Exploring the Zionist evolution of Robert Briscoe: History and memory

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McCarthy, Kevin James
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University College Cork
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Robert Briscoe was the Dublin born son of Lithuanian and German-Jewish immigrants. As a young man he joined Sinn Féin and was an important figure in the War of Independence due to a role as one of the IRA’s main gun-procuring agents. He took the anti-Treaty side during an internecine Civil War, mainly due to the influence of Eamon de Valera and retained a filial devotion towards him for the rest of his life. In 1926 he was a founding member of Fianna Fáil, de Valera’s breakaway republican party, which would dominate twentieth-century Irish politics. He was first elected as a Fianna Fáil T.D. (Teachta Dála, Deputy to the Dáil) in 1927, and successfully defended his seat eleven times becoming the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956, an honour that was repeated in 1961. On this basis alone, it can be argued that Briscoe was a significant presence in an embryonic Irish political culture; however, when his role in the 1930s Jewish immigration endeavor is acknowledged, it is clear that he played a unique part in one of the most contentious political and social discourses of the pre-war years. This was reinforced when Briscoe embraced Zionism in a belated realisation that the survival of his European co-religionists could only be guaranteed if an independent Jewish state existed. This information is to a certain degree public knowledge; however, the full extent of his involvement as an immigration advocate for potential Jewish refugees, and the seniority he achieved in the New Zionist Organisation (Revisionists) has not been fully recognised. This is partly explicable because researchers have based their assessment of Briscoe on an incomplete political archive in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). The vast majority of documentation pertaining to his involvement in the immigration endeavor has not been available to scholars and remains the private property of Robert Briscoe’s son, Ben Briscoe. The lack of immigration files in the NLI was reinforced by the fact that information about Briscoe’s Revisionist engagement was donated to the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv and can only be accessed physically by visiting Israel. Therefore, even though these twin endeavors have been commented on by a number of academics, their assessments have tended to be based on an incomplete archive, which was supplemented by Briscoe’s autobiographical memoir published in 1958. This study will attempt to fill in the missing gaps in Briscoe’s complex political narrative by incorporating the rarely used private papers of Robert Briscoe, and the difficult to access Briscoe files in Tel Aviv. This undertaking was only possible when Mr.Ben Briscoe graciously granted me full and unrestricted access to his father’s papers, and after a month-long research trip to the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv. Access to this rarely used documentation facilitated a holistic examination of Briscoe’s complex and multifaceted political reality. It revealed the full extent of Briscoe’s political and social evolution as the Nazi instigated Jewish emigration crisis reached catastrophic proportions. He was by turn Fianna Fáil nationalist, Jewish immigration advocate and senior Revisionist actor on a global stage. The study will examine the contrasting political and social forces that initiated each stage of Briscoe’s Zionist awakening, and in the process will fill a major gap in Irish-Jewish historiography by revealing the full extent of his Revisionist engagement.
Fianna Fáil , New Zionist Organisation , Eamon de Valera , Vladimr (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky , Partition , Palestine , Aliyah Bet , Jewish refugees , Anti-semitism
McCarthy, K. J. 2014. Exploring the Zionist evolution of Robert Briscoe: History and memory. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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