Robert Briscoe rejected accusations of profiteering during War of Independence

Former lord mayor detailed frustrations in letters to pensions board

The former Fianna Fáil TD and lord mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe complained bitterly about accusations that he had profiteered during the War of Independence, the military pensions archive reveals.

Briscoe spoke of being subject to “accusations, insinuations and unfair suggestions made about services given freely, readily, and without hope of a reward and at a very great personal risk”.

In another letter to the pensions board he wrote: “I am quite aware that many would like to prove I made no contribution to the national cause.”

Briscoe was the son of Jewish immigrants to Ireland and became one of the most committed republicans during the War of Independence and the Civil War where he took the anti-Treaty side.

His father was Lithuanian and his mother was partially German and in 1920 he was sent by the provisional government to Germany to buy arms because he spoke German .

‘Most elusive’

During one exasperated sitting with the military pensions board, Briscoe told them they should ask the Royal Navy how important he was to the Irish war effort as they sent a circular stating he was “most elusive. His elusiveness being due to the fact that, unlike most Republicans, he has all the appearances of a gentleman.”

Briscoe complained that he was constantly being confused with his brother who ran the Briscoe Importing Company.

The Briscoe Importing Company had no “transaction, whatsoever, good, bad or indifferent with any force pre-truce”, he pointed out, but they did supply to the provisional government once the truce in July 1921 came into force.

Briscoe said he never personally benefited from any transactions carried out between the provisional government and his family's firm. "In my own family I was all the time being asked to drop this foolishness, that I was endangering the whole family." At the behest of Michael Collins, Briscoe was involved in the setting up of a front company, Messrs Kenny Murray and Company based in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, which was supposed to be used in the importation of wool.

Giving evidence, Fianna Fáil senator Séamus Robinson said Briscoe’s pension claim was not about the money but about his good name.

Robinson, who took part in the Soloheadbeg ambush, the opening clash of the War of Independence, said the money never personally benefited Briscoe and Briscoe’s family had offered him “£500 a year to clear out”.

Briscoe joined the Irish Volunteers in 1917 and was involved in intelligence gathering until he was sent to Germany in November 1920 to purchase arms for importation.

Sent to German

He was sent to Germany to recover a £10,000 deposit the volunteers had spent on a boat that had been misappropriated. He and two other volunteers went to the office of the man who had taken the money, Jurdans, and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t pay up. He wrote a cheque there and then.

Briscoe spoke about his “carte blanche” to import weapons however he saw fit. He once tried to smuggle a Parabellum revolver in a holy statue.

In 1922 he was part of a plan to spring from jail two volunteers who had been sentenced to death for General Henry Wilson’s murder but the operation was called off.

Briscoe was given a military pension for 5½ years’ service.