Deaf Studies student, Cuileann Bourke, recently won the Junior 60×30 Ladies Single Handball All-Ireland, held September 4 in Abbeylara, Longford.
Bourke has played handball since she was eight years old with Belcarra handball club, Co. Mayo, and has previously won five All-Ireland titles with her doubles partner in both the 60×30 and 40×20 courts. Familial involvement in the sport dates back decades, with her grandfather playing out of the same alley in Belcarra in the 1950s.
Bourke wore the green and red of Mayo in Abbeylara, as handballers play for their counties once they progress into the provincial — and later All-Ireland — rounds. The final was a show of force from Bourke, winning both games 21-13 against the talented Mollie Dagg of Kildare.
Much like the other Gaelic games, at adult level handball is divided into grades based on quality, splitting competition into junior, intermediate, and senior. Bourke’s success at junior level means she will now progress to play in the intermediate grade next season. Unlike hurling, Gaelic football, and camogie, however, specific grades exist to cater to those who still wish to play competitively once they’re past their physical prime, with categories such as Over 35s, Silver Masters for age 45+, and Ruby Masters for age 70+.
A truly inclusive sport, handball is also making significant growth internationally; there are opportunities to play in the US, Spain, Holland, England, Mexico, South Africa, and more. The one-wall format in particular (wherein the ball has to bounce in within a line marked on the ground) is growing rapidly. With activity in 33 countries, the World Wallball Association has been formed, and is working towards the aim of securing Olympic status.
Bourke has been a Trinity Sports Scholar since 2020 in recognition of her achievements in the sport, despite a lack of handball activity on campus. College’s first-ever handball alley is not due to open until later this month, and a College handball club has only just been founded this year. As a result of this, she trains with St. Brigids’ in Castleknock during the academic year, whom she is quick to praise, and: “owes so much to Jonathon Westlake and all of the adult players at St. Brigids’ who’ve always welcomed me with open arms.” Fortunately for Bourke, this year there will also be the option of training in the new state-of-the-art National Handball Centre in Croke Park.
Bourke is keen to praise the sports scholarship scheme, stating that the support she receives is “second to none.” She’s also enthusiastic about the establishment of the club and alley here in College. As well as providing a more convenient base for existing student handballers, she thinks it has immense potential to attract new players into the sport and encourage existing players to see College as an exciting option to continue their career in the game.
With handball still a forgotten sibling of Gaelic games, the sport certainly needs all the support it can get. Rising stars such as Bourke, however, ensure the game is in safe hands, and her legacy will surely do wonders for the game in College and beyond for years to come.