Robert Briscoe (politician)

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Robert Briscoe (25 September 1894 – 11 March 1969), known as Bob Briscoe[1] was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who served as a Teachta Dála (TD) in the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) from 1927 to 1965.[2]


Briscoe was the son of Abraham William Briscoe and Ida Yoedicke, both of whom were Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants.[3] [4][5] The original family name in Lithuania is believed to have been Cherrick.[6] His brother Wolfe Tone Briscoe was named after Theobald Wolfe Tone who led a rebellion against British rule.[1]

Bob and Lilly had seven children. Only two sons, Ben and Joe, remained in Dublin. Ben followed his father into politics, while Joe joined the army.[1]

Joe joined the army at the age of 15 (he claimed to be 18) in 1945, as a private soldier .He rose through the ranks. He retired in 1993 with the rank of Commandant.[1]

War of Independence

Briscoe was active in the IRA and Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence and accompanied de Valera to America. He spoke for the Sinn Féin cause at public meetings there and was adamant that being a "Hebrew" did not lessen his Irishness. Briscoe was sent by Michael Collins to Germany in 1919 to be the chief agent for procuring arms for the IRA.[1][7] Eamon Martin, former Chief of Staff of Fianna Éireann, was best man at Briscoe's wedding. They had been close friends during the Irish War of Independence.

Irish Civil War

During the civil war, Briscoe was involved in an incident with fellow anti-treaty IRA members who attacked pro-treaty politician Darrell Figgis at his home. The assault resulted in Figgis losing some of his beard. In his biography, he recalls an incident of being recognised by a pro-Treaty opponent during the Irish Civil War. Briscoe merely turned and walked away, confident that his enemy would not shoot him in the back.[8]

Jewish refugees and Irish neutrality

During the Second World War, Briscoe, at this time a member of Dáil Éireann, came under close scrutiny from the Irish security services. His support for Zionism and his lobbying on behalf of refugees was considered potentially damaging to the interests of the state by officials from the Department of Justice. Briscoe was an admirer and friend of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and his campaign to liberate the Jews.[9][10] Between 1939 and 1940, Robert Briscoe along with John Henry Patterson, a former commander of the 4th battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Zion Mule Corps,[11] were involved in fund raising for the Irgun in the USA.[12] Jabotinsky while head of Irgun visited Dublin to receive training in guerrilla warfare tactics against the British under the instruction of Briscoe.[13] During the period Briscoe described himself as the "Chair of Subversive Activity against England".[14] He wished for Ireland to give asylum to Jews fleeing National Socialist Germany, but did so discreetly in order not to be accused of compromising the neutrality policy of the Fianna Fáil government.[15]

Political career

He served in Dáil Éireann for 38 years and was elected 12 times in the Dublin South and from 1948, Dublin South–West constituencies - from the 6th Dáil to the 17th Dáil. He retired at the 1965 election being succeeded by his son, Ben who served for a further 37 years. In 1956, Briscoe became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin,[16] although he was not the first Jewish Mayor in Ireland. That title belongs to William Annyas, who was elected Mayor of Youghal, County Cork in 1555.[17] Briscoe served a one year term and was re-elected in 1961. After learning of a Jewish Lord Mayor from Dublin, Yogi Berra allegedly said, "Only in America!" His son Ben Briscoe was also a Fianna Fáil TD, and he too served as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1988–1989.

His memoir,"For the Life of Me", was published in 1958.

The Emerald Isle immigration center in New York has devoted a special award in his name called the Robert Briscoe award. The group celebrates the close relationship between Jewish and Irish communities in New York and honours Jewish New Yorkers who have helped support immigration in the United States. The latest winner of the award was US Senator Chuck Schumer.[18]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Benson, Asher (2007). Jewish Dublin., 24. ISBN 9781906353001. 
  2. Mr. Robert Briscoe. Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved on 9 March 2008.
  3. Current Biography Yearbook, Maxine Block, Anna Herthe Rothe, H.W. Wilson Company, Marjorie Dent Candee, Charles Moritz, Published by H. W. Wilson Co., 1997 [1]
  4. Jews in Twentieth-century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-semitism and the Holocaust, Dermot Keogh, Published by Cork University Press, 1998, ISBN 1859181503, 9781859181508 [2]
  5. Robert Briscoe's electoral history. Retrieved on 9 March 2008.
  6. JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy
  7. Roth, Andreas (2000). Mr Bewley in Berlin. Four Courts Press, 13. ISBN 9781851825592. 
  8. Briscoe, Robert (1958). For the life of me. Little, Brown,, 172. 
  9. Keogh, Dermot (1998). Jews in Twentieth-century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-semitism and the Holocaust. Cork University Press, 283. ISBN 9781859181508. 
  10. Robert Briscoe
  11. Jewish Virtual Library, The Zion Muleteers of Gallipoli
  12. Zionism and Israel - Biographies, John Henry Patterson
  13. Dreams of Zion, Tablet Magazine
  14. Free Stater, A story of Dev, Bob Briscoe and Israel/Palestine
  15. O'halpin, Eunan Defending Ireland: The Irish State and Its Enemies Since 1922 : 2000 pp220-222
  16. Keogh, Dermot Jews in Twentieth-century Ireland p7 - Lewis Wormser Harris was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1876 but died before assuming office.
  17. Speech by the Taoiseach on visit to the Jewish Museum, Dublin. Department of the Taoiseach (2006). Retrieved on 9 March 2008.
  18. U.S Senator Charles E. Schumer. Press Release, 2004.

External links

Civic offices
Preceded by
Denis Larkin
Lord Mayor of Dublin
Succeeded by
James Carroll
Preceded by
Maurice E. Dockrell
Lord Mayor of Dublin
Succeeded by
James O'Keeffe