Sharon Commins Receives Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award

Sharon Commins Receives Hugh O'Flaherty International Humanitarian Award

Last Saturday night saw the culmination of a weekend of activity marking the second annual Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Weekend when Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki became the first recipients of the inaugural Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award.  Although Hilda could not attend as she is still recovering with her family in Uganda, Sharon travelled to collect her award in person, accompanied by her family.  Present on the night were over 150 invited guests including members of the Monsignor’s family, Bishop William Murphy and members of Killarney town Council including Mayor of Killarney Michael Gleeson.

During the summer, Irish NGO’s were invited by the Hugh O’Flaherty to nominate a colleague(s) working overseas, who they feel have displayed the same ideals and principals of the Monsignor and would be deserving of this Award.  Of these agencies four had independently nominated Sharon and Hilda for the award.  These agencies were: – Goal, Plan Ireland, Trocaire and Concern.

Speaking at the Award Ceremony, which took place in the Killarney Plaza, Jerry O’Grady of Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce and member of the Memorial Committee, said  “The level of cross organisation support for the nomination made our decision very easy and Sharon and Hilda were shining examples to people of all ages. They were worthy recipients of the award which was in recognition of their unstinting humanity and bravery, when coming to the aid of the oppressed.” 

Presenting Sharon with the award was Killarney Town Mayor Michael Gleeson spoke eloquently about Sharon and Hilda and the great fortitude and courage they displayed during their captivity and since their release.  Speaking directly to Sharon he stated “Your ordeal has been well documented by the world’s media. The real story however is of your strength of character and determination to emerge an even better person. The smiling person that emerged from the plane in Dublin and that enthralled the hardened media at the subsequent press conference told us all that you survived because you are a lady of rare and splendid courage and indomitable spirit. Those noble qualities were obviously inherited from your parents who also endured terribly during more than three months of your cruel incarceration.”

On accepting the award, to a standing ovation, Sharon thanked her family and everyone who supported herself and Hilda during their captivity.  She stated that the work of aid agencies was essential to ensure dignity to those in greatest need and Sharon also used the opportunity to call on people to consider volunteering for overseas aid agencies for a one-year period. Despite her ordeal, Sharon stated “It is enormously rewarding work and I am so proud to have been involved in it.”

The Memorial Weekend also consisted of a Fundraising Event at the INEC which was produced by Liam O’Connor and featured a range of talented performers including the McCrohan Brothers, Baritone Gavin Ring and Soprano Nicola Mulligan.  The Monsignor’s grand nephew from Caherciveen, Cormac Dineen gave a performance on the Violin and Keyboard and there was a special appearance by Magician Liam Sheehan, who is famous for performing for Michael Jackson and his children over the past number of years when the artist visited Ireland.

At the event there was an auction of the Stephen Murphy portrait of the Monsignor which went for €3,500.   The purchaser, Michael Hegarty of Park Road has pledged to donate the painting to a Killarney museum in the future.  The fundraising objective is to raise money to build a permanent memorial to the Monsignor in Killarney town. 

An Exhibition of archive photographs on the Monsignor’s life at the Killarney Outlet Centre continues to run this week up to Friday 13th November.

More detailed information on the Monsignor’s life and details on how to donate to the Memorial fund, visit www.hughoflaherty.com

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