By Ann Harte O’Toole
Princess Grace of Monaco visited Ireland with her husband Prince Rainier on the 10th June 1961 to visit her grandfather’s ancestral home in Drimuria, Newport, Co Mayo.
It was a significant occasion for this country as for the first time since before World War I, the full state ceremonial was rolled out for their Serene Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Monaco. When the official part of the visit was over they made their way to Co. Mayo to visit the relatives and home of her grandfather, John Kelly. Her grandfather emigrated to America in the 1860s to make a better life for himself – the famine was over in Ireland but there still was a lot of poverty and crop failure.
John and his wife Mary Costelloe had ten children, Jack the youngest married Margaret Majer and she was a champion swimmer. Jack became very rich through the building trade. They had three daughters and one son. Grace was the third child. They lived in Philadelphia, USA. Grace was as beautiful in person as in looks; she became a Hollywood actress and acted in ‘High Society’, ‘The Swan’ and many more films. While Grace Kelly was filming in Cannes, in the south of France she was introduced to Prince Rainier. Prince Rainier III, born in 1923, was Prince of Monaco, the house of the Gremaldi family. He ruled the Principality for 56 years.
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier married in Monaco Cathedral in 1956 and they had three children Caroline, Albert and Stephaney. Their wedding put Monaco on the map. On their visit to Newport they stayed in Ashford Castle with their two children, Caroline and Albert. The news reached Co. Mayo that the Princess was coming to visit her grandfather’s cottage.
Newport and Westport got a clean up, people painted walls, houses, swept roads, cut bushes, set flowers and shrubs. The thatched cottage her grandfather left in the 1860s was still standing and occupied. The occupant, Ellen Mulchrone, who lived in the three roomed cottage made tea and homemade bread for the visitors. The cousins gathered around the old cottage. Princess Grace later bought land in the area that her ancestors came from.
The national flag of Monaco has two equal horizontal bands of red and white which have been the heraldic colours of the house of Gremaldi since 1339. When I was a young schoolgirl attending the Convent of Mercy in Westport, the nuns bought rolls of red and white crepe paper. They got equal lengths of bamboo rods from a neighbour. They then decided to welcome the Prince and Princess outside their school with a show of flags with the colours of Monaco.
We had never seen a Princess or Prince, so it was a special occasion for us. Very few people had a television set in Ireland in 1961. The school lessons were abandonded. The crepe paper was placed on the tables and on the floor. The younger students knelt on the ends of the paper to stop it rolling up. I got the job of measuring the red paper and marking it with white chalk.
The older children cut the paper in equal lengths with the assistance of the teachers. We pasted the red and white crepe paper to make a flag that resembled the flag of Monaco. We fastened them on to the rod. The pupils and teachers of St Patrick’s School were very excited at the thought of a princess passing by their school. Each pupil dressed up in their best clothes.
I wore a red and white striped cotton dress that my mother had bought for me some years previously for my grandmother’s funeral. It had been altered more than once but I still liked it. As the princess was passing by the school she looked out of the car window beaming at me as she must have noticed my dress and probably thought I wore it especially for the red and white colour of Monaco, nobody else noticed the colours.
She gave me a special smile and wave; her warm personality radiated from her face. I didn’t know what to do so I smiled back and waved my red and white flag. In my adult life I visited Monaco while on holiday in Nice. I took the tour of the palace, and observed the photos of the family. I also touched the statue of St Patrick in the square and I visited the Cathedral where the Princess is buried; I placed two rose petals – one white and one red on her grave, in remembrance of the beautiful Princess who visited our town in 1961. Yes indeed, those were the days.