The verdict of county secretary James P. Kingston on the county council elections of 2 June 1920 was that the election was not just remarkable and memorable but revolutionary. Kingston believed it was even more revolutionary than the 1899 elections that saw only three members of the old grand jury transfer to the new county council. In that election James Perry Goodbody was elected for Clara unopposed and William Adams defeated distiller and grand jury member Bernard Daly to secure the Tullamore seat. Goodbody was a leading Quaker businessman and Adams a large farmer and publican. Adams retired from the council in 1912 and was succeeded at the council by his son P.F. Adams who was married to Rosaleen Egan, a daughter of Henry Egan, chairman of the county council from 1899 to 1910. Goodbody served on the council as chair of the Finance and Proposals Committee from 1900 and was vice-chairman of the council from 1912. Both P.F. Adams and James P. Goodbody sought election to the new council of 1920 in the first post-war elections and both were defeated. Sinn Féin secured 19 of the 21 seats and acceptable Labour men two seats. For Secretary Kingston the election was also a turning point as he was forced out of office within a year, just as his predecessor Thomas Mitchell had been in 1899.
It was clear that the outcome of the June 1920 election would bring significant change. The demand for Home Rule in 1912–14 would become the quest for a republic by 1918–19. The war years of 1914–18 were characterised by the growth of grievance. Every social question became a political question. As the by-election victories were chalked up for Sinn Féin in 1917 the local press became entirely supportive (excluding the Birr Chronicle). Birr man John Dooly who had been chairman of the county council since 1912 was defeated in the chairmanship in June 1918 due, it was said, to his voting at the Irish Convention and was succeeded by one of the candidates at the November 1914 by-election in Tullamore P.J. Bermingham. Bermingham, a farmer from Ballycommon, was unanimously elected chairman of the county committee of agriculture in 1917 and chair of the county council in 1918. ‘He is an excellent chairman, and a practical farmer and “the man in the gap” in the present crisis.’ That was ironic in that Bermingham’s chairmanship survived only two years and he did not even stand for a seat on the council in 1920.
Adams had resigned from the county council in November 1916 due, it seems, to non-attendance and it was T.M. Russell who was co-opted to the seat. Russell had started in the county as a co-operative society organiser but switched to a full time role for Sinn Féin. He came second only to Robbins in the election in 1920. At the victory celebration in Tullamore held in Charleville Square and with St Enda’s Pipe Band in attendance he reminded voters that they had not been tormented by Sinn Féin canvassers ‘because you know you were safe and could be relied on where national issues were at stake’ He told his audience that the 1, 339 first preference voters for Shaun Robbins of Clashawaun knew what he was up against, but that last bastille of conservatism and reaction in the Irish midlands was gone forever.
P.F. Adams, failed in his bid to get elected to the county council as an Independent in 1920. He would late work with Fianna Fáil on the county council. He died on the eve of the Second World War as his father had in August 1914.
Midland Tribune editor, James Pike, in his usual laconic style, opined that Sinn Féin has done well at the elections. The country districts have been very solid but some of the towns have not been so good. The Birr results had not been good, but Birr has never been a strong nationalist centre. Tullamore has done splendidly in the county council contest (MT, 5 June 1920). Soon after the election Fr Michael O’Flanagan, spoke in Birr at an aeridheacht on the cultural heritage of Ireland and how Birr had got away from its other name Parsonstown. The latter was a sample, he said, of the effort that had been made to change Ireland into being part of England. Solicitor J. Molloy (soon to be Offaly’s first district justice) who presided spoke of the ‘new spirit’ in the country that had come about in the previous twelve years ‘thanks to a small band of unselfish workers’ and that the people now looked to men like Fr O’Flanagan for direction. (MT 12 June 1920). O’Flanagan’s wishes would get a hearing at the first council meeting in mid-June and the name change from King’s County and Philipstown (about which more in a few weeks).
The big winner in 1920 was Sinn Féin.
Sean Robbins’ outstanding vote in the June 1920 county council election (five times more than anyone else) was proof of how far the county had travelled with the benefit of the new voters on the register in December 1918. Robbins, was a Goodbody employee from Clashawaun, Clara (jailed for drilling in 1918) and defeated James Perry Goodbody, the town’s leading businessman with a county and national reputation. It was a big Sinn Féin victory in Offaly with Clara at the front. The old guard of the Land League days of the 1880s was swept away in the elections of 1918–20 and yet there were those such as Pat Egan of Tullamore (son of Henry Egan, died 1919) who remained prominent in local politics for many years. Egan was a TD for the county in 1923–27 and chairman of the county council from 1928 until 1934. He held the chair of the urban council in Tullamore from 1915 and secured the chairmanship of the urban council again in 1920 with his brother-in-law, P.F. Adams, having the deciding vote. P.J Egan, and James O’Connor, president of Tullamore Transport Union were both proposed. Egan was elected 7 to 6 when Adams, who was elected to the town council for the Labour party and J. Condron (independent labour) voted for Egan. Adams was told that the county council elections were coming and that his actions would not be forgotten. In May the King’s County Independent was telling its readers that people were asking on what ticket was P. F. Adams standing. ‘For ourselves we do not know. He is not an Sinn Fein nominee anyway.’
The outcome of the vote in the Tullamore electoral area with the number of votes polled at 3,434 of which 59 were declared invalid. The quota was 483 and the outcome was as follows:
P.F. Adams, Tullamore (Ind) 186
J.P. Goodbody, Clara (Ind) 176
Joseph Guinan, Holmshill, Blueball 468
Nicholas Moore , Kilmaleady, Clara (Ind) 9
James O’Connor, Tullamore (Transport Union) 252
John Robbins, Clara 1,339
T.M. Russell, Ballyduff House, Tullamore 479
Luke Scally, Killeenmore, Killeigh 160
Owen Wyer, Ballykeenaghan, Rahan 276
The transfer of the Robbins surplus gave no comfort to Adams or Goodbody and with Moore were eliminated. Five of the six elected had been adopted by the Sinn Féin Conference for North Offaly while O’Connor represented Labour.
The Edenderry electoral area had no contest and the following were deemed elected.
John Kelly, Edenderry,
Thomas Dunne, Ballinagar, Philipstown
Patrick Mooney, Ballycasson, Clonbullogue
James Colgan, Bishopswood
John Rigney, Croghan
In the Birr Electoral Area the five Sinn Féin candidates were elected on a quota of 463 and the number of votes cast was 2,775. Thomas Darmody, Wm Langley were defeated. The first preference vote for the elected candidates was:
Michael Keary (830)
Michael Dalton (SF and Labour), (626)
Patrick Grogan, (512)
Michael Doherty (505)
John Delahunty (590)
Ferbane Electoral Area (five seats), quota 455 and valid votes 2,275. Here, P. Callaghan, the preferred choice of the parish priest of Kilcormac, Fr O’Reilly, was defeated as was Kenny.
John Finn (582)
Edward Ryan (497)