A number of books have been written that feature the story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty.

In many ways it was the book by Brian Fleming that was the catalyst for the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Society - Brian wanted to make sure that the incredible story and more importantly selfless deeds of the Monsignor were not forgotten. That is our key objective.

The Vatican Pimpernel 

Brian Fleming
, the author is a former member of the Oireachtas and is currently Principal of Collinstown Park Community College in Dublin.

Brian felt that this book should be written to generate more awareness about this great man and his selfless humanitarian work.

"O'Flaherty was awarded the highest honours, including a CBE (UK), the Congressional Medal (US), and was the first Irishman named Notary of the Holy Office. Eight million viewers watched him in 1963 on BBC's 'This Is Your Life'. Within months he had died and his death was reported by papers all over the world. In 1983 he was immortalised in the film, 'The Scarlet and the Black‘. Yet the only monument to him is a grove of trees planted in Killarney National Park in 1994 by his family and friends.
The name of this great and good man is largely forgotten in his native Ireland."
The Vatican Pimpernel’ is published by Collins Press and is available in all bookstores.

Other books include:

Scarlet Pimpernel of The Vatican

(written by JP Gallagher - published 1967)

Review - Scarlet Pimpernel of The Vaitican - JP GallagherIrish newspaperman J.P. Gallagher first heard about Hugh O’Flaherty while covering the war front, and was largely responsible for bringing the Monsignor’s story to the attention of the world at large.

In one feature the reporter dubbed O’Flaherty the “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican” after the fictional hero of a popular adventure series by novelist Emma Orczy. The name stuck. After the war, Gallagher continued to be intrigued by the story and after much pleading on the reporter’s part, the reluctant Monsignor was persuaded to give one interview.

This, plus much research and many other interviews with people who knew, helped, or were helped by the priest, became the basis for Gallagher’s book, Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, published in the late sixties. With true Irish storytelling flair, Gallagher makes Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican read like a novel. The book moves chronologically through O’Flaherty’s life, focusing most closely on the war years.

The chapters are filled with fascinating anecdotes (who knew that the one of the refugees, a young Yugoslav med student, would end up marrying actress Gina Lollobrigida?). O’Flaherty may come across as larger than life, but he never seems less than real.

Any writer knows how hard it is to portray an honestly good person - in this Gallagher has succeeded. Gallagher does have the attitudes of his era, a definite pro-British slant, and a regrettable tendency to fictionalize dialogue of the “Wait! We kom!” variety for the Germans.

On the whole the book is well-written, fast-paced, and never disappoints. Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican is out-of-print now, and a bit hard to find, but if you’re seriously interested in the Monsignor, it’s worth tracking down.

Hugh O'Flaherty - His Wartime Adventures

(written by Alison Walsh - published 2010)

Wartime Adventures of Hugh O'Flaherty - Alison WalshReview - This book is written in child friendly language and will capture the imagination of children at the senior end of the primary school. Hugh O'Flaherty was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things.

A Kerryman who loved sport, he was cheerful and full of energy. He was in Rome in 1939 when the Second World War broke out and when Mussolini sided with Hitler.

From his safe base in the Vatican, he developed a network of contacts, including donors of money and food, to help escaped prisoners of war and others whose lives were in danger. But the work was very dangerous, especially when he ventured out in disguise.

This earned him the nickname 'The Pimpernel of the Vatican'. The Gestapo chief in Rome ordered that he be killed or captured but Hugh was never caught.

When the Allies freed Rome, Hugh had helped over 6,500 people to escape imprisonment or even death.

He was awarded many high honours for his bravery and courage, and retired to Kerry in 1960. He died in 1963 and is buried in Caherciveen.

Available on Amazon

Hide and Seek

(written by Stephen Walker - published 2011)

Hide and Seek - Stephen WalkerReview - After Italy exited the war in 1943, many of the Allied PoWs who went on the run, found that their improbable saviour was to be an Irish priest based in the Vatican who had once had a strong dislike of the British, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

With the help of the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, O’Flaherty began to hide the many PoWs who found their way to Rome in safe houses. Escapees were dressed up as clerics and smuggled past German guardposts, while O’Flaherty himself once shed his robes and posed as a coalman to escape soldiers hunting him in a palazzo.

One officer shammed dead in an open coffin during a search, while others were hastily concealed under the skirts of innocent-looking nuns. By 1944, the Escape Line was sheltering some 3,000 people, including Jews, in more than 200 places around the city.

Its records were kept safe in biscuit tins buried by Sir D’Arcy in the Vatican’s gardens. Indeed, much of the appeal of this story lies in the incongruity of its setting, with the Baroque splendour of St Peter’s Square doubling as a hub of espionage. Even the villain of the piece, police chief Herbert Kappler, seems to be from central casting, right down to his membership of the SS and his duelling scar. 

Yet this was no pantomime, and many of the ordinary Italians on whom O’Flaherty relied were betrayed, tortured and executed. Kappler even came up with a plan to kidnap the Irishman while he was at Mass, hustle him over the white line separating the Vatican from Italy, and have him shot “while escaping”. Only a timely tip-off allowed the Swiss Guards to foil the scheme.

Yet the tale of the Vatican’s Scarlet Pimpernel had an extraordinary final twist. While Kappler was on trial for war crimes in Rome in 1946, he converted to Roman Catholicism – and the priest who received him into the church was none other than the one he had tried so hard to kill, Hugh O’Flaherty.

With little in the way of personal testimony to draw on, Walker cannot quite draw out the motivations of each man, but there is nevertheless something remarkably affecting about such a reconciliation. The old stories are, it seems, still the best ones.

Available on Amazon

The Rome Escape Line

(written by Lt. Col. Sam I. Derry - published 1960)

The Rome Escape Line - Sam DerryAmazing as this WW2 story is, nothing about it is more remarkable than the fact that it has remained untold for so long.

After the collapse of Mussolini’s empire and the virtual surrender of the Italian army, Italian guards deserted their posts and allied POW’s were free to attempt escape across German occupied Italy. Major Sam Derry escaped when he jumped from a prison train taking him to Germany.

His suicidal bid for freedom ended in Rome and more precisely in the Vatican where he met Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.  Together they masterminded the Rome Escape Line through which thousands of escapees were processed to freedom. When Rome was liberated in June 1944, they handed over nearly four thousand escapees who were still in safe hiding, under the noses of the Gestapo. 

In the foreword to his book, Sam Derry wrote, “This book has been written unbeknown to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty C.B.E.: one of the finest men it has been my privilege ever to meet. Had it not been for this gallant gentleman, there would have been no Rome Escape Organisation”.

Available on Amazon