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Unsung Irish : Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty March 21, 2007

Posted by Rambling Man in Poetry & Humor, The Unsung Irish.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish priest, born in Caherciveen, Co.Kerry in 1898.  O’Flaherty is credited with saving at least 4,000 allied soldiers and Jews from the hands of the Germans during World War II by ensuring safe passage and lodging for them among his network of friends and parishioners in Rome.

Having visited many POW camps in the early years of Word War II, he was remember by the Allied servicemen, who, when Italy changed sides in the war in 1943, sought his help.  Without the knowledge of his superiors, he created a network of contacts and safe houses around Rome that enabled the safe passage of the servicemen and Jewish people. 

Eventually, O’Flaherty earned the nickname “the Pimpernel of the Vatican” and because of his elusiveness and use of disguise, he became a target for the SS.  The German officer in charge of  Rome, Herbert Kappler issued a decree that O’Flaherty’s network was to be wiped out but an attempt to assassinate him by the SS failed.

Towards the end of the war when Rome fell, the vast majority of the escapees O’Flaherty and his friends had helped, were still alive.  A very compassionate man, O’Flaherty treated all prisoners equally and insisted that the German prisoners in Rome were also treated fairly.  His one time enemy, Herbert Kappler, having been imprisoned after the war was often visited by O’Flaherty and the two eventually became friends.

I was also very interested to find out that the man was an avid golfer (as I am myself), a keen boxer and a skilled diplomat. 

In 1960 and in failing health, O’Flaherty returned to Ireland and continued to lead an active life.  He died in 1963, aged 65, having recently taken part in a “This is Your Life” program on the life of his friend and ally Colonel Sam Derry.  He was to be the original subject of the program but due to illness he couldn’t travel.

To date, the only monument in Ireland to this great man is a grove of Italian trees planted in his honor in Killarney National Park in 1994.  Fittingly, the poet, Brendan Kennelly wrote the following poem to mark the occasion …

Hugh O’Flaherty’s Trees

By Brendan Kennelly

There is a tree called freedom and it grows
Somewhere in the hearts of men,
Rain falls, ice freezes, wind blows,
The tree shivers, steadies itself again,
Steadies itself like Hugh O’Flaherty’s hand,
Guiding trapped and hunted people, day and night,
To what all hearts love and understand,
The tree of freedom upright in the light.

Mediterranean Palm, Italian Cypress, Holm Oak, Stone Pine;
A peaceful grove in honour of that man,
Commemorates all who struggle to be free.
The hurried world is a slave of time,
Wise men are victims of their shrewdest plans.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.



1. (un)relaxeddad - March 21, 2007

That’s a great story – what an amazing life and man. Let’s not speculate on what the Vatican would have done if they’d found out.

2. ROBERT R HALL - November 20, 2007

what a man . some men changh world and not with money or wealth
but the heart .yours sincerly ROBERT R HALL

3. Rambling Man - November 21, 2007

thanks for the comment robert

4. Claudia - December 15, 2008

I just saw the move The Scarlet and the Black. My heart is overhwelmed at the valor of this man Hugh O’Flaherty. Would that God would raise up many men and women such as he, should we fall under the spell of a tyrant such as Hitler.
To God Be the Glory

5. David - April 11, 2011

My grandmother and family was part of the Rome Escape Line and when I asked my Uncle what Hugh O’Flaherty was like he said: ‘He was a lovely man with the heart as big as his body’ A wonderful epitaph for a great man.

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