In July 2008 The Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty Committee was set up with two aims:-
- Generate more awareness of the Monsignor's life and his bravery and selflessness during World War II
- Fundraise for a fitting and prominent memorial to the Monsignor in his home town, Killarney
(The July 2008 Committee pictured - Front Row l to r: Deirdre Waldron, Pearl Dineen, Hugh O'Flaherty, Michael Courtney. Back Row l to r: Greg Canty, Paul Coughlan, Brian Fleming, Jerry O'Grady, Michael O'Leary, Canon Pat Horgan)
Hugh O'Flaherty Commitee Background
Many people overseas are well acquainted with the story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty - a.k.a. The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. Through his humanity and bravery many lives were saved in Nazi occupied Rome during the latter stages of WW2. Indeed his work has been recognised and honoured by several countries including the British Government who awarded him a CBE and the US Government who awarded him The US Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm.
He has not been honoured officially in Ireland, probably because his actions in Rome were considered to be a breach of Ireland’s neutral position during WW2. Indeed, Government documents from that time would suggest that efforts were being made to actively hinder his efforts. Now at last the people of Killarney are setting about correcting that omission by creating an appropriate memorial to this selfless, brave and inspirational hero.
The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Committee was formed in 2008 consisting of the Town Manager Michael O’Leary, Town Councillor Michael Courtney, Senator Paul Coughlan, Pearl Dineen (the niece of Monsignor O'Flaherty), Deirdre Waldron & Greg Canty (Fuzion PR), Canon Pat Horgan (Diocese of Kerry) and Jerry O’Grady (Killarney Chamber).
Following the sad passing of Cllr. Michael Courtney, his place on the Committee was filled by his son Cllr. Hugh Courtney who has since been replaced by his brother Cllr. Paddy Courtney. The Committee also welcomed another new member i.e., retired Garda Superintendent John Leen.
The Committee also has a number of National Associates i.e., Justice Hugh O’Flaherty (nephew of the Monsignor), Dr Veronica Dunne (lifelong friend of the Monsignor), Brian Fleming (author of the Vatican Pimpernel), and Stephen Walker (author of Hide & Seek).
One of the first actions of the Committee in 2008 was to nominate the weekend of 14th November 2008 as the inaugural Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Weekend. The plan is that in subsequent years this will expand into a major celebration and study of humanitarian services. The inaugural programme included the dedication of a new inner-town road to the memory of Monsignor O’Flaherty, the screening of the feature movie made on his work during WWII – The Scarlet & The Black (starring Gregory Peck), the local launch of Brian Fleming’s recently published book "The Scarlet Pimpernel of The Vatican" and, the opening of an Exhibition of Archive Material. To inform people of the project they also launched a website www.hughoflaherty.com
As a central part of the programme, the Committee initiated an International Humanitarian Award for people who demonstrate qualities and values so clearly held by him, i.e., great humanity, generosity of spirit, extreme bravery etc. For the inaugural year the award was known as the Killarney International Humanitarian Award and it was presented posthumously to Monsignor O'Flaherty. Thereafter in his honour, it was renamed and awarded as the Hugh O'Flaherty International Humanitarian Award. The Memorial Weekend is now in its 5th year.