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What is Gaelic Handball?

Updated on July 13, 2011

Gaelic handball is a sport that is similar to squash and racquet ball.  However, instead of using a racquet, the hand is used to strike the ball against the front wall.  The game can be played with two (singles), three (cut-throat – where the players rotate one against two) or four (doubles) players and is also known as handball, Irish handball, court handball, alley handball or wall handball.  American handball is also very similar to this game as it was adapted from the sport that was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants back in the 1880s.  Gaelic handball is one of four Gaelic sports organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association.


Handball games date back as far as the Egyptian times.  Variations of games similar to handball have played around the same time in different civilizations.  Mesoamerican civilizations and the Egyptians have recordings showing handball games being played.

Modern handball originated in Ireland and Scotland.  The game made its way to many other countries as Irish immigrants made their way around the globe.

The Court

Gaelic handball is generally played in a court 12.2 meters long by 6.1 meters wide however there is another version of the game played in Ireland that uses a larger court which measures 18.3 meters by 9.15 meters. 

The court is divided into two equal squares by what is called a “short line”.  1.5 meters in front of the short line is a service line which marks the service area where the player must stand within when serving.

The ball is played against a front wall which is 6.1 meters in height.  Most handball courts are four-walled however there are also three-walled and one-wall variants of the game available.


The only equipment required are to play Gaelic handball are protective gloves, eyewear and a ball.  The ball is a small rubber ball weighing 65 grams and 4.76 centimeters in diameter.  Because it is smaller, heavier and harder than the racquetball, it is advisable to play the game with gloves to minimise the risk of hand and finger injuries.

The Aim

The aim of the game is to beat your opponent by scoring a set of total points first.  The match is won when two out of three games are won by one player.


During game play, points are awarded to the server only if he or she wins the rally.  If the other player wins the rally, no points are awarded.  The other player merely wins the right to serve and a chance to gain points by winning the ensuing rally.

The match comprises of three games and the winner is the player that wins two out of the three games.  The first two games are played until one player scores 21 points.  The third game is played up to 11 points only.


The server receives two opportunities to successfully serve the ball.  The ball must be served from a service area where it must strike the front wall and land beyond the service line.  The service line is halfway down the court from the front wall.


The players take it in turns to hit the ball off the front wall.  They must hit the ball before it bounces for the second time after their opponent has struck the ball.

Gaelic handball is a fun and exciting sport that offers a great workout.  Requiring minimal investment in equipment, it is an easy sport to get into.  The entertainment value combined with the ease of entry makes the sport a very popular one around the world.


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