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Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was a reluctant war hero. The Co Kerry native was working in the Vatican when the second World War broke out. A mixture of circumstance, fate and his humanitarian spirit meant he ended up running one of the most successful Allied escape operations seen during the conflict. His story is as remarkable as it is dramatic, writes GEMMA GRANT


In 1918, when Hugh O’Flaherty entered Mungret Jesuit College in County Limerick, the twenty-year-old Kerryman had his sights set on the missionary fields. The young seminarian moved quickly through the clerical ranks attaining several doctorates, mastering numerous languages and became a Monsignor by the age of thirty-six.
His skills were not overlooked by his superiors who earmarked him for the diplomatic office rather than missionary work. Accepting the challenge, Monsignor O’Flaherty served in various countries before returning to Rome in 1938, to become an official at the Holy Office.

His diplomatic skills and missionary zeal, that never left him, would be put to good use the following year when Europe went to war.

In 1940, Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, allied itself with Germany. Italian Prisoner of War camps sprang up between 1940-42 detaining some 75,000 captured allied troops. Concerned for the well-being of the men, the Vatican assigned Papal Nuncio, Francesco Duca, to inspect the camps along with Fr. O’Flaherty, acting as assistant and interpreter.

Fr. O’Flaherty was no admirer of British imperialism. He witnessed Black and Tan atrocities in Ireland and lost several friends during that period. He once told a colleague, “I don’t think there is anything to choose between Britain and Germany.”

However, his genuine concern was for the allied prisoners. With missionary zeal, he set about ensuring they received proper clothing, blankets and Red Cross packages. He also used Vatican Radio to pass messages from prisoners to their families. Such were his protests over conditions in the camps, that the Italian authorities pressurised the Church to have him reassigned.

However, their demands failed. Fr. Hugh found another way to help the POW’s that eventually led him into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, one of Rome’s most notorious Nazis.

When Mussolini was overthrown in 1943, Italy signed an unconditional armistice with General Eisenhower. Thousands of POWs escaped and spread across Italy, many asking and receiving sanctuary from the Vatican. It fell to Kappler, as head of the Gestapo, to restore order to Rome, regardless of the cost to life or liberty.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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Christmas held a special place in the heart of Padre Pio, as author Colm Keane explains in his book Padre Pio: Irish Encounters with the Saint.

In 1959, Padre Pio sent a letter to his Irish benefactors wishing them a happy Christmas. The letter was sent to Limerick devotee Gerry Fitzgerald, who had it published in the press. At the core of the letter was a very simple sentiment offering his Irish followers “an incessant flow of blessings” and wishing them “a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year”.

The message was a warm, thoughtful one, especially coming as it did from Padre Pio. No one adored Christmas more than him. It was his favourite time of the year. The story of the Nativity, where the baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, often moved him to tears. “In the end, the gamble of our life is all in this child,” he used to say.

As a boy, Padre Pio loved preparing the crib, often constructing it many months in advance. Coming from a very poor family, he would mould clay from the fields into miniature shepherds, animals and other crib figures. He always took extra effort with the baby Jesus, making sure he was right. He would also put oil into little shells and use them as tiny lanterns to light the crib.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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This Christmas marks the tenth anniversary of Christie Hennessy. Kay Doyle speaks with his three adult children as they remember their wonderful father this festive season.

On December 11th 2007, the music world said goodbye to one of Ireland’s most cherished singer-songwriters Christie Hennessy. At the age of 62, Christie passed away from cancer, leaving behind his wife Gill and three children Hermione, Amber and Tim Ross.

Born Edward Christopher Ross, Tralee-native Christie emigrated to London, working on building sites by day and performing in folk clubs by night.

He released his first album, The Green Album in 1972, but it was twenty years later when his second album, The Rehearsal, topped the charts, outselling U2, and making Christie a household name.

Although he was unable to read or write due to severe dyslexia, Christie wrote all his own songs, including the much loved ‘Roll Back The Clouds’, ‘All The Lies That You Told Me’, ‘Remember Me’, ‘Messenger Boy’ and ‘If You Were To Fall’ performed with his daughter Hermione.

