Arguably the most emblematic sport of the Basques is pelota in its many varieties, one of which, Jai-Alai, was especially popular in the United States at the close of the twentieth century. Another variety, played with tennis racquets by women, was also popular in the twentieth century, from the 1910s to the 1980s. One of the leading raquetistas of her generation, Irene Ibaibarriaga Ormaetxea, was born in Ermua, Bizkaia, on February 9, 1918.

She learned the sport in nearby Eibar, one of the strongholds of Basque pelota and at the age of fifteen she moved to Madrid, where her older sister Pili played professionally, to begin a career in the sport. She was offered a contract to play professionally in the Americas but turned down the opportunity and, despite her career suffering as a result of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), she still managed to make a living from the sport, playing in tournaments in Valencia, Barcelona, and later Donostia, often playing doubles with her sister. Later in her career she suffered a serious injury when a ball damaged her ear. She subsequently retired from the sport.

In 2013, a special tribute was paid to her on the occasion of the 7th Women’s Pelota Day held in Irura, Gipuzkoa. Ibaibarriaga died in 2014 at the age of ninety-six.

Check out Olatz Gonzalez Abrisketa’s Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.