Lawlor, John (1860–1929), handball player and labour politician, was born in Glendon, Pennsylvania, USA. His family moved to Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, when he was 2 years old, before moving in 1870 to Patrick St., Dublin. As a young man, Lawlor played many games at the nearby Kenny's handball court; handball was then a game characterised as much by professional or semi-professional show players as by amateur sportsmen. He challenged (1884) the Irish champion, David Browning of Limerick, for a £10 stake and the chance to take the Irish title; Lawlor won by five games to four. The next year he won a return rubber of twenty-one games. He retained the Irish professional handball championship title until 1888. He moved to the USA, where the sport had become increasingly popular with the arrival of Irish immigrants. On 2 January 1886 Mountrath-born Phil Casey (qv) (1841–1904), the American champion, accepted Lawlor's challenge for the world title, through the columns of Sport magazine, at £100 a man, and the two played a match in two legs in Cork in August 1887 and in Casey's own court in Brooklyn, New York on 29 November 1887. The first leg was drawn after the audience interrupted the match; in Brooklyn, Lawlor was defeated. Within the year he challenged Casey or any man to a match at £200 a side, for the world title. No one accepted and Lawlor felt justified in claiming the world title as his, though Casey also claimed until his retirement in 1897 that he was world champion.
In 1891 Lawlor won the American Medal at the Brooklyn Handball Club (photo, McElligott, 26). The medal, inscribed ‘Championship of the World’, was competed for by many of the best players. In 1895 Lawlor returned to Ireland, bringing two bay horses which had been presented to him by fans when he left the US. He set up a cab company at Broadstone railway station in Dublin, and joined the committee of the Metropolitan Handball Club, Patrick St., Dublin. On 16 August 1895 at Cork, the centre of handball in Ireland at the time, he was challenged and beaten over four days and twenty-one games for the Irish title by the holder, James Fitzgerald of Tralee, Co. Kerry. Fitzgerald refused Lawlor's challenge to a return rubber in the USA.
Lawlor himself on many occasions refused the challenge of the other great handball player of the age, Tim Jones. He retired from singles competition in 1906, after losing the Leinster title. In 1922 he attended the first meeting of the Leinster Handball Council, and in the same year he first joined the GAA. On 5 May 1923 he was elected chairman of the provincial handball council. He was elected first president of the Irish Amateur Handball Association formed on 27 January 1924 at Croke Park. He was one of a group of energetic and diligent committeemen who managed the changeover in handball from professional to amateur status of players. During his presidency the IAHA organised and sponsored the revived thirty-two-county Tailteann Games (2–17 August 1924) in Dublin. Ninety-one players took part. He was succeeded as IAHA president in 1925 by A. C. Harty, and by Gen. Eoin O'Duffy (qv) in 1926.
As well as having a career in sport, Lawlor was for many years active in the labour movement. In 1915 he was vice-president of the Dublin Trades Council and Labour League, which publicly condemned the political views and candidacy of John Dillon Nugent (qv) in a Dublin by-election. After he retired from cab-driving, Lawlor became a member of Dublin corporation (1920–24), representing the Inn's Quay ward. In 1923 he was a candidate in Dublin North in the election for the fourth dáil, standing as a Trades Council representative; he stood again as an Independent Labour candidate in the September 1927 election for the sixth dáil, in which he was unsuccessful but received 2,857 votes. When he died (29 June 1929) he was president of the WUI, which was closely associated with the Communist International, and he was accorded a public funeral in Glasnevin on 30 June 1929, with a band, and with three flags on his coffin – the Irish tricolour, the red flag, and the Stars and Stripes. Several thousand mourners attended and James Larkin (qv), who had been closely associated with Lawlor, gave an oration. Lawlor was survived by his widow and a son. Handball players from Ireland and America compete annually for the Casey–Lawlor cup, named in honour of the contestants of 1886–7.