The following article appeared in the March, 2008 edition of The Dubliner magazine.

Anyone for Real Tennis?

To hell with soccer. Let’s hear it for Real Tennis! Here, at last, is some excellent news for fans of the world’s least popular racquet sport. Report by Fergal Browne

Real tennis may soon be played in Ireland for the first time in 69 years. The Dubliner can reveal that “no stumbling blocks” exist to plans to restore a real tennis court beside the National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace.

The game has been played since the 12th Century. King Henry VIII was a fan, and there were 250 courts in Paris alone in 1596. Gradually, however, public interest shifted to lawn tennis, and today the game is principally enjoyed by, eh, oddballs.

Dublin‘s court was built in 1885 as Ireland’s only roofed tennis court, and was used for real tennis until 1939, when the building was bequeathed to the Irish State by Rupert Guinness.

Then-Taoiseach Eamon de Valera was not impressed with the sport. “There’ll be no garrison games in Ireland,” he famously declared. So the court was given to UCD, but it lay dormant for years. In 1998, a planning application was submitted to turn the building into a 320-seat recital hall. This prompted the formation of the Irish Real Tennis Association (IRTA), which lobbied the OPW to restore the court.

The OPW originally supported the move for the recital hall, but came under pressure from the IRTA, which cited the strings attached to Rupert Guinness’ bequeathing of the court: that it be used either for real tennis or by UCD. The university vacated the building last December, and the OPW says it is now “open to the idea” of the court being restored, but just needs a “little more detail” on certain issues.

“The OPW came to realise that real tennis is a very alive game,” says IRTA chairman Michael Bolton. “The enemies [OPW] have now become my friends.”

The IRTA claims to have “roughly” 150 members, while the numbers playing real tennis worldwide are in the thousands, according to Bolton. The Earlsfort Terrace court is famous throughout the real tennis world because of its marble flooring. The only other court in Ireland is an unplayable open-air space on Lambey Island that isn’t open to the public.

Readers of this magazine — and independent minds all over the country — will no doubt be thrilled to hear that this curious pastime is set to be revived in Dublin city centre.

Now, does anyone know the rules?