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Robert Briscoe

Sinn Féin Revolutionary, Fianna Fáil Nationalist and Revisionist Zionist

Kevin McCarthy

This biography reveals the full significance of Robert Briscoe’s influence within the contentious political culture of the early Irish state, as well as reinforcing his importance to the global Zionist rescue effort of the 1930s. Drawing on a wealth of previously unavailable archival material, the book charts Briscoe’s evolution from a fringe Sinn Féin activist in 1917 to a member of Michael Collins’s personal staff in 1921. It also analyses his agonizing decision to abandon Collins and support the anti-Treaty stance of his close friend and political hero, Éamon de Valera, before becoming a founding member of Fianna Fáil in 1926. Most importantly of all, the book investigates Briscoe’s evolving Jewish awareness, looking at his involvement in a traumatic immigration endeavour and also at his engagement with Ze’ev Jabotinsky and the New Zionist Organisation, under whose auspices he led political rescue missions to Poland, America and South Africa.
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Chapter 1: 1894–1914 - Prelude: A Jewish Formation in Nationalist Dublin


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1894–1914 Prelude: A Jewish Formation in Nationalist Dublin

Leopold Bloom, Ireland’s most famous Jew, was ‘born’ on 18 May 1866 at 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street, Dublin. His birth spawned a literary phenomenon that elevated his creator James Joyce to the pinnacle of world literature as he recounted Bloom’s eponymous stroll through the streets of Dublin on Thursday 16 June 1904.1 However, if 1866 was the fictional birth year of Bloom, it was the actual year of arrival in Dublin of Abraham Briscoe, a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who would become the patriarch of a large Irish-Jewish family. In the fullness of time, the arrival of this unheralded Jewish immigrant would through the birth of his son Robert (Bob), have a far greater practical impact on Irish society then the literary musings of Joyce’s fictional Irish Jew as he assumed a prominent and oftentimes controversial position in the developing Catholic nationalist discourse of an independent Irish state.2

Like many recent Jewish immigrants to Ireland, Abraham’s origins were in ‘a cluster of small towns and villages in northwestern Lithuania’, and his arrival in Dublin had seen the city’s Jewish community increase from a couple of hundred in the 1850s, to more than 2,000 by the turn of the ← 7 | 8 → century.3 Although Lithuania was by no means the most anti-Semitic region of the Russian Empire, the Briscoes had faced many of the same issues Jews had endured for centuries in...

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