His death left a huge void in the music world not just as a singer-songwriter, but as a storyteller, and a gentle compassionate soul that endeared him to so many.
His loss is immeasurable to those who loved him most – his family. In this Ireland’s Own Christmas Special, Christie’s children reflect on life without him and the wonderful memories that he left behind.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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The Making of Miracle on 34th Street

By Thomas Myler

Christmas would hardly be the same without watching the movie Miracle on 34th Street. There were two versions, one made in 1947 and the second in 1994, but it is generally agreed that the earlier version was the best, as good as the second one was, surprisingly for a re-make.

With Maureen O’Hara in one of her best roles as a Macy store executive and a strong cast headed by John Payne as her husband, Natalie Wood as their daughter and Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus, the movie was a delightful fantasy and soon became a holiday classic – and stands up well today, exactly 70 years on.

Maureen always said it was one of her favourite movies. In an interview this writer did for Ireland’s Own some years ago, the Dublin-born star recalled: ‘It was a joy to make, and we all had a wonderful time.’

The story will be familiar. A kindly, white-bearded man, a resident of an old folks home and calling himself Kris Kringle shows up at the parade and is horrified to find that the fellow portraying Santa is so drunk that he can hardly stand on his feet. Furiously, he reports the situation to the parade director who in turn convinces Kris to play the role himself, not only in the parade but in Macy’s big department store.

Children and adults alike are drawn to the new Santa and many begin to believe that Kris Kringle is the real Santa Claus. This sets in motion a series of events in which Kris touches the lives of many, teaching them a lot about faith and the true meaning of Christmas. One who is not a bit impressed is O’Hara’s sophisticated little girl Susan, played by Natalie Wood, who thinks the very idea of Santa Claus is ridiculous.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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By Jim Rees

What is it in the human psyche that prompts us to be fascinated by fear? It’s an undeniable trait – Alfred Hitchcock made a lifelong movie career and several fortunes pandering to it.

Bram Stoker did it with Dracula, Mary Shelley did it with Frankenstein. A similar figment of fantasy has been a money spinner in Scotland for well over a century, as tourists flock in search of the Loch Ness Monster.

Okay, okay – I apologise. I’m stating with absolute confidence that no such being exists, which is as silly as categorically believing in the monster without hard evidence.

It’s an argument that has been going on for a very long time and there have been several serious attempts to prove or disprove the story of a massive creature living in Britain’s largest and deepest lake.

The first report goes back to the 6th century when the Irish monk Adomnán mentioned the beast in his biography of St. Columba. Columba was in Scotland when he came across a funeral in progress on the edge of Loch Ness.

Some of the mourners explained to him that the deceased man had been swimming when he was attacked by a strange beast. Columba ordered one of his followers to act as bait by swimming in the lake and, sure enough, the beast popped his head above the surface.

As Nessy was about to attack, Columba made the sign of the Cross and the beast withdrew.

Continue reading in this week’s Autumn Special

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Stranger Than Fiction

By John Macklin

Samuel Hoosen, a mild-mannered real-estate broker, arrived at New York’s La Guardia airport early in the morning of May 3rd, 1955 to catch the 9.45 flight to Los Angeles for a business conference the following day.

It was just a routine business trip, one he had done several times before. How could Hoosen have guessed that it would become the most important day of his life and that the passengers on Flight 119 could well end up owing their lives to him?

Hoosen carried a small overnight bag, his briefcase, a raincoat and a magazine to occupy him during the flight. He didn’t enjoy flying, but he wasn’t frightened of it–he had flown all over the world during his army service in the war.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about Hoosen. He was small, never known to make a fuss or to throw his weight about. All of which made his behaviour on that May morning in 1955 even more extraordinary.

For when passengers were called to board the DC6 airliner for flight 119 to Los Angeles, Hoosen simply refused to go. “I don’t want to cause trouble”, he told the cabin steward, “But I know there’s something wrong with the plane.”

“Don’t you worry, sir,” said the steward, as though talking to a difficult child. “The guys have been checking it over all morning. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. I’m on the flight myself,” he added, “Can you step through now, sir? You’re causing a holdup.”

But Hoosen refused to budge. By now people were beginning to murmur and look at him strangely. One man said: “Have we got a nut on this flight or something?” Hoosen blushed with embarrassment but he refused to board the red and silver plane.

