The History of Handball

Photo:Michael Coyne and Jim Malone All-Ireland Handball Diamond Masters B doubles 1999

Michael Coyne and Jim Malone All-Ireland Handball Diamond Masters B doubles 1999

Photo: Michael Coyne

Photo:Christy McGing taken in John O'Hare's in Jan. 2010.  Christy was a Ballinrobe handball star in the 1940s and 50s.

Christy McGing taken in John O'Hare's in Jan. 2010. Christy was a Ballinrobe handball star in the 1940s and 50s.

Photo: Michael Coyne

Photo:Tom Tracey and Frank O'Toole RIP - Ballinrobe handball stars of the 1990s

Tom Tracey and Frank O'Toole RIP - Ballinrobe handball stars of the 1990s

Photo: Michael Coyne

Photo:Aidan Bell and Frank Macken with Chairman of the County Board - centre.   Aidan and Frank were All Ireland G.M.B.D champions 2010

Aidan Bell and Frank Macken with Chairman of the County Board - centre. Aidan and Frank were All Ireland G.M.B.D champions 2010

Photo: Michael Coyne

Photo:Presentation to handball winners in Lakeland's Hotel in June 1990.  L to R Enda Reilly, Colm Keane, J.P. O'Gorman, Martin Cleary and Kenneth O'Malley

Presentation to handball winners in Lakeland's Hotel in June 1990. L to R Enda Reilly, Colm Keane, J.P. O'Gorman, Martin Cleary and Kenneth O'Malley

Photo: Michael Coyne

Photo:Jerry Keane left and Kenneth O'Malley (R).    Connaught Colleges B doubles 2000 & 2001 and C. under 14 the same year.

Jerry Keane left and Kenneth O'Malley (R). Connaught Colleges B doubles 2000 & 2001 and C. under 14 the same year.

Photo: Michael Coyne

Ballinrobe's Handball Club success over the years

By Michael Coyne

The game of handball has been played in Ireland for at least three hundred years. Every area both rural and urban had handball courts. The game provided an outlet for the young men of Ireland to participate in a sport which required no financial outlay, as all sports were not available to the ordinary classes in those days.

Ballinrobe courts

There were two courts in Ballinrobe, one at the Garda Barracks and one in Abbey Street, which we know, was erected in 1776.  Inserted in the front wall were two stones bearing coats of arms and inscriptions, which translates into “Healthy Mind and Body and Action with Strength.” There were courts in Roxboro, Cloongowla, Knockroe and the Neale Road.   The size of the traditional Irish handball court is 60  x 30 ft and not all of those courts were full regulation sizes.

First G.A.A. championships

In 1884 when the Gaelic Athletic Association was set up, handball was included in its charter as one of the five sports to be promoted by the Association. In the 1880s, several Ireland v. America games were held on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1923 the first handball championships were sponsored by the G.A.A.  and in 1924 the Irish Handball Council was established to promote, develop and organise the game.

International Amateur Athletic Association

In 1924 the IHC affiliated to the International Amateur Athletic Association Handball Commission which was set up to legislate for handball for all countries and players from England, Scotland and Ireland took part in the Tailteann Games, which were held in Ireland. In 1929 Spanish players held an exhibition game in Dublin. In 1932 Irish players travelled to Liverpool for exhibition games and in 1955 three players toured Ireland giving exhibition matches. Between 1950 and 1966 provincial councils were revived and inter-varsity national leagues and juvenile championships began.

1970 World Championships in Dublin

In 1969 the first 40 x 20 ft. (American style) court was built in Oldtown, Co. Dublin and so another dimension was added to the game of handball. In 1970 the third world handball championships were held in Dublin.  In that year as well, a modern 60 x 30 ft. court was built in Croke Park for the World Championships. In 1971 Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na m-Ban (Ladies Association) was founded.   Handball for both sexes was included in Community Games.

RTÉ programme

In 1973 the “Top Ace” competition was shown by RTÉ over a seven-week period. In 1974 the Irish handball council celebrated it’s golden jubilee and a fulltime national administrator was appointed. The first week-long national coaching course was held in Gormanston.  In 1975 All-Ireland Championships were played for the first time. In 1979 under-14 and under-16 competitions were played for the first time and in 1980 the “Top Ace” competition was opened to international players.

USA, Canadian and Australian championships

In 1981 the first official Irish team competed in the USHA junior championships and Ireland won the 15 years and under title. In 1984 the fourth world championships were held in Dublin and Clare. In 1985 Irish players won the USHA 17-and under, 19-and-under and 23-and-under titles. In 1986 the fifth World Championships were held in Canada and in 1988 the sixth world championships were held in Australia. International millennium Tournaments were held in Dublin and in 1991 the seventh world championships were held in Phoenix, Arizona where Irish Players won a total of four titles.  In 1994 Waterford Crystal commenced sponsorship of Irish Championships.  

8th & 9th World Championships

In that same year the eight world championships sponsored by Waterford Crystal were held in Clare, Dublin, Kildare and Meath venues. 650 players from 10 countries took part in 39 events and Irish players won 20 titles.   In 1995 the first European one-wall championships were held in Wales and in 1997 the second one-wall championships were held in Roscommon, in which eight countries took part. The ninth world championships were held in Winnipeg, Canada.

Increase in national Competitions  

Between 1925 and 1998 the number of national competitions increased from 3 to 168.  During the period from 1973-1983, 152 new indoor 40 x 20ft. courts and 9 new 60 x 30ft courts were constructed.  Five  60 x 30 ft old courts were roofed and 24, 60 x 30 courts were renovated. Those developments highlight the high profile which the games in both courts now enjoy and what the sport now needs most of all, is a coaching module in every club and have games shown on RTÉ so that the youth can identify with them and have role models to look up to.

Amalgamations

In 1998 Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na h-Eireann and Comhairle Liathróid Láimhe na m-Ban amalgamated.

Irish success

In international competitions, Irish players have been winning championships in all grades, from under-age to senior in both ladies and men’s competitions.  The present world champion for the last few years is Paul Brady from Cavan who has beaten the cream of the world players from America, Canada etc.  I should add that those players are all fulltime professionals.

Ballinrobe players.

Over the years many Ballinrobe players distinguished themselves in courts all over Mayo and further afield.  In the 1940s players like John Feeney, High St., and Tommy Casey, Abbey St., Vincent O’Malley, New St., The McGing Family, Abbey St., and Tom Tracey, Bridge St., (now living on Main St.,) won many honours. Lots of other players featured own the years and their names have unfortunately been lost in the mists of time.

Ballinrobe Handball Club

In 1987 the Ballinrobe Handball Club was revived and local leagues were organised in what is now the Lakeside Sport and Fitness Club. Gradually, the number of players increased and teams were entered in the Mayo leagues and championships. During the ‘80s and 90’ the Ballinrobe club won the Division 1,2 and 3 in the Mayo leagues.  Since then, players representing the club, have won umpteen Mayo and Connaught Championships and at the time of writing local players have won eighteen All-Ireland medals from Cumann na m-Bunscoil right through all grades to over-age competitions.

Year 2011

The last of those All-Ireland’s won was in the current year 2011.  It is worth noting that there is no 60 x 30ft court in Ballinrobe, yet a number of those victories were achieved in that grade. The players involved showed great dedication and determination by travelling to Castlebar and other venues to train.  

It is hoped that funds will be made available in the not too distant future to construct this court so that all our players will not be forced to travel and would also give a wider choice of games to all.

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 13/11/2011.

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