Death of Legendary Handballer Roundy McEllistrim

December 16th, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

Roundy and Murty, Murty and Roundy, what ever way you phrase it the names just roles off the tongue with ease and softness. The McEllistrim brother from Ballymacelligott, two of the greatest handballer players this county has ever produced, two exemplary gentlemen, and now there is just one. Roundy was laid to rest in Clogher graveyard last Tuesday week December 9th under a deep dark grey December sky as the bitter north wind and driving rain attacked the mourners surrounding his grave. But the talk was not of weather but the greatness of the man to whome they were bidding farewell. Thomas Roundy McEllistrim had won practically every honor the game had to offer, a sport he began playing at the tender age six.

Handball simply ran in their blood, their late father had so very generously donated the site for now superb court which is the center of all activities in Ballymac. You just cannot write about Roundy without including Murty. They were as one on the court, on their day they were simply unbeatable. Murty told me last week they would prepare like professionals, discuss tactics for all opponents and then as he would control affairs from the back of the court Roundy's greatness was displayed as he killed the ball directly off the air destroying their opponents. Roundy was the man who invented the kill off the air.

The sixties was a magnificent decade in Kerry sport, Kingdom sportsmen excelled, winning two senior All Ireland football titles, two minor crowns and one under 21 title while the Kerry hurlers won a historic junior hurling All Ireland title, Kerry cyclists, thrilled the thousands who lined the roads for the Ras Tailteann and basketball was booming in The Kingdom.  But it was the handballers who were the dominant force in the country. Paddy Downey and Jimmy o Brien won a record 5-in-a-row senior softball doubles (1960-64) and they also won in 1955-56 while Paddy the Tralee legend won his second senior softball singles in 1961 and he also captured two more senior hardball championships to add to the two won in the fifties. Willie and Nicky Kerins, Tom Fitzgerald were also prominent names at this time while the Tralee pairing of Billy Myles and Mick Fitzgibbon won All Ireland minor softball doubles ( 1964-65) and added the under twenty one title to their achievements in 1968.

But the brightest bonfire of all blazed for Roundy and Murty in 1966 when in the space of four glorious Sundays the four junior All Ireland titles were captured in Ballymote, Croke Park, Ballyporeen and Kells. It was a feat never previously achieved and will never ever again be equaled. Roundy the supreme stylist and Murty the driving force behind this remarkable partnership swept all before them and were the talk of the handball world. Murty had won the minor title in 1962 signaling the birth of a new star.  He recalled this week, "we were on the road nearly every single weekend as we perused the four titles, our father was brilliant to us and I really don't know how he was able to fork out the money to us every week as we traveled all over the country".

Dominic Lynch the great Glenbeigh handballer of today told me recently. "there is more travelling in handball than probably any other sport and it's very expensive". And so it was with the Ballymac brothers. Their followers thrilled to their exploits as the traversed the country as Murty explained, " we played in such places as, Ballymote, Newport, Roscommon, Kells, Croke Park, Talbots Inch, Ballymore Eustace, Kanturk, Ballypooreen, Tuamgraney, Limerick, Cappagh, Ballypatrick and Horse and Jockey. Roundy was farming at the time and as you can imagine Weeshie it was constant go and as well we were training three or four nights of the week".

With the junior ranks conquered it was then on to senior and in 1968 as Down beat Kerry in the All Ireland final the two brothers now at the pinnacle of their careers won the senior All Ireland senior softball doubles, Croke park was the venue. They added a second in this grade in 1973. Of course the obvious question for the genial Murty when we spoke this week was what Roundy's greatest hour and without a moments hesitation he replied. "Definitely winning of the Gael Linn Trophy in 1967 when he outplayed all opposition. All the best players in the country were in action, the series was televised and it consisted of twenty minute a game, Roundy was and had to be at the peak of fitness. All the legendary names took part, Mickey Walsh, Peader McGee, Paddy Bolingbroke of Mayo, Des Walsh, Marcus Henry, and Eamon Hannon of Sligo, the Lyngs and Seamus Buggy of Wexford, the Meath duo Molloy and McGovern, Kildares Geoghean, Winders and Greg Lawler and of course probably the two greatest of all, Joe Maher of Louth and the man Roundy beat in that Gael Linn final Seamus McCabe of Monaghan.

Roundy and Murty the Ballymac brothers, born and bred surrounded by sporting greatness. Cast a stone in either direction of their home and it might land in the yard of Dan Ahern, cycling great who raced professionally in America (what a amazing story this is), and was once voted the best cyclist in that great country, his brother Pat captained the Kerry juniors to ultimate honors in 1967 and the late Pat played all grades for Kerry and J P Leen played midfield for Kerry in the championship of '66 the year of the lads four wins. And just down the road lives one of Kerrys greatest ever sports men the renowned athlete and former hill running world champion John Lenihan. Is it the air, the breeding or the feeding in Ballymac?

Some years ago I spend a few unforgettable hours in the home of Roundy "The Champ"; we discussed his career from start to finish, ate cold bacon sandwiches and drank fine strong brown mugs of tea, and browsed through old news cuttings and photographs of their careers. Eamon Horan the former outstanding sports writer of this paper and himself an All Ireland minor handballer champion in 1954 and the late Timmy Griffin had done great work in this paper following the triumphant march of the brothers during that period. Kerry has produced some iconic sports men and women and Thomas "Roundy" McEllistrim is right up there with the very best. I was privileged to have known him. To his brother Murty and extended family on behalf of all sports men and women in this county we extend our deepest sympathies.

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