100 years of North Tipperary Handball
Handball is one of our ancient Irish games played by our forefathers dating back to the Tailteann games some 1800 years before the Christian era. The game has extended to many countries and is played in places today such as America , Canada , Mexico , France , Spain , Holland , England & Wales . There is little recorded of Handball back through the ages . The earliest known records appear in the town Statutes of Galway in 1527 ordering people to stop playing handball against the walls there and the earliest depiction is a painting by John Nixon in 1785 of " Castleblaney" which shows Handball being played against the castle wall and it can be seen in Monaghan County Museum.
In The 1800,s Handball was played in almost every village in Ireland. Good players travelled around the Country and played for purses and drew big crowds to see the games . One such player was William Baggs from Tipperary. He was unbeatable and was the Irish Professional Champion from 1870 - 1880. Such players gave the game a great boost as top players from all over Ireland came to challenge them and top games took place in the most unlikely of venues.
Handball was included in the G.A.A. charter from its foundation but it was much later that it came under the direct control of the G.A.A.
At the North Tipperary G.A.A. Convention in Nenagh on June 6th 1906 it was decided to foster the "Fine old Irish pastime" of handball by starting Championships under Association rules. Teams of 6 players could be entered and a set of solid silver medals would be presented to the winning team. By close of entries on July the 15th ten teams had entered. Lahorna & Youghalarra qualified for the final which took place in Dromineer. The Youghalarra team of Ger Mc. Donnell John Mc. Grath, Ned Ryan, Martin O'Brien, Mike Ryan & team Captain Dan Flaherty had an easy victory in the final. Youghalarra handball team were unbeatable at this time and went on to win the North team Championship in 1910,1911, & 1912. Other prominent players in the club were Frank Mc.Grath, Pat Mc.Grath, Martin Ryan, Ben Barry, the O'Meara,s , O'Briens & Smithwicks.
Teams to take part in the Handball Championships at this time were Youghalarra, Portroe, Lorrha, Ballinderry,
Nenagh Shamrocks & Borrisokane. At that time the cost of Handball medals for the Handball Championships was £1 - 10 - 0 .
Handball & G.A.A. games in general went through a lean spell with the political situation in the country. In 1923 the Handball Championships were resumed & eight teams entered.
The Draw for the Championships were :
Nenagh 1 V Moneygall 1
Moneygall 2 V Roscrea
Youghalarra V Nenagh
Lahorna V Dunkerrin
The two Nenagh teams met in the final.
By the end of 1923 a Handball league championship was announced and another Club Coolagorna entered.
By 1924 Handball was slowly getting organised at County & Provincial level . The Irish Amateur Handball Association was formed to run Championships on a properly organised basis. In 1925 a Munster Provincial council was formed and a County Board in Tipperary shortly followed. The 1st County Chairman was P.Mc.Grath from Nenagh & the Secretary was W. Meaghar from Toomevara. By 1927 we had singles & Doubles County championships.
At the 1928 North Convention it was revealed that the income from handball was as follows: Affiliation fees Eight Shillings (40p) Gate receipts Twenty three Shillings (£1.15) & Travelling expenses & handballs £10-8-0 (£10.4o)
By 1928 only three teams were affiliated 2 from Roscrea & 1 from Nenagh. Although Handball was played in many places no championship games were played by November 28th of that year.
A singles championship was fixed for Borrisokane for December 9th. The draw was Nenagh 1 v Roscrea & Nenagh 2 v Lorrha. The final did not take place until January 20th 1929 where Nenagh won out to become the 1928 champions.
Clubs like Lorrha who never aspired to county or National titles were to take part in Championships from the early 1900's to their last partisipation in 1955. The Ballcourt in Lorrha was built in the ruins of the Church of the Augustinian Monastery . Many players such as the Cronins Mahons, Bretts, Needhams, and many more were to be seen taking part in local competitions over the years. Sonny Ryan & Johnny Abbott won a North Tipperary Junior Doubles Championship.
An excellent photograph exists of the Lorrha Handball Club members of 1911.
Handball had by 1928 taken on an International status with games arranged between England, Scotland & Ireland. Inter Provincial team championships were also held.