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Ireland’s Own Children’s Short Story Competition in association with O’Brien Press has been launched! Full details below or check out your weekly magazine.

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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25: Alfred M. Butts, inventor of the board game 'Scrabble' is photographed August 25, 1981 in New York City. (Photo by Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images)

By Seán Hall

A knowledge simulation built around the concept of creating words on a board competitively, but only utilising words accepted in a reputable dictionary of the English language, sounds like a complex proposal does it not? Well, it is in actual fact the popular game of Scrabble known across the globe, with over 150 million sets estimated to have been sold.

Many readers of this piece have probably known Scrabble most of their lives, considering it is the seventieth anniversary of its creation in New York next year. Lesser known are its humble origins, stemming from the mind of an out of work architect during the Great Depression.

On April 13th, 1899, a small boy entered the world to lawyer Allison Butts and his wife, Arrie Elizabeth Mosher, a high school teacher. The child was named Alfred Mosher Butts, the youngest of five. Education was revered in their family with Alfred’s elder brother, Allison Jr., going on to be an accomplished academic of metallurgy, while Alfred trained in architecture.

The parents’ surnames were both French in origin, however, his maternal grandmother Maria Mosher’s maiden name was Carroll, suggesting an Irish connection with the inventor of the board game.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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C.A. Sarsfield tells the story of Frank Freshwaters, whose real-life jailbreak echoes the plot of the film The Shawshank Redemption.


Found guilty and given a sentence of up to twenty years at the Ohio State Reformatory (the prison where some scenes in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption were shot, which told the story of Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, and sentenced to two life sentences) for a parole violation after he had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges from a car accident in 1957, Frank Freshwaters, smiled at the court official as he was led away. The reason for this smile, was simple, Freshwaters had no intention of spending twenty years in prison, and was already making mental plans on how to escape.

The difference between Dufresne and Freshwaters was that according to the script in the film Dufresne was wrongfully convicted, whereas there can be no doubt that Freshwaters was guilty. In 1957, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter for killing a pedestrian with a vehicle, and received a suspended sentence, but two years later a prison term of twenty years was imposed after he violated his probation by driving and obtaining a driver’s licence.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5619)

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3rd May 1966: British film director Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980) in Cambridge. (Photo by Peter Dunne/Express/Getty Images)

Everyone loves a good thriller. But Tom McParland hasn’t always been thrilled by them, unless of course they are by the master of thrillers himself, Alfred Hitchcock.

In Belfast schoolyards a show-off was derided as somebody who thought himself the fella (hero) in the big picture. We called Westerns cowboys, gangster films cops and crooks, and religious orientated dramas holy films. Our mothers or teenage sisters appropriated the weepie as a woman’s picture.

Because in those self-satisfied, two-gender days only females were understood to interpret convulsions.
What confused pre-adolescent me was, if there were women’s pictures why not men’s? So firmly had my chauvinist cement set that I regarded Batman, Hopalong Cassidy, Kit Carson, Jungle Jim, Superman and Tarzan as non gender. Even if I’d tried, I’d never dream up Hopalong Hetty, Kitty Carson, or Jungle Gemma.

But our genre oblivion occasionally showed cracks. For example, celibacy precluded our regarding of The Bells of St Mary’s as a weepie, a holy, or religious movie. Yet we wept buckets, were up to our wimples in habits and canonised Ingrid. We were too busy living the cinema to be genre conversant and overall our homespun terminology was generally adequate.

A great movie defies categorisation and proclaims its own greatness. As 1972’s The Godfather and the brutal dishonesty of Marlon Brando. Or the unflinching honesty of 9 year-old Tatum O’Neill’s duplicity in Paper Moon (1973). Both Paramount pictures. Both different as pasta and pumpkin. Both set in gangster America and both thrilled. Yet both made innocuous the term thriller.

Anecdotal history about movies can also be confusing. Silents weren’t called silents when they were silent, but moving picture shows until talkies arrived. Talkies lost that moniker after radio’s advent. Then with TV’s dominance the old silent name was resurrected – this time abbreviated to movies.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5616)