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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 2: 1915–1921 - Nationalist Awakening: A Republican Formation in Jewish Dublin, Revolutionary New York and Weimar Berlin


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1915–1921 Nationalist Awakening: A Republican Formation in Jewish Dublin, Revolutionary New York and Weimar Berlin

When Briscoe returned to Dublin from Berlin in the autumn of 1914, he had assumed a cosmopolitanism that separated him from the majority of his fellow citizens. However, despite the fact his father Abraham was a proud supporter of Irish independence, it did not mean he was a supporter of violent rebellion. He had brought his children up in the first decade of the twentieth-century to believe that ‘freedom for Ireland’ was only virtuous if it was achieved by ‘constitutional means’.1 His young native-born son disagreed; Briscoe was fired with the vigour and enthusiasm of youth and had the certainty that independence could only be achieved through a direct confrontation with Britain.

Having said that, although Briscoe was moving towards an active republican involvement, he was still not ready to defy his father’s wishes, and reluctantly agreed to his request to relocate to New York in December 1914.2 Once again Abraham clearly hoped that by removing his son from a republican environment in wartime Dublin and immersing him in the business community of New York, his inclination to pursue an active revolutionary engagement would dissipate. Initially it could be said that Abraham’s ambition was partly successful, as Briscoe quickly established a thriving network of contacts in both the Jewish and Irish Diasporas of New York before establishing a highly profitable factory producing Christmas...

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