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about this project

Initially assisted by Heritage Council Architecture Research Grants in 2008 and 2009, and by 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 signifcant contributions over the years from E. Timoney, P. Fitzpatrick, M. Geogeghan, G. Loughran, N. Mac Dermott, S. Ryan, R. Ryan & T.J. Ryan.

After a lull of some years, the website was revived in September 2018 with the assistance of Victoria Fadden. Photographs of approx. 430 alleys can be viewed here; these are arranged by county and under some keywords. Enda Timoney continues to actively search out other alleys on the list of approx. 850 locations gathered by the project. Once completed, a downloadable list of the alley locations will be made available.

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 social practices - of everyday exchange, of political resistance, of collective expression – passed on through generations; and in doing so, that it ‘marked’ sites of enormous local significance otherwise not included on any map or depiction of the rural settlement structure in Ireland.
Although the alleys are cherished by older generations of the handball community who played and socialised in them, and appreciated by the architecture and artist community for their striking form and aesthetic quality, many people tend to 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.

The project has been profiled over the years in the following media.

Newspaper articles

February 2011

January 2010

September 2008
This Handball is no Racquet

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,668,en.htm

June 2008
We Love Irish Handball Alleys, post on landscape design blog
post picked up by similar blogs and


forthcoming: Atlas of Irish Sport

Royal Irish Academy Volumes on Art and Architecture of Ireland
Volume IV Architecture 1600-2000 – Rolf Loeber, Hugh Campbell, Livia Hurley, John Montague and Ellen Rowley

October 2011
2nd edition Atlas of Rural Irish Landscape, .H.A. Aalen, Kevin Whelan and Matthew Stout

April/May 2009
History Ireland Magazine

Academic Seminars and Conferences

since October 2019
Associated researcher at Technische Universität Berlin - Bauhaus Universität Weimar research cluster 'Identität und Erbe'

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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