With the approach of the 1916 Irish Easter Rising Centennial, there’s been renewed interest in "Shalom Ireland," a documentary film I made about Ireland’s remarkable, yet little known, Jewish community (www.ShalomIreland.com). So I picked up my copy of "For the Life of Me," the autobiography of Robert Briscoe and re-read the chapters about the Rising and the War of Independence.
Robert Briscoe, was a young Irish Jew, working as an apprentice at a German export company, when war broke out in 1914. So he set sail for America to seek his fortune.
According to Briscoe’s autobiography, the journey was made rather enjoyable by the company of Norah Connolly, daughter of eventual Easter Rising leader and labor activist James Connolly. She fell in love with Briscoe for the voyage.
Norah Connolly, who had become fond of Briscoe, gave him a sealed envelope
One night, Norah gave Robert a sealed envelope and asked him to take care of it. Flattered by the confidence she had placed in him, Robert put it in his breast pocket and thought nothing more of it. When they reached New York, Norah was met by James Larkin, the great leader of the Irish workers. Norah asked Robert for the envelope and handed it to Larkin. At that point, he realized that he had been a courier.
Much later, Briscoe learned that the papers were dispatches from James Connolly to German Ambassador Count von Bernstorff. These were the beginning of what was known as the “German Plot,” the attempt of Irish patriots to enlist German aid and arms in Ireland’s fight for independence.
The German arms never arrived. Robert remained in New York during the Rising and attended meetings of Clan na Gael, the organization of Irish-Americans who were working for Irish freedom. Although his business was prospering, Briscoe returned to Ireland in 1917 to join the cause for Irish freedom running guns and ammunition from Germany for the Irish Republican Army. He was later elected to the Dáil and was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin. Briscoe is profiled in Shalom Ireland (www.ShalomIreland.com).