A memorial to an Irish priest who helped to rescue over 6,500 people from the Nazis has been unveiled in Killarney.
Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty who is dubbed ‘Ireland’s Oskar Schindler’ was in Italy at the time of the collapse of the Italian government during the Second World War. The Germans occupied Rome and Italian Jews lived in fear of being captured.
Although Ireland had a neutral status during the war, O’Flaherty worked tirelessly to help those who were under threat from the Nazis. He believed that ‘God has no country’ and hid 6,500 Italian Jews and allied prisoners of war from the Germans using a network of houses and church buildings.
O’Flaherty was known as the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican’ due to his ability to evade the German authorities such as the Gestapo. Commander Herbert Kappler tried to assassinate him several times but incredibly the two men became friends after the war.
O’Flaherty was played by Oscar winning actor Gregory Peck when his life was turned into a film, The Scarlet and the Black.
His heroic actions are celebrated in many countries in the world and he has received honours and medals from the UK, the US, France and Italy. However, he is fairly unknown in Ireland.
His profile in his home country is likely to rise thanks to the memorial which marks the 50th anniversary of his death.
Ambassadors and Embassy representatives from the UK, the US, Canada and Israel were in Killarney to witness the unveiling. The memorial cost £80,000, paid for by donations, and will be erected in the Killarney town centre.
It includes a six foot bronze statue designed by English artist Alan Ryan Hall. Hall became a fan of O’Flaherty after reading about his life and described him as “a real swashbuckling priest”.
Jerry O’Grady of the Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Committee said: “He realised he was breaching neutrality… but he saw the need of the people above everything else and that’s what he did.”