Sculpture unveiled in honour of Limerick priests who led aid campaign during Biafran war

Relief work in Africa by Fr Aengus and Fr Jack Finucane led to foundation in 1968 of Concern Worldwide

A bench and sculpture celebrating the lives of two of Ireland’s leading humanitarians, brothers Fr Aengus and Fr Jack Finucane, were unveiled on the banks of the Shannon in Limerick city on Thursday.

Installed at Barrington’s Pier and titled Giants of Men, the memorial was created by Tom Roche from Rhode Co Offaly and Knut Klimmek in Dublin, who won the commission for the piece following a public tender.

The brothers Finucane, both Spiritan priests, first came to worldwide attention in the late 1960s when they shipped thousands of tons of food to starving Biafrans in west Africa during a war with Nigerian authorities then.

Fr Aengus and Fr Jack, younger by five years, were central to a mercy-flights aid effort in Biafra. Novelist Frederick Forsyth, then a journalist covering the Biafran war, knew both priests. Fr Aengus, he said, was “always travelling in and out in elderly aircraft — DC6s and 7s, old Constellations nearing the end of their lives — dodging the Nigerian MiGs supplied from East Germany … He brought food in and always tried to take out seriously ill children on the return flights.”

READ MORE

The airstrip they used was under constant attack from Nigerian bombers, especially when the aid aircraft were taking off and landing.

Worldwide outrage

The Biafran war was the first involving mass starvation to be reported on television and the Nigerian blockade provoked worldwide outrage. In 1970 Fr Jack was briefly imprisoned by the Nigerian authorities before being expelled.

Their Biafra aid campaign led to the founding of Concern Worldwide in 1968. Subsequently, both men were involved with relief efforts in Bangladesh in the 1970s, Ethiopia in the 1980s, Rwanda in the 1990s, Sudan and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004

Born in Limerick city, they came from a family of seven children, three girls and four boys. Both attended the local Sexton Street Christian Brothers School and subsequently both joined the Spiritian (then known as the Holy Ghost Fathers) congregation at Kimmage Manor in Dublin. Fr Aengus died in 2009 aged 77 and Fr Jack died in 2017 aged 80.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times