Lindsay Pennycook Founder of the Irish Olympic Handball Association

It was with deep sadness that the Board of the Irish Olympic Handball Association learned today of the death of Lindsay Pennycook.

Fintan Lyons, President of the IOHA provides a personal reflection on his old friend and former teacher and mentor, Lindsay Pennycook who died on the 3rd of November surrounded by his loving wife and family.
“Dear handball friends,
We mourn the passing of our founder and sporting mentor Lindsay Pennycook. Lindsay will be sorely missed not just in Ireland, but also in Scotland, England and across Europe where he was known and respected by handball people connected with Ireland.
I can do no more than touch on a period of Lindsay’s life, his life spanned so much more than this short reflection can convey but I feel it’s a good place to start to understand how a gifted individual came into our lives and had such a long and positive influence on our sport and on his adopted country.
Lindsay moved to Ireland in 1973 to teach Physical Education at Tallaght Community School (2nd level) where I was a pupil. Tallaght was a new town on the outskirts of Dublin which rapidly expanded throughout the next 3 decades, but in the 70’s it was still a very new place full of young people bursting with energy and trying to find their place in the world. Into this world stepped a man who would lead us on a journey that would shape our lives and influence our entire community for a generation. Thanks to Lindsay Pennycook, Tallaght became the birthplace of handball in Ireland and the place where handball has a 40 year continuous history to the present day.
Lindsay was a very popular teacher and a great athlete. He was a champion 110m hurdler in Scotland and he became the Irish champion within a couple of years of moving to Ireland. He was also playing handball at an international level at the time – he was the goalkeeper for Scotland and Great Britain.
Lindsay was keen to maintain his place on the British squad and we had a sports hall which was a good start but we had no goals. So Lindsay persuaded the woodwork teacher to take on a project to build a set of dismountable wooden handball goals. We built the first set of handball goals in Ireland to Lindsay’s design in the school workshop. After that he showed us how to shoot in PE class with the intention of getting in some practise for himself to keep his own skills up. We were so enthusiastic for the sport that he continued to train us up and that’s really where it all began for handball in Ireland.
From the outset Lindsay was more than just a teacher to us. He was a mentor and inspirational leader who gave unselfishly of his time and energy to help direct an unruly and ill disciplined bunch of young men and girls into eventually learning not only how to play a new sport, but how to referee, coach, set up and run the first clubs. Not forgetting the small matter of a new National Sporting Association.
One of my classmates Ray Langley (sadly deceased some years now) helped Lindsay to establish the Irish Olympic Handball Association in 1975.
In the late 70’s after completing his Leaving Certificate Ray went on to study Zoology at University College Galway where he soon founded the Galway University handball club. Peter Caulfield, now EHF delegate and Board member of the IOHA was one of Ray’s first batch of recruits for the University team.
We all subsequently played together in the Irish Men’s teams in the 4 Nations Tournaments in the 1980’s and early 1990’s against Scotland, England and Wales.
By the mid 80’s we had teams at every level and all the major universities in Ireland were playing in our Leagues. Lindsay was instrumental in establishing many of the teams in that period, encouraging and cajoling people to get on board, he was very persuasive.
In 1980 Lindsay authored the first English language training manual for handball with Robin Sykes – Olympic Handball, The Complete Training Guide for Teachers and Coaches was a major achievement for Lindsay and was specifically written for beginners new to the sport. It was an important contribution to the development of the sport in Ireland.
During the 1980’s Ireland went into recession and unemployment was very high for many years. We lost many of our 3rd level handball playing graduates to emigration. Here is where Lindsay linked handball to another of his great passions, social justice. This was a constant theme in Lindsay’s life, he loved people and thought everyone should have a chance in life.
Sport in this case handball was enlisted as a force for social good and in 1985, Lindsay and I established a new initiative with a government funded programme to teach handball to children and youth in disadvantaged areas in Dublin. The aim was to build confidence and socialise people through team sport. The programme was a great success and many thousands of young people from 12 to 18 years played handball in our local leagues for many years.
Lindsay came up with several successful strategies to develop the sport in Ireland and one of these was Mini-handball which became very popular in primary schools throughout the country. It was through one such training session for teachers that our very own Tom O’Brannagáin was inspired to take up handball. Lindsay was Tom’s first coach and he showed early potential and huge enthusiasm and energy. Like Lindsay, Tom is a teacher and his easy manner with people of all ages, his commitment and work ethic were inspired by his coach and friend. Tom went on to play for the Irish Mens team. He became captain and eventually Coach.
By the mid 90’s the Handball Association was on a steady path for growth and in 1995 Lindsay stepped down from the board of the IOHA to pursue a career in Sports Coaching for young people at the Inchicore Institute of Further Education in Dublin. He continued to introduce young people to handball and organise college competitions until his retirement last year.
Lindsay was a true sportsman (in the best sense of the meaning) fair minded, hard working and dedicated to his team mates and his country – although in Lindsay’s case that was a little more complicated since he straddled Scotland and Ireland – I think it’s fair to say he saw the deeper connection and defined himself as a Celt, able to share in the tragedies and triumphs of both places.
Lindsay Pennycook was a devoted father and husband, a wonderful teacher and great human being. He devoted many years of his life to the development of handball and succeeded in establishing the Irish Olympic Handball Association almost 40 years ago. He inspired many people to join him in developing handball in Ireland and there is a long list of people who will be saddened by his going so soon.
Lindsay left the world better than he found it, not many of us have a chance to say that, although he would have been the last to admit it or seek recognition. His vision was of a sport for all, a true idealist with a passion for his fellow man, whether in Ireland, Scotland or further afield.
Its fair to say that I literally grew up with Lindsay and he helped to shape me and many others along the way. I feel privileged to have walked some of the way with him and I hope his ideals and his long list of achievements will continue to inspire us all into the future.
I know I speak for all in the IOHA when I say we will miss Lindsay but that his legacy will live on in our competitions and our joy at being able to share our sport with young people throughout Ireland, North and South. That is the best way to honour his memory.”
Fintan J. Lyons
President IOHA
8th November 2014

Ar dheis Dé go rabh a anam