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 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.
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.
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.’