Kells Handball Club

Kells, Ireland | C.1985

Photo Credit: Jon Duncan

According to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) “Handball is easy to start playing, all you need is a ball and a wall.” What they may have forgotten to mention is the supreme hand-eye coordination, catlike reflexes, cardiovascular endurance, and tough callused palms needed to play this highly competitive sport at a professional level.

A traditional Irish pastime dating back to the late 1800s, handball might have started with a ball and a wall, but currently can be played according to four codes based on the number of walls in the court, the size of the court, and the type of ball used.

But no matter the code, there is one primary objective: make the ball hit the front wall and bounce twice before your opponent can return it, resulting in a point – the first to 21 is the victor.

Up until the late ‘60s, the Kells community did hold professional championships, but records are scarce, so call it handball prehistory. Then in 1982, passionate locals eager to see the sport grow set out to build a club without a penny of grant money. Instead they relied on a grassroots fundraising program of barbeques, dances, cabarets, and auctions.

When funding was secured, the land was donated by Shirley’s Pub – which today still resides next door. The club went on to gain notoriety for its long lineage of professional titles won starting with Frank Manogue Sr. who brought home the All-Ireland title.

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