Grace Kelly of Monaco

By Martin Gleeson

John Brendan Kelly, known as Jack Kelly, started a bricklaying business in Philadelphia. In his spare time, he became a competitive rower and by 1916 he became a national champion. He then joined the US army as a private and reached the rank of Lieutenant when he was discharged in 1918.

By 1920, Jack had won six US National Rowing Championships. He then applied to race in the Diamonds Skulls at the Henley Royal Regatta on the river Thames in London. This is the world’s most prestigious event in rowing. His application was rejected because Jack had done manual work as a bricklayer! This rejection became a world scandal.

Because of his treatment at Henley, Jack entered the 1920 Olympic Games. He won the Single Skull race. Teaming up with his cousin Paul Costello, he also won the Double Skull.

After his Olympic victory, Jack posted his racing caps to King George V with a note saying: “Greetings from a bricklayer” because of his rejection at Henley.

At the 1924 Olympics, Jack and his cousin again won the Double Skull giving Jack three gold Olympic medals.

In Philadelphia, Jack’s bricklaying contract business prospered and he became a millionare. He married a former model and ladies University Physical Education coach, Margaret Majer. They had four children, the third being Grace Patricia, born in 1929.


While attending the Ravenhill Academy, a prestigious Catholic girls’ school, Grace Kelly began modelling at local social events with her mother and sisters. She started acting in amateur productions and despite the initial disapproval from her parents, she decided to pursue a career as an actress. Grace moved to New York to train in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. At 19, her graduation performance was in ‘The Philadelphia Story’. She then played various roles in television dramas and on stage.


Grace was noticed by Director John Ford in a screen test in 1950, who said that she showed “breeding, quality and class.” She was given a seven-year contract with MGM.

Her first film role was with Clark Gable in ‘Mogambo’, for which she got a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Her next film was ‘Dial M for Murder’, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. William Holden was her male leading star in ‘the Bridges at Toko-Ri’. 

She again worked under Alfred Hitchcock in her next film, ‘Rear Window’. Her co-star was the great James Stewart. This film won great critical acclaim and is described as a classic.

In her next film, ‘The County Girl’, Grace won an Academy Award of Best Actress.

Grace made her third Hitchcock film, ‘To Catch a Thief’ in 1955. Grace’s last film was ‘High Society’, based on the stage drama ‘The Philadelphia Story’. Her co-stars were Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Grace sang the ever-popular Cole Porter song ‘True Love’ in a duet with Bing.

Wedding of the century

Grace attended the Cannes Film Festival in April 1955. She was invited by Prince Rainer, the sovereign of the principality, to participate in a photo session at the Palace of Monaco. Grace and Rainer met again and when she went back to the US, they continued writing to one another.

In December, Prince Rainier went to America for two months. There he visited Grace and her family and after three days he proposed to her. When she accepted, the press prepared for ‘The Wedding of the Century’. It took place the following year. This brought Grace’s film career to an end. The wedding was watched by over 30 million viewers on TV. 

Grace Patricia Kelly was then Princess Grace of Monaco.

Married Life

During her marriage, Grace performed her duties as a princess and was involved in many artistic and philanthropic works. 

Even though she was not allowed to continue her acting career, Grace supported local artists by forming the Princess Grace Foundation.

Grace had three children, Caroline, Albert II and Stéphanie.

In 1961, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier travelled to Ireland to view her ancestral home in Newport. They stayed in Newport House and Grace bought the old homestead with 35 acres of land. 

In 1965, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier came to Dublin on a State visit. They were guests a the Petits Lits Blancs Charity Ball in Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow.


Grace had hopes of building a holiday home in Newport. This was not to be. On 14 September, 1982, while driving her car to the Palace of Monaco, Grace suffered a heart attack. Her car somersaulted over a cliff and she died later in hospital. Her daughter, Stéphaine survived the accident.

The eulogy at Princess Grace’s funeral was given by James Stewart. And today Irish people visiting Monaco will sadly say a prayer at her tomb in the St. Nicholas Cathedral.