In 1930 a decision taken at the Annual handball convention to abolish the Provincial Councils had a serious effect on the promotion of handball and it was not until 1950 when the Councils were revived that Handball began to progress.
The 1930's saw the Nenagh Club start off a glorious era of All-Ireland honours. The Court situated in Silver Street saw the first All Ireland title come to the St Mary's club in the form of Joe Hassett winning the Junior Softball Singles in 1930. Joe partnered by his brother Ned went on to win a record 5 All-Ireland Senior doubles titles in a row from 1934 - 1938.
In 1937 Joe Hassett partnered by Michael O'Gorman won the Junior Hardball Doubles All-Ireland title. In 1937 Michael O'Gorman partnered by Joe Bergin won the Junior Softball All-Ireland doubles.
Michael O'Gorman won the Junior Softball singles All-Ireland in 1935.
In 1934 a handball Court was built in Ballina and although handball was played in various places such as The Station house & the against the Bakery wall this was the first time a Club was formed in the parish. The Court was opened with an exhibition game between The Ayres brothers from Nenagh & Paddy Mulcahy & Anthony Collins from Ballina. Top players at the time in Ballina were Tom Manly, John Joe Gleeson, Matt Rohan, Mick Mc.Carthy , Paddy Mulcahy & the Collins brothers Connie & Anthony.
The Following year in 1935 Ballina won their first championship when they won the North Tipperary team of six.
In 1936 Connie & Anthony Collins won the County Junior doubles title . They were invited in to take part in a Tournament in the Edward St. courts in Limerick which they won but they were suspended by the County board following an objection by the Shamrock Club in nenagh for taking part in that tournament. The County board selected Joe Bergin & Michael O'Gormon to take their place in the championship and they went on to win out the All Ireland Junior Doubles that year. Connie & Anthony came back after suspension and trained with the Hassett brothers in Nenagh and went on to win the Junior doubles All-Ireland in 1938 bringing the first All - Ireland title to the Club. The following year they met the Hassett brothers in the senior doubles County final in what is said to have been the greatest game of handball ever played. The Ballina pair were to cause a major shock by winning the final and thus putting to an end the Hassetts great run of five All-Ireland titles in a row.
Connie and Anthony reached the All-Ireland final but were beaten by J.J.Gilmartin & Jesper Dunne from Kilkenny. Connie won the Army All-Ireland doubles title that year and was runner up in the singles final. Connie won Army all-Ireland titles in Doubles & singles in 1948 & runners up again in singles in 1952.
Nenagh Players were still a dominant force at national level and in 1940 & 1941 Paddy Kennedy & Jackie Sweeney won the Minor softball doubles two years in a row. In 1941 John Rice & Michael Mc.Mahon won the Junior softball All-Ireland title. After a two year break from handball the Collins brothers from Ballina made a comeback in 1942 in the Senior doubles and playing their best handball ever won out the county Championship. They reached the All-Ireland final where they were opposed by Sligo. This was an unique final as all four Players were from North Tipperary as Joe & Stephen Bergin (Nenagh) had declared for Sligo. The Ballina brothers came out on top to win the Senior All-Ireland title. That year Anthony went on to win the All-Ireland Challenge Trophy. Top Juveniles at this time were Colm Quigley & Jack Collins.
In 1945 Michael o' Gorman Nenagh won the Junior hardball singles and in 1949 Denis Carey & Paddy Kennedy won the Junior softball doubles & Paddy Kennedy won the Junior hardball singles. Joe Bergin & Jackie Sweeney went on to win two Senior Softball titles in 1949 & 1950 & Joe also won the Senior singles title in 1950.
In 1947 Connie Collins partnered by his younger brother Jack won the County Senior title and reached the All-Ireland final. Jack injured his hand a week prior to the final and tipperary failed to get the final postponed. Connie and Jack were narrowly beaten in the final by J.O'Rourke & J.Bergin.
Joe Bergin was the National Handball President from 1953 - 1955.
