As promised, here is the first of Vincent Carmody’s series, Listowel Emigrant Tales. Vincent tells us about “The Man Who Defeated Richard J. Daley”. With respect to Chicago politics, this was no mean feat! Elmer Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants from near Listowel, defeated Richard Daley, descendant of Famine-era immigrants from near Dungarvan, County Waterford, in the 1946 race for Cook County, Illinois sheriff.
The Guhard Connection of The Man Who Defeated Chicago’s Richard J. Daley
by Vincent Carmody
An event which took place in Chicago on November 5th 1946, while not having the same resonance as, let’s say, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Custer’s Last Stand, nevertheless shook the prevailing political establishment of the city to its roots. The central figure in this event was Elmer Walsh, a man whose family roots were in Guhard, Ballydonoghue, (near Listowel).
The occasion was the election of the Cook County Sheriff. Standing for election on behalf of the Democratic Party, was one Richard J. Daley, later to become Chicago’s most famous mayor. Daley was already a powerhouse in Illinois politics and even then was Democratic leader of the State Senate. In an overwhelmingly Democratic city, the result was considered a foregone conclusion.
The Republican Governor, Dwight Green, proposed to his party that Elmer Walsh, a prominent and longtime Chicago attorney, would be a formidable candidate on the Republican side. This Elmer Walsh’s grandparents were John and Elizabeth Walsh of Guhard. They had seven children, four of whom – James, Willie, Mike and Mary – emigrated to Chicago. James and his wife, Katie O’Shea of Tullamore, Ballybunion, were Elmer Walsh’s parents. (the other children of John and Elizabeth Walsh, Maurice, grandfather of Mossie Walsh, stayed on the land in Guhard, Nora married John Carmody of Listowel and the remaining child, Patrick, died young.)
Elmer Walsh served in the American army in World War 1 as a private and at the end of the war attended Central Officer Training School. He retained a reserve commission and served several periods of duty as an Infantry Reserve officer. At the outbreak of World War 2, he was called to service as a Captain in charge of the Provost Marshal General’s investigative unit. By superior work and leadership Walsh rose rapidly in rank until, by the time of his discharge after four years’ service, he was a full Colonel. When he returned to civilian life he was involved in many civil, business and Church groups.
Elmer’s son, Elmer Jr., remembers, “We were delighted that our Dad was a candidate. Daley seemed impossible to beat, but it was an honour just to be named to run against him.” As the Election Day loomed, Daley’s lead became slimmer as a result both of Walsh’s campaigning and a general resentment towards the Democratic Party stemming from its wartime controls. Walsh’s wartime contribution was deeply appreciated by the many military veterans on both sides of the political divide.
A noticeable swing to the Republican Party became apparent prior to the election and it resulted in that party gaining 17 out of the 24 offices being contested. However, it was the Walsh/Daley outcome that caught the public imagination. Following the voting, the count went on for a long time and, as Elmer Jr. recalls, “We were at the Congress Hotel and it wasn’t until about 2:30 AM that we learned that Dad was the winner”. The final count was: Walsh 1,044,294; Daley 978,011.
During his four years in office, Elmer Walsh achieved quite a lot and was very popular with his own police force, for which he gained major concessions. He also did major work in the overhaul of the Cook County Jail. As one could only serve one term as a County Sheriff, his term was up in 1950 and he returned to private practice soon afterwards. Meanwhile, Daley had learned a hard lesson and resolved never to take any election for granted again. After this he remained undefeated in any political office which he sought. He was Mayor of Chicago for many years and was succeeded in that office by his son, who is the current Mayor. It is said that, without Richard J. Daley’s work in securing Chicago for John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Kennedy would not have gained the American Presidency in 1960.
Elmer Walsh married Grace Farwell in 1924 and they had a family of four: Elmer Jr,, Charles, Alida and Mary Claire. He continued in his practice until his death in 1962 and is buried in St. Joseph, Michigan. He was known as ‘The Man Who Defeated Richard J. Daley’.
A bit about the author…
Vincent Carmody of Listowel, County Kerry, Ireland is passionate for local history. In 1985, hee helped publish a history of the local G.A.A. club, the Listowel Emmets, and in 1989, Vincent self published a historical photographic history of the town titled, North Kerry Camera (this book has become a collector’s item). Most recently, Vincent published, Listowel – Snapshots of an Irish Market Town, 1850-1950. (I just received a copy this week – it’s a gorgeous book!)
Vincent was born and raised in Listowel. He spent three years in England, 1963-1966. Returning home, Vincent spent nearly thirty-eight happy years working as a postman around and about the general North Kerry area. Vincent loved every minute of his work until his retirement in 2007.