Biography of Robert Briscoe

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Robert Briscoe, A Jewish Irishman

 Highlights Taken From The Life of a Great Man Who Was Proud of His Religion


 In 1956, Robert Briscoe became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, although he was not the first Jewish Mayor in Ireland (That title belongs to William Annyas. He was elected Mayor of Youghal, County Cork, in 1555).  Briscoe was elected twelve times in the Dublin South.  Briscoe became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin.  His son Ben also served  as Lord Mayor of Dublin from1988 to 1989.

Briscoe was the son of Abraham William Briscoe and Ida Yoedicke, both of whom were Jewish Lithuanian immigrants.  The original family name in Lithuania is believed to have been Cherrick.

Robert and Lilly had seven children.  Only two sons, Ben and Joe, remained in Dublin.  Ben followed his father into politics, while Joe joined the army.  Joe joined the army at age fifteen and prevaricated, stating that he was eighteen.  He too rose through the ranks.  He  retired in 1993 with the rank of Commandant.

Briscoe was active in the Irish Republican Army and “Sinn  Fein” during the War of Independence and accompanied Eamon de Valera to America.  He spoke for the Sinn Fein cause at public meetings there and was adamant that being Jewish did not lessen his Irishness.  Briscoe was sent to Michael Collins to Germany in 1919 to be the chief agent for procuring arms for the IRA.  Eamon Martin, former Chief of Staff of Fianna Eireann, was best man at Briscoe’s wedding.  They had been close friends during the Irish War of Independence.

During the Civil War, Briscoe was involved in an incident with fellow anti-treaty IRA members who attacked pro-treaty politician Darrell Figgis at his home.  The assault resulted in Figgis losing some of his beard. In his biography, he recalls an incident of being recognized by a pro-Treaty opponent during the Civil War.  Briscoe merely turned and walked away, confident that his enemy would not shoot him in the back.

During the Second World War, Briscoe, at that time a member of Dail Eireann, came under close scrutiny from the Irish security services.  His support for Zionism and his lobbying on behalf of refugees was considered potentially damaging to the interests of the state by officials from the Department of Justice.  Briscoe was an admirer and friend of Zeev Jabotinsky and his campaign to liberate the Jews.  Between 1939 and 1940, Robert Briscoe, along with John Henry Patterson, a former commander of the 4th battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Zion Mule Corps, were involved in fund raising for the Irgun in the USA.  Jabotinsky, while head of the Irgun, visited Dublin to receive training in guerilla warfare tactics against the British under the instruction of Briscoe.  During the period Briscoe described himself as the Chair of Subversive Activity against England.  He wished for Ireland to give asylum to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, but did so discreetly in order not to be accused of compromising the neutrality policy of the Fianna Fail government.

Briscoe’s memoir, “For the Life of Me,” was published in 1958.

The Emerald Isle immigration center in New York has devoted a special award in Briscoe’s name.  The group celebrates the close relationship between Jewish and Irish communities in New York and honors Jewish New Yorkers who have helped support immigration in the United States.


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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