In 1954 Connie Collins defeated Joe Bergin in The Senior Singles County final and this was the last Senior title to come to the Ballina Club. North Tipperary had to wait until 1959 for the next All-Ireland when Connie Cleere from Nenagh partnered by John Cleary from Tipp Town won the Minor Hardball doubles All-Ireland.
The Following year Connie partnered by his brother Tommy won the Junior Hardball Doubles . Connie partnered by Paddy Hickey Clogheen won the Senior Hardball doubles All-Irelands in 1968 & 1972. In 1961 Michael Murphy Ballina reached the All-Ireland minor final but was beaten by Dick Lyng Wexford in the final. In 1966 Juvenile handball received a big boost when the first All-!reland Juvenile Championships were held under the auspices of the Willwood Tailteann foundation. Anthony Carey from Ballina won the U.16 All-Ireland singles title beating Pat Murphy of Wexford in the final. Anthony Partnered by Paddy Kelly also won the U16 Doubles All-Ireland . Geddy mc.Keogh & Joe Kelly reached the All-Ireland final in U14 but were beaten by Mickey Walsh & A.Jameson of Roscommon. Ballina players won many North & county titles at this time & some prominent players were Mossy Darcy,Michael Kelly, Pat Mulcahy,Michael mc.Keogh, Noel Collins, Connie Collins, John Riordan, Gerome Riordan, Careys,Fitzgeralds& Murphy's.
Handball facilities were to improve with courts covered and lights to enable play in bad weather and at night time. Instead of helping to promote the game it had the opposite effect as handball was now gone indoors and hidden away from public view. Gone were the gatherings after Mass to watch the locals show off their many skills and a part of parish life disappeared just like the crossroads & platform dances.
Ballina handball court was roofed in 1972 and Lahorna was to follow soon after in 1974.
Newport a club founded around 1914 and although many fine games were played at local level success at County level and beyond was a long time coming. In 1972 Fr John O'Connell who was Chairman of the North Tipperary Board at the time was very active in promoting Juvenile handball in Newport. This good work was to bear fruit when Cristy Pratt & Martin Kennedy Won the U12 Doubles All-Ireland. They reached the U12 final again in 1973 only to be beaten. In 1975 the won the U14 Munster final but were beaten in the All-Ireland Semi-Final.
Nenagh had seen the end of the Court in Silver St. And the famed St. Mary's Club and handball was revived with the building of the CBS alley at John St. on the 26th Feb. 1977. This was a 40x20 court and exhibition were played between the Army champions from the 13th Battalion in Limerick & Connie & Anthony Collins from Ballina. In 1978 Silvermines under Club chairman Michael O'Brien decided to erect a 40x20 court in Dolla and the official opening was on the 19th of October 1980.
Juvenile handball continued to be very strong in Ballina and with fine work done by Michael Mc.Keogh, Paddy O'Brien, Geddy Mc.Keogh & Tony Mc.Inerney Juvenile County ,Provincial & All-Ireland Titles soon followed. Michael Ryan won the U12 Singles title in 1971. John Ryan & Timmy Collins won Silver in U12 Doubles and in 1978 Brendan Ryan & Willie Bourke reached the All-Ireland final in U13 Doubles. In 1983 Martin Mc.Inerney Reached the All-Ireland final in U12 Doubles. In 1980 & again in 1982 Geddy Mc.Keogh & Michael Gleeson reached the All-Ireland final in the Novice 40x20 Doubles but they had to settle for runner up on both occasions. In 1985 Martin Mc.Inerney partnered by Declan White from Cashel won the U14 Doubles 60x30 All-Ireland final. Two years later Martin went on to win the U16 Singles 40x20 All-Ireland.
The Lahorna which Dates back to 1901 had many good players over the years but were still to make an impact at National level . In 1988 Vincent O'Shea won the Masters 60x30 B Singles . Vincent partnered Mick Tyrell from Clonmel and went on to win the Masers B Doubles the same year.
Many fine officers served on the North & County board during these years and done a lot of work to promote Handball . Sean Lee Pat Cleary, Tony Mc.Inerney,Michael o'Brien, John Gleeson ,Tony Mc.Inerney , Vincent O'Shea , Denis Gleeson , Frank Shanahan and many more worked tirelessly to keep the game alive in North Tipperary. Tom Ahearne was Ballina Club chairman, County Chairman & Munster Council Chairman from 1981-1984.
