in Stradbally recently, I couldn’t but giggle as I remembered an evening when I was about fourteen and had gone out in a newly washed pair of jeans. Dad got it into his head that they MUST be damp and spent hours driving around looking for me to take me home immediately.

I got in ahead of him and  just about lived to tell the tale!

For all who come my grave to see, avoid damp beds and think of me.’






Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

20 thoughts on “Echoes from a Handball Alley”

  1. My husband and I were just discussing the games that use to be played of today don’t seem to do that anymore because of the facebook, cellphones ..We use to roller skate (skates attached to shoe and a metal key to tighten, marbles (bunny in the hole) double dutch jumprope, hopscotch, and mumbley peg with jack-knives, dodge ball ..hiding go seek and Simon says..just to mention a few…Things have really changed…

    1. Hi Joni, a lot of those games ring a bell with me too. I agree that they are pretty much lost. Here in Ireland, the shift seems to be towards very organised activities with adult supervision ALL the time. It’s such a pity and certainly isn’t helping fitness levels or self-sufficiency.

  2. That is so cool Jean. The thirties were a rough time globally – economic collapse and high unemployment with the depression. It is great to see that the town pulled together to create a positive focus for enjoyment – someone cared. I love the pebbly surface of old hand-made concrete -it is so rich and speaks of stories from the past.

    Fascinating post Jean.

    1. Hi Paul, yes the thirties were a divil here in Ireland as well.
      I’d love to know about the people who were involved in the alley in Stradbally from its beginnings. Maybe I can find out!

  3. What an interesting post! I love concrete structures such as this, and the beauty in the weathered face–the steps, the rocks, the bits of lichen that vary the colors. I can only imagine how the experience affected your father–pneumonia is still serious, but the outcomes were far worse then. I heard once it has something to do with getting hot and the pores open up, and then cold or damp gets in to the system although I don’t know how that would cause pneumonia.

    1. Thanks Suz. I am always taken with these sorts of structures as well.
      As for the pneumonia, Dad’s theory was that going from very hot playing and then sitting on the wet grass gave him a chill which turned nasty.

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for this interesting post. I love learning about the “old days” and what people did. I don’t think people would know what to do with their time today if they didn’t have their smartphones and ipads.


    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Nancy. I’m pleased to say that handball is still very much alive and well in Ireland. It has developed a good bit in terms of different types of courts etc but there is great enthusiasm amongst its followers.

  5. Very similar to the English game of ‘Fives’. There used to be an (unused) buttressed fives court at my grammar school in Birmingham. Interesting it was adopted as a native sport by the fledgling GAA.

    1. Hi Roy, ‘Fives’ is a new one on me. It sounds like a card game!
      I was looking at the history of handball and it certainly seems to be a very long one, in one form or another, especially in the West of Ireland.

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