Gilmartin, John Joe (‘Gil’) (1914–80), handball player, was born 9 June 1914 at Maudlin St., Kilkenny city, son of Joseph Gilmartin, printer for the Kilkenny Moderator, and Martina Gilmartin (née McNally). His uncle, Joe McNally of Westport, Co. Mayo, won the All-Ireland softball handball singles title in 1928, and Gilmartin was a precocious talent. A fierce competitor, ‘Gil’ was a member of the Talbot's Inch club in his native Kilkenny and first came to national prominence when winning the national junior hardball title in 1935. In a twelve-year period (1936–47) he won a then record twenty-four All-Ireland senior medals. His first Dr Harty Cup (senior hardball) title for hardball was won against Paddy Bell in Terenure (1936), and from that day he never lost a hardball singles match. In 1938 he became the first person to hold the senior hardball and softball titles at the same time, and his dominance was confirmed when in 1939 he won the senior softball and hardball singles and doubles titles. He won five successive doubles titles (1937–41) with various partners. His continued success was more remarkable because he suffered an accident in 1938 that resulted in his breaking his collarbone and caused deafness in his left ear. This often led him to ask the score repeatedly, which was sometimes misinterpreted by spectators as his questioning of the umpire. Regarded by many as the greatest Irish handballer of all time with a lightning service and strong off both hands, he was never afforded the opportunity to compete for the world handball championship, due to the outbreak of war.
In 1942 he won another singles title and then emigrated to England. The following year, he was again involved in a serious accident that threatened to end his playing career when a lorry he was driving collided with another on a foggy night in 1943; he suffered a broken neck and severe spinal injuries, and it was not until 1944 that he was back playing handball again. Against the odds he was selected by the Kilkenny board in 1945 and he emerged as the winner of yet another title. John Joe Gilmartin retired in 1947, although he briefly reappeared in 1950. He had qualified for the Leinster senior finals of hardball (singles and doubles) and softball (doubles) in that year, but changed his mind before the finals and retired again. In all, he won a total of ten senior hardball singles titles (1936–42, 1945–7) as well as eight hardball doubles titles (1937–41, 1945–7). Not as dominant in softball, he won a total of six titles, three singles (1938, 1939, 1946), and three doubles (1940, 1941, 1942). His brother Jimmy won the All-Ireland junior singles and doubles in 1943, as well as winning a Leinster senior hurling medal for Kilkenny.
Gilmartin remained a keen sportsman, playing golf, but he did not become a senior administrator in the sport of handball, unlike his brother who was secretary of the senior handball board in Kilkenny (1948–56). In later years he worked as a salesman for an oil company and lived at Dunmore, Co. Kilkenny. He died 20 May 1980 at St Luke's hospital, Dublin. He was survived by his wife, Mary, three sons, and two daughters.