Hero priest who saved thousands from Nazis is honoured
HE is known as Ireland's Oskar Schindler, but it has taken until now for war hero Msgr Hugh O'Flaherty to be honoured in his home town, on the 50th anniversary of his death.
However, the humble priest, who was born in Kiskeam, Co Cork, and grew up in Killarney, Co Kerry, would have "shuddered" at the attention being lavished on him, his nephew and namesake, retired Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Hugh O'Flaherty, said.
A life-sized bronze sculpture of the 'Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican', created by Alan Ryan Hall, was unveiled in Killarney yesterday in the presence of the priest's family and the relatives of others associated with the "Rome Escape Line", which is credited with saving the lives of more than 6,500 people in Nazi-occupied Rome during World War II.
Mr Justice O'Flaherty said his uncle would have "rejoiced" at being recognised in Killarney, though he would have "shuddered" at the extent of that recognition.
His son, also Hugh, said he grew up with the spectre of 'The Uncle', but it was only as he got older and read more about his famous grand-uncle that he realised the significance of the role he played during the war.
"The family is proud and emotional about the memorial, but I think 'The Uncle' would have approved too because it's not just a dedication to a man, it's a dedication to an ideal," he said.
"This memorial is also a recognition of those who assisted the monsignor, and it's a testament to people who do something good."
Mr O'Flaherty said his grand-uncle would also approve of inspirational teenager, the late Donal Walsh, receiving the humanitarian award named after the monsignor this year.
He said Donal showed that even in peacetime there were heroic people.
Yesterday's event was also attended by William Derry, the son of Col Sam Derry who set up the Rome Escape Line with the monsignor, and David and Mo Sands, the grandchildren of Henrietta Chevalier, who provided the primary safe house in Rome.
Special guests included Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, assistant attache Master Sgt George Sands from the US embassy, Canadian ambassador Loyola Hearn, Israeli ambassador Boaz Modai and British ambassador Dominick Chilcott.
Memorial Society chairman Jerry O'Grady said that, growing up in Killarney, he had never heard of Msgr O'Flaherty, and it took a Hollywood film, 'The Scarlet and the Black' starring Gregory Peck, to teach him about him.