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The 1923 General Election in Longford-Westmeath: Results

In the second of two articles, Dr John Burke discusses the general election of August 1923, an election that would shape the post-Civil War Irish Free State.


Counting the vote

Sinn Féin and the Farmers’ Party put forth the greatest number, four candidates each. Sinn Féin was hoping to manage vote transfers quite tightly, while the Farmers’ Party’s optimism was not only motivated by a similar desire but adequate proof that the farming lobby that had buoyed up the Irish Parliamentary Party for decades was still a powerful force in Irish politics. Cumann na nGaedheal’s decision to run just three candidates was likely an indication that they recognised the threat that the surfeit of pro-Treaty candidates could have for transfers after first preferences had been counted. Labour did not strike out in optimistic fashion, fielding just two. However, it was well known that Seán Lyons T.D., though running as an independent, was the most potent pro-labour voice in the region.


Table 1: Longford-Westmeath candidates, August 1923

Sinn Féin

Cumann na nGaedheal

Farmers’ Party

Labour Party


Conor Byrne

Patrick Shaw

Patrick McKenna

Hugh Wilson

Seán Lyons

James Killane

Francis McGuinness

Hugh Garahan

Thomas Redmond

Seán O’Farrell

John Gavin

James Carrigy

Francis Philips



James Victory


Thomas Groarke




After the polls closed on the evening of 27 August, some predictions were confirmed and others were proved to be misplaced. In Longford-Westmeath, the predicted low turnout was realised with just 59% of eligible voters exercising their right. This turnout was almost identical in Roscommon at 58% and only slightly behind that of Laois-Offaly, where 63% of voters visited the polling stations. Nationally, the turnout was 61.3%. The large field in Longford-Westmeath ensured that no-one met the quota of 5,811 votes on first preferences alone, a trend witnessed across the country. Conor Byrne came closest for Sinn Féin, followed by Cumann na nGaedheal’s Patrick Shaw, a Mullingar businessman, and the incumbent T.D. Seán Lyons of Moate. In Longford-Westmeath, republicans secured 31.1% of first preferences, almost the average vote for republicans in the midlands’ constituencies: 31.6%. In Roscommon, Republicans gained 36.6% of first preferences and 27.3% in Laois-Offaly, the latter being almost exactly the national average for republicans of 27.4%.


Table 2: First preference votes, August 1923

Seats:; Quota: 5,811; Turnout 59%


First Preference

Seat No.

Conor Byrne (Sinn Féin)



Patrick Shaw (Cumann na nGaedheal)



Seán Lyons (Independent Labour)



James Killane (Sinn Féin)



Patrick McKenna (Farmers’ Party)




Allies and enemies

After transfers were distributed, the seats were confirmed in the order noted in table 2. Conor Byrne benefitted from having fewer running mates drawing in republican votes, something that worked in James Killane’s favour too since his low first preference total likely left him less than sanguine prior to the transfers being confirmed. Cumann na nGaedheal’s poor result – only Patrick Shaw was returned – indicated dissatisfaction with how Cosgrave’s party had managed Irish affairs and its ability to deal with labour and land issues. Of note was Patrick McKenna’s success in securing the final seat for the Famers’ Party. McKenna, so long a stalwart of the Irish Parliamentary Party, had famously been beaten by the late Joe McGuinness of Sinn Féin in the pivotal Longford South by-election in May 1917. It appears likely that he enjoyed considerable schadenfreude when gaining the last seat and seeing Francis, Joe’s brother, lose out. Seán Lyons was the only incumbent to retain his seat and showed, yet again, that the constituency had a strong labour vote, especially in urban areas.

The result in Longford-Westmeath proved that while many still supported the republican position, those who believed that the Anglo-Irish Treaty provided the best platform for national advance were considerably more numerous: successful pro-Treaty candidates secured over fifty percent more first preference votes. However, political factionalism undermined the pro-Treaty side and Cumann na nGaedheal in the constituency, with, most prominently, farmers and labourers believing their views were best represented outside of Cosgrave’s party.


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Post-election headlines in the Westmeath Examiner, 1 September 1923


Despite their poor showing in Longford-Westmeath and most midland and western counties, Cumann na nGaedheal still emerged as the largest party in the fourth Dáil with sixty-three seats out of the one hundred and fifty-three available (an increase from one-hundred and twenty-eight in the previous year’s election). Sinn Féin’s two local representatives joined forty-two others in making it the second largest party, albeit it not in the Dáil chamber, given that de Valera’s party refused to take their seats. The Farmers’ Party’s fifteen seats and the fourteen won by the Labour Party comprised the rump of the opposition in the chamber, which was buttressed by thirteen Independents and some much smaller, regional parties.

Interestingly, in the three midland constituencies mentioned in this article, only Count Plunkett in Roscommon remained from the victorious Sinn Féin candidature in the momentous 1918 general election that had provided so much hope. The joyous scenes witnessed at that time were not repeated in 1923. Even the most sanguine of political commentators predicted many years of political turmoil in the Irish Free State.



Irish Times; Irish Independent; Westmeath Independent; Offaly Independent; Roscommon Herald; Roscommon Journal. For more detail, see John Burke, Athlone 1900-1923: politics, revolution and civil war (The History Press, 2015); John Burke, Roscommon, the Irish Revolution, 1912-23 (Four Courts Press, 2021); Atlas of the Irish Revolution, edited by John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy, with associate editor John Borgonovo (Cork University Press, 2017); Bill Kissane, The Politics of the Irish Civil War (Oxford, 2007); Brian M. Walker (ed.), Parliamentary Election Results in Ireland: 1918-92 (Dublin, 1992); and www.electionsireland.org (accessed 18-21 Oct. 2013).




Content Last Updated/Reviewed: 24/08/2024