about this project

Initially assisted by Heritage Council Architecture Research Grants in 2008 and 2009, and from the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust in 2011,
Áine Ryan (architect and spatial planner) undertook to identify the locations of all extant handball alleys in Ireland, and to visit and survey many of them, as part of a research project centred on articulating their architectural and cultural value. This website quickly became a user-generated resource for sharing photographs and stories about handball alleys, with regular contributions over the years from E.Timoney, M.Geogeghan, G.Loughran, S. Ryan & T.J. Ryan. Circa 760 alley locations were identified, circa 350 visited, circa 50 surveyed and 20 included in set of typology drawings.

After a lull of some years, the website was reinstated in September 2018 with the assistance of Victoria Fadden. Enda Timoney continues to visit the remaining alley locations on the list. Áine Ryan is gradually adding the information sent by email over the past few years. Longer term aims include a downloadable list of locations.

Although celebrated as one of few vernacular building typologies indigenous to Ireland, this celebration is arguably casual, as little is actually know about the handball alley: for example, that the striking typology of the alley evolved over at least 200 years with many regional variations and sub-typologies; that it formalised particular social practices passed on through generations; that it physically ‘marked’ sites of enormous local significance; that it was in essence the first formal secular social space in Ireland.

Though the alley is regarded first and foremost by the handball community, and also by the architecture and artist community for its aesthetic qualities, lay audiences who tend to increasingly regard the alleys as eyesores and unsafe places. In the context of their increasing demolition and decay, Áine Ryan's research on the handball alleys trys to tell the collective story of the alleys in an objective and unbiased manner, in order to enable more informed decision-making as to their fate, by local communities and government bodies alike.

This work has been profiled in some depth, or mentioned, in the following media. To learn more about the aims and aspirations of this research, please follow the links below:

Newspaper articles
February 2011

January 2010

September 2008

Radio Interviews
October 2018
Limerick Community Radio, John O'Carroll interview with Enda Timoney

June 2009
RTE Radio 1 Derek Mooney Show

June 2009
Tipperary Midwest Radio Seamus King Show

August 2008
Kildare FM

August 2008
Clare FM

April 2009
Building of the Month feature National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

June 2008
We Love Irish Handball Alleys, post on landscape design blog
post picked up by similar blogs http://www.johndan.com/workspace/?p=1226 and http://covblogs.com/eatingbark/archives/2009/06/irish_handball_alleys.html

Royal Irish Academy Volumes on Art and Architecture of Ireland

October 2011
2nd edition Atlas of Rural Irish Landscape

April/May 2009
History Ireland Magazine

Academic Seminars and Conferences
July 2011
paper at New Light on Vernacular Architecture conference, University of Liverpool, Isle of Man

April 2011
talk in Stadtlabor Summer Semester Series 2011, Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt University, Berlin

September 2010
paper at Sports History Ireland Conference, Mater Dei, Dublin

November 2009
poster accepted for Architectural Humanities Research Association conference on Field/Work

June 2009
paper at PE PAYS conference, University of Limerick

March 2009
paper at UCD Architecture Department Research Seminar Series

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