Swords patriot Frank Lawless may never have known that a British Intelligence Officer scrawled the phrase ‘A Dangerous Man’ across his file – but in doing so he could not have paid the rebel a higher honour.
The quartermaster of the Fingal Batallion during the Battle of Ashbourne, Lawless was the linchpin of republican efforts in Fingal during the fight for independence.
The farmer from Saucerstown, Swords was honoured this week by Fingal County Council with the launch of a Commemorative Exhibition and film.
The event was attended by an invited audience including many of the Lawless family and replicas of the exhibition were presented to them by the Mayor on the night. The launch also included the first public showing of the film ‘Peace to the Ashes’ by broadcaster and filmmaker Donal Dineen specially commissioned by Fingal Arts Office and featuring Eithne Ní Catháin (Inni K).
Frank Lawless was one of the most dynamic regional leaders of the revolutionary period. Born into a farming family in Swords, county Dublin, in 1870, he followed his grandfather and father into nationalist politics, before becoming central to the republican movement in North county Dublin. Although most of his political life was spent in prison, as a result of his prominence in the 1916 Rising, it was cut short with his untimely death on 16th April 1922 after a road accident. The exhibition “A Dangerous Man: Frank Lawless and the War of Independence in Fingal” gives us an insight into his life and politics along with the legacy he left. We see the role he played in the cultural, political and sporting life of Fingal from his early years to his death.
Broadcaster and filmmaker Donal Dineen was struck by a powerful photograph of Lawless’s funeral where we see among the mourners Arthur Griffith beneath the large Celtic cross marking the Lawless family plot. He uses this as a starting point to his collaborative commemorative film titled – ‘Peace to the Ashes’ a work commissioned by Fingal County Council Arts Office. Filmed almost exclusively within the walls of the Rolestown Cemetery, this new work is a poetic meditation on the passage of a centuries’ worth of time since that moment was frozen forever on photographic film and imprinted into both the history books and the consciousness of a nation. This reflective piece on how forces beyond our control can often determine the way legacies are formed is built around a series of vignettes which render the quiet drama of cemetery time passing in beautiful stop-motion shadow-play.
The exhibition ‘A Dangerous Man: Frank Lawless and the War of Independence in Fingal’ is on display to the public at The Atrium, County Hall, Swords from 19th April – 13th May 2022.
Commenting following the launch, Cllr Ian Carey said:
“It’s clear from the life of Frank Lawless that he was one of the key figures of the the fight for independece both in Fingal and nationally. Its right that we commemorate this Swordsman and look at the legacy of that defining time in Irish history. I find the personal history of the man and his politics the most interesting. He died relatively young but crammed an incredible amount into his short life. His political journey says so much about the volitility of the time going from supporting the Irish Parliamentary Party to embracing republican politics and ultimately to voting in favour of the Treaty. “