Gaelic handball (known in Ireland simply as handball; Irish: liathróid láimhe) is a sport played in Ireland where players hit a ball with a hand or fist against a wall in such a way as to make a shot the opposition cannot return, and that may be played with two (singles) or four players (doubles). The sport is similar to American handball (a related and almost identical game), Basque pelota, Pêl-Law (Welsh handball), racquetball and squash. It is one of the four Gaelic games organized by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). In 2009, Irish Handball was rebranded as GAA Handball.
Handball is played in a court, or “alley”. Originally, an alley measuring 60 feet by 30 feet was used with a front wall of 30 feet, off which the ball must be struck.
A smaller alley was also introduced, measuring 40 feet by 20 feet with a front wall 20 ft high. The first alley of this size was built in Ireland in 1969. This smaller size is now the standard in the international version of the game, but both alleys are still used in the Gaelic game, with two separate championships run by the GAA in the two codes.
The objective of a game is to score a set total of points before your opponent does. Points are only scored by the person serving the ball. In other words, if a player wins a rally but did not serve at the start of that rally they only win the right to serve, and thus the chance to score after a subsequent rally. The serving player has two opportunities to hit the ball, from the “service area” (between the two parallel lines), off the “front wall” and across the “short line” (which is located exactly halfway down the court from the front wall).
Players take turns at hitting the ball off the “front wall” before the ball bounces twice on the floor of the court following their opponent’s previous shot. Most handball games take place in a four-walled court but there are also three-walled and one-wall versions of the game.