Hugh O’Flaherty and those Poppies

Hugh O'Flaherty Statue in Killarney

What a great week.

This was the culmination of an idea and the five years of hard work that followed.

Our idea was simple – we wanted to create a permanent memorial in Killarney to honour Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, the Irish World War 2 hero who instead of turning his back on escapees and people on the run from the Nazi regime, he gave them shelter.

He ignored the rules and the neutrality status of the Vatican and he set up a network of safe houses in and outside Rome and with the help of a special group of people he helped 6,500 to safety until the war was over.

After the war this very special man visited the prisons to ensure the Nazi prisoners were being treated properly, including the head of the Gestapo in Rome, Herbert Kappler.

Visiting the Nazi’s and in particular Kappler, confused many as they had been involved in so many atrocities and in particular would have arrested and quite probably assassinated the Monsignor if they had captured him. When questioned why he was doing this the Monsignor replied with a very simple and pure response

“God Has No Country”

Until I read a review of the book by Brian Fleming, about the Monsignor’s heroic deeds “The Vatican Pimpernel” I did not know of this great Irishman and to our shock we realised that most other people were exactly the same.

Who?” is the most popular response you get from people when you mention his name.

The sculpture with the accompanying story board in a prominent location in Killarney will hopefully change this both with the Irish and the many international visitors to Killarney.

The sculpture was unveiled on October 31st, 2013, the 50 year anniversary of his death before a large audience, which included the O’Flaherty (and Dineen) family, William Derry (son of Sam Derry, one of the key members of the Monsignor’s team), David Sands and Mo Burton (the grandkids of Henrietta Chevalier, the Maltese widow who offered her home as a safe house for escapees in Rome).

In the audience we also had the Israeli, Canadian and British Ambassadors and John Morgan representing ELMS, The Escape Line Memorial Society.

The moving ceremony consisted of speeches by the town Mayor Patrick Courtney, Hugh O’Flaherty, the grand nephew of the Monsignor as well as Jerry O’Grady the terrific chairman of our Memorial Society. We unveiled the plaques that carried the story of the Monsignor, the “God Has No Country” plaque and the sculpture itself.

John Morgan from ELMS left a wreath of poppies at the feet of the sculpture,

We did it!

Five years of organising, events and fundraising – most of which has come from individuals (please note we received no state help nor support from tourism bodies) brought us to this proud moment.

Killarney now has a beautiful sculpture, a permanent memorial, something to be proud of and a new attraction to visitors, which can only help things in the town. It is also a real connection to British, American and European visitors.

Poppies - Flanders Field

Poppie Anger

While this was an incredible week I was dumbfounded that our chairman received a call from an “angry” citizen enraged that we had allowed the Poppy wreath to be left at the foot of sculpture of the Monsignor. I’m glad he didn’t call me ..

How can any Irish person take in this whole incredible project and the very best they can come up with is to get angry with us because of a Poppy wreath. What has happened to someone that this is the only emotion that is stirred from such an occasion?

What is it about the poppy?

The destruction brought by the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th Century transformed bare land into fields of blood red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers. In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again ripped open as World War One raged through Europe’s heart. Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.

The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts. It was adopted by The Royal British Legion as the symbol for their Poppy Appeal, in aid of those serving in the British Armed Forces, after its formation in 1921′

The Poppy represents something beautiful growing from the sacrifice of others.

Our key objectives with the sculpture of the Monsignor are to honour his selfless deeds and his courage but more importantly to inspire these traits in all of us so that we can do great and selfless deeds in our lives.

While my first instinct would be to give our angry poppy friend a piece of my mind, instead I hope that he can put his anger and prejudices aside and realise what this is really about. Maybe he should stop and smell the poppies…

As a great man once said “God Has No Country

Greg Canty is a partner of Fuzion

Fuzion are a Marketing, PR and Graphic Design agency in Ireland with offices in Cork and Dublin

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4 Responses to “Hugh O’Flaherty and those Poppies”

  1. alec smith (@climatech) Says:

    Amazing how incensed people can become over this beautiful flower, a lovely memorial for a very heroic man.

  2. Fergal Bell Says:

    It’s a lovely post, Greg, and an achievement to be proud of. I think I had heard of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty but didn’t really know much about what he had done. His actions show the courage of his beliefs in the face of a policy that seemed to follow expediency rather than justice.

    Over the years I’ve increasingly thought that the negative response shown to the poppy is misguided. It may be a symbol adopted by the Royal Legion but it’s also one that remembers the sacrifice of people throughout Europe (including many Irish people) during the First World War and wars since.

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