In late August 1917, the Fianna Chief of Staff, Eamon Martin left New York City aboard the SS St. Paul bound for Dublin, via Liverpool, England. He was returning home to formally take up his position as Chief of Staff.
He had been elected Chief of the Fianna the previous year in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, and in December 1916 he left for the United States and reported to John Devoy of Clan na Gael on arrival. He gave many talks and lectures at Clan meetings across the US, and with his close friend Liam Mellows was very successful in raising funds for the Republican cause. He also briefly worked for the Gaelic American newspaper.
Accompanying Eamon on the trip home to Ireland was an as yet unknown Jewish-Irish character called Robert ‘Bob’ Briscoe. Briscoe had not previously been involved with the Independence movement but was to subsequently become associated with the Fianna GHQ, and later the Volunteers/IRA – through various activities such as raising funds, providing safe houses and obtaining arms.
Briscoe said of Eamon at the time that he had “that unusual and valuable contradiction, he was a man of great personal courage, who also had the common sense, which heroes often lacked.” Briscoe recalled that “during our long talks together [on board the SS St. Paul], Martin briefed me on the state of Irish politics. It was Eamon who set me straight on the course I subsequently followed”.
Eamon Martin and Robert Briscoe, both tailors by trade, would later established several tailoring/clothing factory businesses during the Tan War (including at No. 9 Aston Quay and No. 1 Coppinger Row) as fronts for Fianna meeting houses, safe houses, arms dumps etc. One of these businesses was raided in September 1920, which led to the subsequent court-martial of Constance Markievicz on 2nd December. She was sentenced to two years hard labour.
Robert Briscoe later became one of the founding members of Fianna Fail in 1927; and served in Dail Eireann as a TD for 38 years and was at one time Dublin’s Lord Mayor.