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Robert Briscoe Edit Profile

also known as "Bob"

businessman

ROBERT BRISCOE was an Irish businessman and nationalist, who became First Jewish mayor of Dublin.

Background

He was born in Dublin on September 25, 1894; his father was an immigrant from Lithuania and his mother from Germany.

Education

Briscoe received his education in Ireland and England. He was sent by his father to Germany, where he studied electrical engineering and business while working for an import-export company.

Career

Briscoe was enjoying the beginnings of a successful career when World War I broke out. As he attempted to join his parents, who were vacationing in Austria, he was captured by the Austrian authorities and jailed for a brief period. In a prisoner-exchange arrangement, he and his parents were allowed to return to British-ruled Ireland, on condition that Briscoe abstain from fighting with the British. Briscoe, an Irish nationalist, had no trouble agreeing to this condition.

Upon the family’s return to Dublin, Briscoe’s father decided that his son’s future would be more secure in the United States. Briscoe arrived in New York City in 1914 and quickly achieved success as a partner in a Christmas light manufacturing firm. Upon hearing about the Easter rising of 1916 and subsequent events, Briscoe returned to his homeland to fight for the independence of Ireland. He became part of the Irish Republican movement, joining the Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The first stage of the revolution for Irish independence ended with the signing of the Articles of Agreement (1921). The following year, disagreements over the treaty led to civil war. Briscoe, siding with the opposition to the treaty, joined with Eamon de Valera, leader of the Irish revolutionary movement, and others to continue the fight. During the struggle, Briscoe traveled to New York City with his family to raise support for the Irish nationalists. In 1923 the struggle ended in another compromise, and Briscoe returned to Ireland.

Back in Ireland, Briscoe took control of his family’s import business in Dublin. He joined de Valera’s newly formed Fianna Fail Party, and in 1927 won a seat in the Dail Eireann, the Irish parliament. He retained his seat for thirty-eight years. At the same time, he maintained his business interests, and at one stage directed a packing house that produced kosher meat.

He also toured the United States to solicit support for the State of Israel.

By the time of his death he had won another term for mayor in 1961. Later, his son Benjamin followed his father both as a member of the Dail and as lord mayor of Dublin.

Achievements

  • In 1956 Briscoe was appointed lord mayor of Dublin, the first Jew to receive that honor.

    In his acceptance speech he said, “It is a magnificent gesture that in Catholic Ireland it is possible to elect to this important office a man of a different faith, particularly my own, which proves that in this Catholic Ireland tolerance exists. I hope it will go forth from this chamber to the world that in a free Catholic Ireland there would be no intolerance".

Religion

Briscoe, always proud of his Jewish heritage, became an enthusiastic supporter of Zionism in the wake of the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and as a result of his meeting with Vladimir Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky visited Ireland to learn about the tactics used by the IRA in its struggle against the British. Before the end of World War II, Briscoe was helping Jews escape from Europe to Palestine. He traveled to the United States to try to convince the government to put pressure on Britain to create a Jewish state. His new family crest, a blue Star of David draped with a red band bearing the Irish words for freedom, equality, and fraternity, proclaimed his pride in being both a Jew and an Irishman.

Personality

Briscoe earned the nickname of “Captain Swift” for deftness at handling his assignments. On one of his missions he was accompanied by his wife and infant daughter. White the British officials thoroughly searched Briscoe and his wife, the secret dispatches they were transporting remained safe in their daughter’s diaper.

During the war he smuggled shiploads of arms to Ireland under the noses of the British. The British issued a circular about him, warning that he was “unlike most Irish rebels” in that he had “a gentlemanly appearance, which makes him most elusive.”

Connections

Married Katherine Norwood Lewis, August 22, 1923.