In 1990 Jim Ryan from Silvermines won the 40x20 Masters B Singles All-Ireland title. Tony O' Flaherty & Pat O' Flaherty from Youghalarra won the 60x30 Novice doubles All-Ireland. Ballina club elected a new Committee and they set about upgrading the Court to National standards. Chairman Paddy Collins , Secretary Margaret Coleman & Treasurer Geddy Mc.Keogh with the help of Club Members and local tradesmen had a new lighting system and the walls raised and soon North ,County ,Provincial & All-Ireland finals were hosted by the Club. By 1992 Majella Grace was elected as Secretary of the Club and the introduction of a parish Fas scheme over the next few years was to have a major influence on Ballina & Tipperary Juvenile handball throughout the 90's. Coaching could now take place after National school and coaches Pat Gleeson ,Christina Hickey, Gloria Mc.Koegh & Michael Collins joined the existing club coaches and Ballina soon became one of the top Juvenile Clubs in the Country. Pat Gleeson was elected County Juvenile coach and had a huge influence on Juvenile Handball in the County at this time.
Roscrea a Club that had competed since the late 1900's was to at last bring back a National title when Sean Lee won the 60x30 Silver Masters B singles title. Roscrea had many players such as the Lees, Mc.Quaids & Nash's but one of the best known was the gentleman of North Tipperary handball Paddy Mc.Quaid.
Sean Lee was one of the few recognised National Coaches at this time.
In 1992 Ballina won the Collins Shield , The Shamrock Trophy & the Novice team of six the first time a Club had won all three in the same year. In 1993 a long awaited All-Ireland came to the Club when Geddy Mc.Keogh partnered by Ken Conway from Clonmel won the Masters B Doubles 60x30 title.
In 1994 Tipperary U12-U13 team won the All-Ireland title and the team included North players David Collins, David Hickey, & Noel Moroney from Ballina & Brian Darcy & Shane Spillane from Nenagh.
In 1994 Ballina entered the Community games and they brought back silver medals . The team was D.Collins, K.Kennedy, P.Grace, D.Hickey, S.Hickey & N.Moroney . The following year both Girls U13 & Boys U13 Brought back Gold medals from the Community Games. The Girls team was T.Coonan, A.Hickey, M.Coleman, M.Hickey, A.Horan, & N.Moroney. The Boys team was K.Kennedy, P.Grace, E.Mc.Keogh, N.Moroney, D.Hickey & S.Hickey.
1995 also saw Tipperary win the Team U12-U13 60x30 All-Ireland. The team consisted of D.Hickey , N.Moroney, S.Hickey, K.Kennedy & P.Grace from Ballina, B.Darcy from Nenagh & D.Egan from Silvermines . Connie Collins Jnr. Ballina & Jim Ryan from Silvermines won the 60x30 Silver Masters B Doubles All-Ireland. The Following year in 1996 Paul Coleman won the U17 40x20 All-Ireland title. Paul then Travelled to Belfast and won the Golden Gloves competition . Geddy Mc.Keogh Ballina & Vincent O'Shea Lahorna won the All-Ireland Silver Masters A 60x30 Doubles All-Ireland. Mark Flynn from Silvermines won the Junior Hardball Singles All-Ireland.
1997 was to see Ballina Juveniles continue their great success . This was to be their best year ever . In the u15 All-Ireland 40x20 doubles David Hickey & Noel Moroney won the all-Ireland final. Pat Gleeson coached another County team to success when the U12-U13 team of G.Coonan, E.Mc.Keogh, N.Collins, & G.O'Brien from Ballina & Shane Mc.Grath from Ballinahinch won out the All-Ireland. 3 teams from Ballina qualified for the Community Games finals & brought back 12 Gold & 6 silver medals from the Games. The Girls U13 Gold winners were M.Coleman, A Hickey, M.Hickey, K.Collins, N.Moroney, & A.Horan. Boys u.13 silver winners were G.Coonan, G.O'Brien, N.Collins, E.Mc.Keogh, A.Kennedy & E.Sheehy. Boys U15 gold winners D.Hickey, K.Kennedy, S.Hickey, N.Moroney, P.Grace & T.Manly.
