Posts Tagged ‘Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty’

Hugh O’Flaherty and those Poppies

November 3, 2013

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

An Inspirational Woman – Henrietta Chevalier

March 8, 2011
Henrietta Chevalier - Hugh O'Flaherty

Henrietta Chevalier - Inspiration of World War 2

With all of this talk about inspirational women on International Women’s Day I wondered why it was just the women who were taking about the subject!

This is my nomination for the most inspirational woman – before that, first question.. have you heard of her?

Mrs Henrietta Chevalier was a young Maltese widow with six daughters and two sons, one of which was imprisoned as soon as Italy entered the war due to being a British subject. Her other son, Paul was a clerical officer with the Swiss Legation so his diplomatic papers protected his freedom.

Even though she lived in a small third floor apartment in Rome she played a huge role in the Rome Escape Organisation set up by Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty from Killarney throughout the war in providing shelter for escapees.

Mrs Chevalier showed tremendous courage as she constantly took these risks, which if found out would have resulted in execution for her family.

At one point in time she had four British soldiers staying with her and when asked by the Major about the risks here comment was:

They are absolutely grand, these boys. They are just like my own children. It is all so marvellous

O’Flaherty warned everyone lodging with her that in the event of any danger, her safety and that of her family had to come first.

Her flat was used as a depot for food and supplies, which was risky as the movement of black bags could easily arouse suspicion.

Eventually the Gestapo suspected the Chevalier household and had it watched around the clock as well as conducting a number of raids but each time the lodgers managed to escape on time due to a system of tip offs. The daughter Gemma, had a very narrow escape on one occasion while buying supplies, which she kept from her mother. (Gemma subsequently married one of the British Serviceman Sands that was sheltered by the family and the wedding was conducted by the Monsignor in Rome.)

Despite the close escapes and the warnings, she always wanted the lodgers back.

Mrs Chevalier, who also had some nursing experience used to venture out and provide medical assistance to various escapees around the city with Milko Scofic, a Yugoslavian.

Mrs Chevalier made everyone feel welcome:

at Christmas she served brandy instead of tea, Christmas gifts were exchanged among the family and the three British lodgers

Eventually it was felt that Mrs Chevalier and her family due to the close scrutiny should be evacuated and one by one they left and were brought to a farm on the outskirts of the city.

John Furman recalls of Mrs Chevalier:

What can be said of this incredible woman, who I guessed to be in her early forties? I would not call her brave for it seemed to be she had no conception of fear. Her kindness and generosity were unparalleled, her maternal spirit and compassion boundless

Mrs Henrietta Chevalier was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work and bravery.

The stress and strain of the war took its toll on Mrs Chevalier and she suffered from sickness later on in life as a result.

Isn’t she inspirational?

Greg Canty is a partner of Fuzion Communications

Have you heard of Hugh?

October 19, 2009
Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty

Just as Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize you might think about Irish people down through the years who may have been worthy of the same award. How many people spring to mind and in the same breath I will ask you ‘Have you heard of Hugh?’

Two years ago I was coming back from Berlin after a fabulous weekend with some friends. We had a great time with the usual mix of late nights, shopping and visiting the various tourist attractions. We had a very sobering visit to the Holocaust museum, which was quite depressing and a very real reminder about how crazy our world is capable of being.

On the plane home I spotted an article in the Irish Examiner reviewing a new book The Vatican Pimpernel, about an Irish priest working in Rome, who had helped save over 6,500 people during World War II. First I thought that it must be a fictional story about the war and I read on quite intrigued. To my utter amazement I discovered that this actually happened and the Irish priest in question had been born in Cork and grew up in Killarney!

How could this be possible? How was it that for all 40 plus years of my life that I had not heard about this Irish hero who was from literally just down the road? Asking practically everyone I met I was getting the same response – no one had heard of this terrific Irish man.

The man in question was Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

During World War II, the Monsignor held a senior position within the Vatican. However despite the fact that the Vatican had a neutral capacity during the war the Monsignor could not just ignore pleas for help from people in need. When approached at the gates of the Vatican by people who were in danger and were looking for shelter the Monsignor decided he had no choice but to help. During the course of the war he provided shelter and ultimately saved the lives of over 6,500 people of all nationalities and religions.

Besides being incredibly courageous what I find most fascinating was the strategy, sophisticated planning, organisational and business brilliance of the Monsignor. Despite his life being in constant danger he managed to manage and finance a project that secured a network of safe houses to protect and shelter prisoners of war in Rome through a combination of friends and rented accommodation. With his own life at risk, he managed to raise funds on an ongoing basis that paid for these premises and also provided food and clothing over an extended period for all the people in hiding and kept all of this going until the Allies arrived in Rome in 1945.

A key element to keeping the operation going despite the constant presence of the Nazis was his intelligence network, which succeeded in keeping everyone safe despite many close shaves.

After the war his work did not stop there, the Monsignor spent much of his time visiting German prisoners ensuring that they were being treated properly by the authorities.

The Monsignor received many decorations, including, Commander of the British Empire and the US Medal of Freedom. The Monsignor retired to Cahirciveen for the last three years of his life and on 30th October, 1963 he sadly passed away. His death was mourned throughout the world, including a front page tribute in the New York Times.

Up until this past year, the Monsignor has never been officially recognised in Ireland by either government or church.

While we can’t exactly compare, we all are now in tough times and we need courage, flexibility, adaptability and ingenuity to steer our way through this tough economical crisis. At the same time we do need to do our best to work with our colleagues, suppliers and customers in a compassionate and respectful manner as they could very well be under severe financial pressure.

To learn more the Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty check out the book by Brian Fleming, The Vatican Pimpernel, visit the memorial website or hire the DVD The Scarlet and the Black featuring Gregory Peck as The Monsignor.

On the weekend of the 6th November in Killarney, the second annual memorial weekend takes place, in honour of The Monsignor. The weekend includes a presentation of his life in pictures at The Killarney Outlet Centre, the presentation of the Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award and a fundraising concert so that funds can be raised for a permanent memorial to be erected in Killarney in honour of the Monsignor.

Have you heard of Hugh? We must never forget..