At the 1992 Irish general election Briscoe is involved in a marathon recount battle with Democratic Left‘s Eric Byrne to decide the fate of the final seat in Dublin South-Central. He is declared the victor after ten days of re-counting and re-checking ballot papers, leading to him describing the long count as being like “the agony and the ex-TD.”
Briscoe is sometimes critical of the leader of Fianna Fáil in the 1980s, once describing Charles Haughey‘s leadership as a “Fascist Dictatorship.” He fronts a quietly discontented anti-Haughey faction within the Parliamentary Party, which includes Charlie McCreevy, during Haughey’s time as Taoiseach.
In 1988–1989 Briscoe is Lord Mayor of Dublin, a post previously held by his father. His term covers the second half of Dublin’s Millennium Year 1988. After the Dublin City Council makes him Lord Mayor, he describes his selection for the honour as “one of the proudest moments of my life.”
The Molly Malone statue, previously at the bottom end of Grafton Street and now outside the Dublin Tourist Information Office around the corner, is unveiled by Briscoe during the Dublin Millennium celebrations in 1988, and he declares June 13 as Molly Malone Day in Dublin.
Briscoe is one of Ireland’s most famous Jewish politicians. The small Irish Jewish community have been enthusiastic and active participants in the country’s political and legal world. His father is one of several Jews involved in the Irish War of Independence and Sinn Féin movements. In his time, each of the three main political parties have a Jewish member in Ireland’s 166-member Dáil.
Rynhart is born Jeanne Scuffil in Dublin on March 17, 1946, to Kathleen Connolly and Frederick Scuffil, a sign writer for the Guinness Brewery. She is an apprentice to George Collie RHA for two years and then attends the National College of Art and Design, graduating in 1969 before moving to Coventry, England, where she continues her studies in fine art and sets up a studio with sculptor John Letts. She returns to Ireland in 1981, moving to Ballylickey, near Bantry in County Cork, where she establishes the Rynhart Fine Art gallery and workshop with her husband, Derek.
Rynhart creates the Molly Malone statue for the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. The statue is controversial at the time of its unveiling due to the statue’s revealing dress. Registrar of Aosdána, Adrian Munnelly, writes to the An Bord Fáilte criticising it. The statue is defended by the Lord Mayor of DublinBen Briscoe. Rynhart herself writes in The Irish Times that the clothing and appearance are accurate for women of that era. The statue has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Dublin and is fondly regarded by locals.
In 1994, Rynhart’s daughter Audrey joins the business. In 2010, Audrey and her husband, Les Elliott, take over the running of the business which is now based in their studio in Glengarriff, County Cork. From then onwards, Rynhart continues to do some modelling work but has largely retired.
Rynhart dies on June 9, 2020, aged 74, in Schull Community Hospital, Cork, following a short illness. She is buried in the Abbey Cemetery, Bantry, and is survived by her husband, Derek, daughter, Audrey, son, Barry, and grandchildren, Lydia and Sophie.
Briscoe is born in Dublin on September 25, 1894, the son of Abraham William Briscoe and Ida Yoedicke, both of whom are Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. The original family name in Lithuania is believed to have been Cherrick or Chasen. His brother Wolfe Tone Briscoe is named after Theobald Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. His father is the proprietor of Lawlor Briscoe, a furniture factory on Ormond Quay which makes, refurbishes, imports, exports and sells furniture, trading all over Ireland and abroad.
Briscoe is active in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence and accompanies Éamon de Valera to the United States. He speaks for the Sinn Féin cause at public meetings there and is adamant that being a “Hebrew” does not lessen his Irishness. He is sent by Michael Collins to Germany in 1919 to be the chief agent for procuring arms for the IRA. While in Germany in 1921 he purchases a small tug boat named Frieda to be used in transporting guns and ammunition to Ireland. On October 28, 1921 the Frieda slips out to sea with Charles McGuinness at the helm and a German crew with a cargo of 300 guns and 20,000 rounds of ammunition. Some sources cite this shipment as “the largest military shipment ever to reach the IRA” consisting of 1,500 rifles, 2,000 pistols and 1.7 million rounds of ammunition. On November 2, 1921 the Frieda successfully lands its cargo near Waterford Harbour.
