HALL OF FAME HANDBALLER JOE WAS A DEVOTED HUSBAND AND FATHER
OBITUARY THE community of Tinahely was saddened to learn of the death of Joe Cleary, Millhouse, recently.
Joe passed away peacefully in Our Lady’s Hospice, Blackrock surrounded by his loving family on June 24.
He was born on 24 March 1941 in his family’s home in Tinahely, one of three children. After leaving school, Joe worked with his father. He also spent much of his time in the Handball alley behind the family’s home honing his skills.
A pivotal moment in his handball career came when the then 12-year-old Joe accompanied the late great Billy Pollard to the All-Ireland Senior Final in Croke Park where he watched his hero, handballer John ‘Bull’ Ryan, play.
Joe would go on to enjoy a long and fruitful handball career. He represented Wicklow in provincial finals from the age of eleven and won his first minor All-Ireland Handball final at the age of 13.
When he was not yet 19, Joe had already won The Kells Gold Medal, 15 county championship medals, six Leinster medals and five All-Ireland titles. He brought Wicklow their first ever minor and junior All-Ireland medals when in 1958 he brought the junior doubles back to the Garden County. He followed this in 1959 when he again won the All-Ireland Minor 60 x 30 Softball Singles Final.
He continued his winning ways in 1969 when he and partner Paddy Lee brought Wicklow its first Senior All-Ireland title since the days of Martin O’Neill and Luke Sherry in 1930 and 1931. He was greeted with a hero’s welcome on his return to Tinahely.
Joe also played football and was captain of the Tinahely Junior team which won the County Championships in 1969.
He met Pauline, the woman who would become his wife, in Murphy’s pub. The couple were engaged after six months. The couple tied the knot in Rathmines in 1966 and started their married life in a rented house in Knockananna.
After three years, they moved into their newly built home in Tinahely where they raised four children – Roisín, Sarah, Deirdre and Robert.
They were married for 53 years and throughout this time, one was rarely seen without the other. Pauline sadly passed away in January 2018.
In 2004, Joe was presented with the FBD Insurance Hall of Fame All Star Award at the FBD Handball All Star Awards.
Joe worked as an overseer with Wicklow County Council for many years until his retirement in 2005. He was also well-known for his love of singing and was a member of the church choir.
It was with great sadness that Joe’s family and friends said their final farewells at Joe’s funeral at St Kevin’s Church, Killaveney. He was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery.
Joe was the beloved husband of the late Pauline and the loving father of Róisín, Sarah, Deirdre and Robert, and grandad of Leah, Katie and Jack. He is sadly missed by his loving family, sisters Kit and Ailish, nieces, nephews, extended family, relatives, neighbours and friends.
The late Joe and Pauline Cleary. RIGHT:Joe with the All-Ireland Cup in 1959.