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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 8: 1940–1943 - Political Retrenchment: Nationalist Reintegration and Zionist Withdrawal


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1940–1943 Political Retrenchment: Nationalist Reintegration and Zionist Withdrawal

When Briscoe returned from South Africa in the spring of 1940, he had in many respects already reached the apex of his revisionist engagement, and although still fully committed to the organization, he was almost immediately involved in one of the most contentious historical issues of Ireland’s wartime neutrality. Despite improved political, social and cultural relations with Britain, the fundamental issue of partition still bedevilled a burgeoning détente between the Irish state and its former colonial master. Indeed in a broader analysis of Briscoe’s political evolution, it can be seen that partition had become, in many respects, the defining issue that bound him to de Valera and Jabotinsky in a synthesis that was unbreakable. He had unreservedly supported ‘The Chief’ when he rejected the partition of the Irish state in the 1920s, and he had offered the same steadfast support to Jabotinsky when the revisionists rejected MacDonald’s proposal to Partition Palestine in 1937.

This is clear when Briscoe’s schedule for the first six months of 1940 is examined; it was a frenetic mix of revisionist representation that required his presence in London for at least one week a month, and a reintegration into the parochial world of Fianna Fáil politics.1 A core aspect of these periods in London, which Briscoe dreaded due to the constant bombing of the blitz, was a constant campaign of advocacy with senior members...

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