2012 Memorial Weekend a Huge Success

20 November, 2012

Highlight of Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Weekend

Heads of Church and State Attend Hugh O‘Flaherty International Humanitarian Award

Saturday 10th November, Killarney Plaza Hotel, Killarney

Papal Nuncio, Town Mayor, British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, Joanne Joyce ICPO, An Taoiseach Enda KennyEvery year since the Memorial Weekend was first established in 2008, the highlight of the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Weekend is the presentation of the Hugh O'Flaherty International Humanitarian Award, honouring individuals or organisations who have displayed the same ideals and principals of the Monsignor, who during WW2, together with his colleagues in the Rome Escape Line, saved over 6,500 people from the clutches of the Nazis who had occupied Rome at the time.

This year the occasion brought together, for the first time at the event, the heads of both Church and State, when An Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended the event together with the newly appointed Papal Nuncio for Ireland, Archbishop Charles John Brown and was also joined by the British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott.

This year's deserved winner was Sr. Agnes Hunt who was nominated by the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas and was chosen due to her commitment nd empathy towards Irish Prisoners Overseas and their families.  Sr. Agnes was the first woman to be appointed to a chaplaincy in a male prison in the UK, when she began a placement at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, where she remained for 16 years.  During her time she formed close ties with many of the prisoners and their families.

An Taoiseach, who was the key note speaker, spoke about the Monsignor's humanitarian work and that of other Irish people including Bob Collins and Mary Elms who during WW2 gave of themselves to help others "What the Monsignor and people like him displayed is that it is possible and very important to care beyond ourselves.  An Taoiseach went on to promise that it was just a matter of time before the Monsignor would be honoured by the Irish government. "It is time we recognise and honour our Irish WW2 heroes and I hope that by 2014, the 75th anniversary of the start of WW2 that this will be in place."

Following An Taoiseach's moving address to the audience of over 200 people, he was presented with a specially bound copy of the Monsignor's biography "The Vatican Pimpernel".  A similar presentation was made to the Papal Nuncio and to the British Ambassador. 

After the presentations, Dominick Chilcott spoke about the growing close ties between the Irish and British government "This is the first year of the decade of centenary commemorations when Ireland remembers the events that led to its independence. The British government is very pleased to be able to take part in those commemorations with the Irish government. 100 years on, we can look back at those tumultuous events with somewhat less urgent passion and somewhat more objectivity."

Ambassador Chilcott added "We may not always feel comfortable - and that particularly applies to my countrymen - with what we see when we revisit these events to examine them in the light of the latest historical scholarship. But if we and our closest neighbours and friends in Ireland can do so together, in a spirit of truth-seeking and mutual respect, these commemorations will be a further spur to reconciliation and healing in the relations between our two countries, which are already better, stronger and more settled than ever before."

Following on from what Chairman of the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Committee described as "Significant and Substantial Speeches", Jerry O'Grady introduced Joanne Joyce of the ICPO, who nominated Sr Agnes for the award.   Joanne stated that Sr. Agnes unfortunately could not be present to personally collect her award as she was unwell.  Mayor of Killarney Sean O'Grady presented the Award to Joanne on behalf of the People of Killarney and the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Committee. 

On receiving the award on behalf of Sr Agnes, Joanne added that the reason she nominated Sr. Agnes because she has an amazing ability to treat everyone with such dignity and respect and works tirelessly for Irish overseas prisoners and their families.  She stated “34 years after her first day in Wormwood Scrubs, Sr. Agnes remains committed to supporting prisoners.  Every week she comes into our Maynooth office to write to prisoners serving life sentences in the UK, many of whom she has known since her time at Wormwood Scrubs.  For many of them the letter they receive from Sr. Agnes each week will be the only contact they have with the outside world.

The evening finished with a very special tribute to the Monsignor and his colleagues and friends in the Rome Escape Line with the Premiere of 3rd original short drama on the life of Hugh O’Flaherty, written and performed by local actor/producer Niamh Burns and friends.

Other highlights of the weekend included the Official Opening of the Memorial Weekend at the Malton Hotel by Minister for Arts, Heritage and The Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD.  

Nephew of the Monsignor, retired Justice Hugh O’Flaherty gave a short talk on some personal memories of his uncle and the evening ended with some musical memories of WW2 Vera Lynn songs performed by students of Sharon Reidy.

On Saturday morning the inaugural O’Flaherty Kerry Trail Tour took place with a visit to the Monsignor’s final resting place in Cahersiveen as well as the O’Flaherty Memorial Sculptor’s workshop in Knightstown, Valentia Island.

The tour finished with a visit to Muckross Park, where Mairead O’Sullivan of Killarney recited her winning entry in the Poetry Competition at the Memorial to the Monsignor in the Arboretum in Muckross.  Her piece had the haunting verse of "Blood runs Red, but Hope is Scarlet".  Also on Saturday afternoon there was a special Children’s Reading Workshop “Where Dreams Begin” in the Killarney Outlet Centre by Children’s Author & Poet, Carmen Cullen who is the niece of Delia Murphy, a friend and ally of the Monsignor’s during WW2 in Rome.

The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Society now has a very active Education Committee and on Friday November 9th, The Hugh O’Flaherty Photo & Memorabilia Exhibition was opened at Killarney Library where the winners of the Poetry and Essay Competitions were revealed. 

Entries and winners came from far afield and the winning entry in the Open Essay competition was Tiarna Lavelle, 6th year student at St. Louis School in Monaghan. Tiarna travelled down with her mother Elaine and grandmother to accept the award.

Finally on Sunday the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Brown celebrated the Annual Hugh O’Flaherty Commemorative Mass at St Mary's Cathedral and spoke warmly of the respect for the Monsignor in Rome, that he discovered when he started working in the Holy Office, - the place where the Monsignor had previously worked for many years. 

On Sunday The Hugh O’Flaherty Perpetual Cup Golf Competition took place at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, to commemorate the Monsignor's great love of golf.

It is hoped that within the next year, the Monument to the Monsignor, which will act as a permanent memorial to this great Irishman will be erected in Killarney town centre.  However, substantial funds are still required to make this a reality.