In 1997 Paddy Gleeson from Lahorna won the Emerald Masters B singles. 1n 1998 Ballina Girls were to bring back all-Ireland honours when Tracy Coonan & Aisling Horan won the girls U14 60x30 All-Ireland final beating Roscommon in Roscommon. Tracy & Aisling were narrowly beaten in the 40x20 final in Croke Park. Michael Gleeson & Michael Collins won the 60x30 Master B Doubles All-Ireland . In the Community Games Ballina girls team of Tracy Coonan, Aisling Horan, Marian Coleman & Sarah Conroy won Bronze medals. Ballina entered Feile na Gael & Ger Coonan won the Skills competition.
In 1999 Mick Fitzpatrick Ballina won the Emerald masters B singles 60x30 All-Ireland.
In Community Games Ballina once again brought home Gold medals when the Boys U13 team of G.Coonan, D.Gleeson, D.Kennedy, F.Collins, & Thomas Grace were winners.
Ger Coonan represented Ireland in the European 1 Wall finals held in Dungarvan where the Irish team won out and were crowned European champions. The Gael Linn Cup once one of the top senior competitions in the Country was now for the U13 Mixed Doubles All-Ireland. Ger Coonan & Karen Collins Reached the All-Ireland final in this competition played in O'Loughlins in Kilkenny but were narrowly beaten in the final. In the first Gael Linn Final for the same Cup 45 years previous Karen,s Grandfather Connie Collins was also runner up and received a replica of the cup that year.
Martin Maher Silvermines partnered by Billy Mc.Carthy from Ballyporeen won the Silver masters B Doubles All-Ireland. Ger Coonan reached the All-Ireland semi-final in U14 Singles. Karen Collins & Declan Kennedy won the Munster U.12 Doubles final and were selected along with Marian Coleman & Danielle O'Connell Hollyford in U14 Girls to give exhibition games before the All-Ireland Senior Doubles finals in Croke Park.
Ballina travelled to Feile na Gael in Wexford and Ger Coonan won the Feile Skills for the second year in a row. Ladies Handball continued to prosper with Marian Coleman reaching the All-Ireland Final in U14 60x30 Singles. In 40x20 Doubles Marian partnered by Siobhan Doherty from Silvermines reached the All-Ireland in U15 doubles. In U16 Singles Tracy Coonan Reached the All-Ireland semi -Final & Cliona Collins reached the All-Ireland semi-Finals in U17 singles. Karen Collins won her 3rd Munster Title in a row in both 40x20 & 60x30 singles.
The year 2000 was to see more National titles coming to North Tipperary. In Master B Doubles 40x20 Tony Flaherty & Pat Griffin Youghalarra beat Tom Mc.Guire & Ambrose Tohill from Antrim in the All-Ireland final played in Ballymoreustace. In the Diamond Masters B Doubles Pat Cleary Lahorna & Boysie Hogan from Nenagh beat Frank Vaughan & Brian Kilcommons from Roscommon in the All-Ireland final. Boysie reached the Diamond Masters B singles final but was beaten by Sean Mc.Atee in the final. Eddie Sheerin & Dave Slattery from Lahorna reached the All-Ireland final in the Emerald Masters B doubles but lost to Monaghan in the final. Boysie Hogan & Willie Maher Lahorna reached the All-Ireland final in the Diamond Masters B doubles. Eddie Sheerin Lahorna won the All-Ireland Emerald Masters B Singles where he beat Brendan Carey from Sligo . Marion Coleman Ballina & Danielle O'Connell Hollyford reached the U15 40x20 doubles final and although seemed to be coasting to a win lost out in a tie break 11-8 to Roscommon. Marion Coleman & Tracy Coonan Reached the All-Ireland semi-Final in U16 60x30 Doubles & Cliona Collins reached the All-Ireland semi-Final in U17 singles. Karen Collins & Hannah Simons reached the All-Ireland semi finals in U14 Doubles where they were beaten by Carlow in the 3rd. game.