In June 1922 during the Irish Civil War, Briscoe is involved in an incident with fellow anti-treaty IRA members who attack pro-treaty politician Darrell Figgis at his home. They enter the house and assault Figgis, cutting off his well-prized beard in the process. This traumatises Figgis’ wife Millie, who had been under the impression Briscoe and his fellow assistants had come to kill Figgis. In November 1924 Millie commits suicide, expressing in a suicide note that she was suffering from depression as a result of the 1922 attack. Figgis himself commits suicide in 1926.
In his biography, Briscoe recalls an incident of being recognised by a pro-Treaty opponent during the Civil War. He merely turns and walks away, confident that his enemy will not shoot him in the back.
Elected to the Dáil in the newly independent Ireland, Briscoe works with Patrick Little to bring through a law limiting the interest that can be charged by moneylenders and also, as he writes, “made it illegal for a married woman to borrow money without the knowledge and consent of her husband, for these foolish ones are always the easiest prey of the moneylenders.”
During World War II, Briscoe, at this time a member of Dáil Éireann, comes under close scrutiny from the Irish security services. His support for Zionism and his lobbying on behalf of refugees is considered potentially damaging to the interests of the state by officials from the Department of Justice. He is an admirer and friend of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his campaign to liberate the Jews. Between 1939 and 1940, he along with John Henry Patterson, a former commander of both the Zion Mule Corps and later the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, are involved in fund raising for the Irgun in the United States. Jabotinsky while head of Irgun visits Dublin to receive training in guerrilla warfare tactics against the British under the instruction of Briscoe. During the period Briscoe describes himself as the “Chair of Subversive Activity against England.” He wishes for Ireland to give asylum to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, but does so discreetly in order not to be accused of compromising the neutrality policy of the Fianna Fáil government.
After World War II Briscoe acts as a special advisor to Menachem Begin in the transformation of Irgun from a paramilitary group to a parliamentary political movement in the form of Herut in the new Israeli state. The party later becomes Likud. As he had already been a key figure in the formation in his own Fianna Fáil party out of the Anti-treaty IRA post Irish independence but not before a bitter Civil War, he prompts Begin to make the transition immediately after the Altalena Affair in order to avoid a similar civil conflict.
Briscoe serves in Dáil Éireann for 38 years and is elected 12 times in the Dublin South and from 1948, Dublin South-West constituencies. He retires at the 1965 Irish general election, being succeeded by his son, Ben, who serves for a further 37 years. In 1956, he becomes the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, although he is not the first Jewish Mayor in Ireland. That title belongs to William Annyas, who was elected Mayor of Youghal, County Cork in 1555. He serves a one-year term and is re-elected in 1961. His son Ben is also a Fianna Fáil TD, and he too serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1988–1989.
Briscoe’s memoir, For the Life of Me, is published in 1958.
The Dublin Millennium Commission proclaims in 1988 that June 13 is to be designated as “Molly Malone Day.”
Molly Malone is a popular song, set in Dublin, which has become the unofficial anthem of Dublin City. The song tells the fictional tale of a fishmonger who plies her trade on the streets of Dublin, but who dies of a fever at a young age. In the late 20th century a legend grows that there is a historical Molly, who lived in the 17th century. She is typically represented as a hawker by day and part-time prostitute by night. In contrast she has also been portrayed as one of the few chaste female street-hawkers of her day. However, there is no evidence that the song is based on a real woman of the 17th century or any other time for that matter. The name “Molly” originated as a familiar version of the names Mary and Margaret. While many such “Molly” Malones are born in Dublin over the centuries, no evidence connects any of them to the events in the song. Nevertheless, in 1988 the Dublin Millennium Commission endorses claims about a Mary Malone who died on June 13, 1699, and proclaims June 13 to be “Molly Malone Day.”
Molly Malone is commemorated in a statue designed by Jeanne Rynhart and unveiled by then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Ben Briscoe during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. The statue is presented to the city by Jury’s Hotel Group to mark the Millennium. Originally placed at the bottom of Grafton Street in Dublin, the statue is known colloquially as “The Tart With The Cart,” “The Dish with the Fish,” and “The Trollop With The Scallops.” The statue portrays Molly as a busty young woman in seventeenth-century dress. Her low-cut dress and large breasts were justified on the grounds that as “women breastfed publicly in Molly’s time, breasts were popped out all over the place.”
The statue is later removed and placed in storage to make way for new tracks for Luas, Dublin’s tram/light rail system. On July 18, 2014, it is temporarily placed outside the Dublin Tourist Office on Suffolk Street. The statue is expected to be returned to its original location in late 2017.