Thursday, April 2, 2020

Hugh O'Flaherty: Fighting Celt

Coming Soon...

In these incredibly dark times, with health care workers struggling to save the lives of those afflicted with the Coronavirus plague, it is useful to reflect on to the lives of those who, at great risk to themselves, have worked heroically to save human life (See my blog on the Coronavirus...

One of these was a Fighting Celt from the Emerald Isle named Hugh O'Flaherty.  This is a chapter from our forthcoming work, 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur...

Hugh O'Flaherty
1898 - 1963
Killarney, Republic of Ireland

To win in a war,
sometimes you need not guns, hate
but a heart and love.
Stuart Laycock

Fighting Celts sometimes fight off the battlefield and sometimes without weapons.
One of the most remarkable heroes of World War II was neither a soldier nor a politician. He was an Irish priest who became the Celtic Oskar Schindler.

Hugh O'Flaherty
The Celtic Schindler
Hugh O’Flaherty was born in County Cork in 1898. His father was steward on a golf course. Young O’Flaherty grew up in Killarney with the game, becoming a scratch golfer. At age twenty, he enrolled in a Jesuit college, charting a path to the priesthood. He was ordained in 1925 and went on to serve around in the world as a Vatican diplomat in countries such as Haiti, Egypt, and Czechoslovakia.
O’Flaherty was a Monsignor in Rome when World War II broke out. As one of the Vatican’s best golfers, one of his duties was to chaperone golf-playing visitors to the Holy See.

In June of 1940, Mussolini entered the war on the Axis side by attacking across the border with France and from Libya into Egypt. In July of 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily. Britain’s Field Marshal Montgomery and US General Patton had their famous “race to Messina.” Shortly after the fall of Sicily, the Italian government essentially switched sides in the war, and Mussolini was arrested by King Victor Emmanuel III’s government.
Nazi Occupation of Rome
Hitler did not take this lying down. Thousands of German troops under the able leadership of “smiling” Albert Kesserling were sent to occupy large parts of the Italian peninsula. Hitler also dispatched paratroopers in a bold raid that succeeded in rescuing Il Duce from his mountain prison at the Hotel Campo Imperatore, returning him to behind Axis lines. Rome was occupied by Nazi troops from the summer of 1943 until its liberation by Allied troops on 4 June 1944—just two days before D-Day.

During this critical period, O’Flaherty played a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the Nazi overlords who controlled Rome up to the Vatican gates. He made use of space in monasteries and convents to conceal Allied soldiers and Jews. His actions are estimated to have saved around 6,500 lives. Many of the men he saved were downed Allied airmen who had flown missions over Nazi-occupied Italy.
Herbert Kappler
1907 - 1978
Herbert Kappler, the head of the SS in Rome, learned of O’Flaherty’s actions. He had a white line painted on the streets by the Vatican, marking the boundary between the Holy See and Nazi authority, and declared that the priest would be killed if he left Vatican territory.  Kappler also put a bounty on O’Flaherty’s head and attempted to lure O’Flaherty across the line with double agents. O’Flaherty was not fooled and earned a reputation as the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican.

After the war, O’Flaherty was honored by many nations for his wartime services. He received a Medal of Honor from the US government and a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) from the United Kingdom.

Kappler, on the other hand, went to prison after the war. But he requested that Monsignor O’Flaherty visit him in prison. Kappler made his confession to his old nemesis and even converted to Roman Catholicism.
Scarlet & the Black

O’Flaherty returned to Ireland, where he died in 1963 following a stroke. His life was featured in a made-for-television movie (The Scarlet and the Black) starring Gregory Peck as the priest. A statue of this Celtic hero stands today in Killarney behind the motto: God has no country.

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Lia Parker said...

O can we find this movie?

Commander Kelly said...

Great question Lia! This Made for TV move was produced in 1983 and is VERY hard to find. I have only been able to watch a few highlights of it on You Tube. Search for: The Scarlet and the Black.