Saturday, May 08, 2010

Book Review - The Vatican Pimpernel

I have just finished reading Brian Fleming's book The Vatican Pimpernel. This is the story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty's activities in Rome during the second world war - the book credits him with being involved in getting over 6,500 people (POWs, Jews, and Italians) to safety. It is a remarkable story of courage, devotion, faith, deception and intrigue. Monsignor O'Flaherty used his status in the Vatican to hide people from the authorities in houses and churches throughout Rome. With the cooperation of the British and rich donors he was able pay for security, accommodation, and other things like false papers. A truly remarkable man - he was awarded a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and the US Medal of Freedom after the war.

Image Source: Collins Press.
The book has the potential to be a thriller describing how O'Flaherty beat the Germans as the Allies slowly advanced on Rome. But it is not intended as a thriller - in 1983, his story was made into a film The Scarlet and the Black starring Gregory Peck. While Fleming does a good job in describing events, there is also much speculation and doubt about exactly what happened as O'Flaherty did not keep notes, nor did he talk much about his participation after the war. Indeed there is even speculation that he was a Nazi mole - see a copy of an article in The Times written by Richard Owen on 3rd July 2000 here. The book is written like a documentary and is very easy and enjoyable to read.

Ever since the 1983 movie came out my Dad has told me that we are related to the Monsignor. So in my Family Tree I decided to trace this link (with the help of my third cousin Catherine Culloty) and found that he is my second cousin twice removed. In other words his mother (Margaret Murphy from Lisrobin, West Cork) and my great grandmother, Julia (Murphy) O'Loughlin, were first cousins. 

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