In Feile na Gael Ballina won the boys 60x30 title with a very young team of Ger Coonan, Declan Kennedy, Anthony Kennedy, & Fergal Collins.
Ger Coonan set a new record in Feile 60x30 skills winning the title 3 years in a row. The girls Feile team travelled to Tyrone & Karen Collins won Silver in the Skills . Ger was also awarded the Cidona Award for Handball for his achievements. Great credit to the Club & his Coach Connie Collins.
Tipperary Officials were to referee the Top handball 60x30 finals . Paddy Collins from Ballina refereed the Senior Singles final between Michael 'Ducksy' Walsh Kilkenny & Kenneth Kane from Carlow. Paddy was presented with a special plaque by President Mary Mc. Aleese after the final. Ken Conway from Clonmel refereed the Senior Doubles All-Ireland final.
The present North Tipperary Board consists of Chairman Tommy Mulcahy Nenagh, V.Chairman Joe O'Halloran Thurles, Secretary Paddy Collins Ballina, P.R.O. Boysie Hogan Nenagh. The Clube Affiliated to the North Handball Board are Ballina , Nenagh, Silvermines, Youghalarra, Lahorna, Ballinahinch, Hollyford, Thurles. The championships run by the Board include Juveniles ,Novice ,Junior ,Masters & Team competitions. The Collins Shield was presented to the North Board in 1966 to promote Novice players and the Shamrock Trophy was presented by the Nenagh Club to promote beginners. The present courts in NorthTipperary are in 60x30 Thurles, Ballina, Lahorna,Hollyford, Roscrea.
The Court in Hollyford was first built in 1951 when the Club was founded and side walls and back Wall built on in 1960. In 1991 the Alley was roofed & lighting and a new floor put down. The Thurles Court Built in 1984 is the Top 60x30 court in the Country. Although the Club had great potential in the early days it is sad to see a top facility like this not fully been utilised.
Courts in 40x20 are Nenagh,Dolla,Kilcoleman,Ballinahinch,Moneygall,
Templederry,Puckane. Its sad to see some of these courts in bad repair as Handball courts are in great demand especially for Championship games and training. Hopefully G.A.A. clubs with no handball club would make the courts available for games and this might help to promote the game in their Courts. There are many old open courts throughout the Division in Various stages of disrepair.
To Cover Handball played in North Tipperary for either pleasure or in competition for the last 100 years would take many volumes and tell many wonderful stories of how it was part of life in almost every Parish. This brief account may stir up many memories and we may get back some lost history & photographs that will grace some future accounts of our ancient Game.
The game of Handball was described at the beginning of the Century as a test of strength, stamina & above all
skill. It is a beautiful combination of safe bodily & mental exercise - the eye sees, the mind directs & the hand executes. There is scarcely a muscle of the body but gets healthful exercise.
Let us Hope that the next 100 years will bring as much pleasure & enjoyment as the last has done.
A song written by Arthur Ainger in 1897 best depicts the game of Handball
Smooth and Square and dry the wall
White elastic around the ball
Two on that side, two on this
Two hands each to hit or miss
What more need one possess
For good hours of happiness
Send the service slow and high
Hold your tongue and mind your eye
Turn and twist , duck and dance
Volley when you see your chance
Hit them hard and hit them low
And your score will upwards go
Aces after aces get
Shun the unprogressive let
Slowly, surely onward crawl
Set the game at twenty all
Hinder call not honour but
Honour gained by mouth well shut
From the moment you begin
Do your level best to win
Cheer your partner wipe your shoes
Keep your temper, win or lose
If you miss , don't be vexed
Bad luck this time, better next
Oft you think that after all
What is life ? - a game of ball
Partners to their partners true
Courteous to their rivals too
Here and there alike the aim
In the end to win the game
Let handball its lessons teach
Hit all balls within your reach
If you fail and feel the pain
Don't abuse your rivals gain
Everyone can win who tries
For the effort is the prize
History compiled by Paddy Collins