A tribute to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.‘When the war ended, he was credited with saving the lives of 6,500 people.’

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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As a wave of fascism overran the European continent in the late 1930s and early 1940s, many people were propelled into the most extraordinary moral and ethical dilemmas in their bid to survive the onslaught of extreme forces and destructive ideologies.

Persecution of minority groups, Jews, Slaves, disabled people and others, became widespread in Germany and the occupied territories, leaving many people with harrowing decisions between ensuring their own survival and doing whatever they could to protect those targeted by this persecution.

One man from Killarney, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, faced up to those choices with incredible bravery and heroism. And he was celebrated this morning on the Ryan Tubridy Show by actor, director and playwright, Donal Courtney.

“This story about what he did during World War II to help people isn’t known… He was a priest who found himself in Rome from the mid-1920s. He was working for the Holy See. War broke out and he was perfectly placed to do something.”

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty is the subject of Donal’s new play, God Has No Country, which reflects on his actions during that period of war and terror. The Vatican was actually neutral during World War II, and the clergy who resided there could have sat the whole period out in safety. But not the Monsignor.

“He got to know a lot of the Who’s Who of Roman society. When the war broke out, he was well positioned to help people in need. It started very small, just a couple of soldiers, POWs who had escaped, housing them in safe houses.”

god-has-no-country

(Donal Courtney stars in the play ‘God Has No Country’)

From small acorns, great oaks grow, and over time, he developed an elaborate network of safehouses, hiding escaped POWs, Jews, antifascists and others from the Gestapo.

“When the war ended, he was credited with saving the lives of 6,500 people.”

Donal Courtney spent 14 months researching this play and was inspired to do so principally because he grew up 30 yards from Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty’s house in Killarney, County Kerry. Although he knew nothing about him in school, Donal’s grandfather actually made suits for the Monsignor, so their families are linked in more ways than one.

Today, in Killarney, a memorial society is now active, dedicated to preserving the memory and legacy of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

Donal Courtney has another claim to fame, of sorts, as a man who introduced Michael Fassbender to the world of acting, and was credited hugely by the German-Irish actor when he himself spoke to Ryan last week. On Michael Fassbender, Donal had this to say.

“(Michael) had that presence, that charisma. He had it from day one. He also had work ethic, and that’s what I remember most…. Michael is the same guy he was when I first met him. He hasn’t changed.”

God Has No Country will be on tour around Ireland from November 6th. To listen back to the full interview, click here.

© The Listener 2016

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