True Grace: Prince Albert of Monaco returns to Ireland
As Prince Albert of Monaco returns to Ireland, Michael White recounts the prince’s first trip here 50 years ago with his mum, Princess Grace
Published 02/04/2011 | 05:00
The state visit of Prince Albert of Monaco, who arrives in Ireland on Monday, will be a sentimental affair for the head of the House of Grimaldi.
It's almost 50 years to the day since the then three-year-old Albert visited this country for a week-long holiday with his parents, Prince Rainier III and the Irish-American actress Grace Kelly; an event that whipped up such a glamorous frenzy in Dublin and beyond that celeb watchers were quite literally keeling over with excitement.
In early 1961, soon after the inauguration of John F Kennedy as the first Catholic and Irish-American US president, it was announced that another Irish diasporic star, Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly, known as Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco since her marriage to Rainier in 1956, would make a state trip to these shores to visit her ancestral homeland.
Kelly's grandfather, John Henry Kelly, was an Irish emigrant who had left Newport in Co Mayo for Philadelphia in 1869. The royal couple's stay in Ireland would comprise a three-day state visit and then a four-day private holiday in the west.
The trip called for an unprecedented security operation. Essentially every uniformed garda in the capital was on standby, and the big security focus of the trip was on the couple's children, Caroline (four) and Albert (three), and on Grace's jewellery, which was said to be worth more than £300,000.
Princess Grace and Prince Rainier arrived in Dublin on Saturday, June 10, on an Aer Lingus jet from La Bourget airport outside Paris, their landing delayed by two-and-a-half hours due to -- no surprise here -- bad weather.
Indeed, within minutes of disembarking for the official arrival ceremony, watched by 10,000 people, Grace got a shocking introduction to the notion of 'the Irish summer'. She looked visibly cold, and Foreign Affairs Minister Frank Aiken had to help the princess drape a mink stole around her shoulders to ward off the chill.
Prince Rainier then travelled to Aras an Uachtarain in a Rolls Royce with President éamon De Valera, while Princess Grace rode in an Austin Princess with Aiken and Sinéad Bean De Valera.
The weather improved slightly the next day as the couple attended Mass at the Aras, before visiting the National Stud at Tully, Co Kildare, and then going to Croke Park for the opening ceremony of the Dublin International Festival of Music and Arts.
On the rainy Monday morning, the royal couple took in an art exhibition in Brown Thomas on Grafton Street, before meeting the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Maurice Dockrell, at a reception in the Mansion House, where they presented £700 to various charities.
Prince Rainier then headed to Ballybough to see a new housing estate, while Princess Grace, with an army escort, visited Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, where she chatted with patients and parents, and helped to distribute some 500 boxes of chocolates as gifts throughout the wards.
From there, Grace moved on to the Sacred Heart Home for Orphans on the Drumcondra Road, where she was entertained by Irish dancing and a choir. Two children presented her with plaques that they said she could hang on the palace walls in Monaco.
Grace is reported to have been moved to tears at this point, and hugged the children, saying, "I have two children of my own. I want you to remember them and to pray for them". In the afternoon, the princess and her husband travelled to Dublin Zoo, where the Irish Red Cross Society was hosting an outing for physically handicapped children.
Crowd control on the trip had been relatively tight up until this point, but that evening saw the most serious security breaches of the visit. A banquet at the Gresham Hotel that night quickly descended into chaos. A crowd of around 5,000 rushed the police cordons outside the hotel as the couple's car pulled up. Men, women and children were crushed in the ensuing melee and others fainted, while there was a report that one woman even had a heart attack.
The royal couple looked visibly shaken as some 60 gardai tussled with the crowd to get them, as well as Irish dignitaries such as Taoiseach Seán Lemass, from the cars to the safety of the hotel. Once inside, the crowd kept advancing, while chanting: "We want Grace! We want Grace!".
The princess appeared on a hotel balcony to wave to the crowds. She had been in tears from shock moments before, but rallied like the star performer she was.
At the banquet itself, the royals led couples on the dance floor, though Grace was spotted sneezing throughout the evening. The harpist providing entertainment at the banquet was Kathleen Watkins, an accomplished musician and soon-to-be wife of Gay Byrne.
"We were invited to have drinks with Grace and Prince Rainier afterwards," recalls Watkins. "That was very pleasant indeed. They spoke to us all individually. It was really relaxed. I wasn't star-struck at all. It was just meeting people whose pictures we'd happened to see in the papers. Grace was extremely refined and lady-like, very well spoken and beautifully groomed."
Prince Albert and Princess Caroline arrived that night, and Tuesday was the last day of the family's state duties. The bulk of the day was spent at Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, where the town came to a standstill for the hour-long royal visit.
Some 26 army motorcyclists accompanied the royal couple's Rolls Royce to a lunch at the Royal Hibernian Hotel, while that evening, as 75,000 people gathered to see the couple at their last public engagement in Dublin Castle, all available police in the city, as well as 75 recruits from the depot in Phoenix Park, were on hand.
Still, a group managed to break the cordon, and a dozen people had to be treated for injuries.
On Wednesday, the royal family set off for 'Kelly Country' in Mayo, stopping for afternoon tea in the Shamrock Lodge Hotel in Athlone to break the journey for the children. Grace seemed to love the brown bread that came with her tea and praised it to the staff.
The family stayed in Ashford Castle in Cong, and the next morning, Princess Grace met 70 relatives, including nine second cousins, in the presbytery of St Mary's Church in Westport. She spoke with them mainly about her father -- who had met some of these same relatives in America -- and of how much he'd wanted to visit Ireland again before his death the year previous.
After that it was on to Croagh Patrick, where Grace, wearing a white woollen suit and low-heeled shoes, climbed to the first station. On the way back down, a local woman living in a cottage along the route hailed them down for a cup of tea.
"Oh, lovely, this is just what I need," a grateful Grace told her.
Then, that afternoon came the main event: Grace's visit to the cottage in Drimurla in which her grandfather was born. Some women who crowded into the whitewashed cottage's twisting dirt lane had to be physically carried away by members of the civic guard.
The cottage -- which had been cleaned and re-thatched for the occasion -- was owned by a 68-year-old widow named Ellen Mulchrone, who, wearing a black dress and her best apron, greeted the princess with a 'Céad Mile Fáilte'.
The princess spent 35 minutes drinking tea and eating cakes, soda bread and biscuits, and listening to some of a poem that the widow had composed especially for the occasion. Again, the princess loved the Irish baking; at one point, Mrs Mulchrone had to call out to a policeman in the other room to put the water on the boil again for refills.
She then took Grace on a tour of the cottage, where the princess was taken with the turf fire. "She is a lovely girl," Mrs Mulchrone told journalists afterwards. "We had a great chat."
The last few days of the Grimaldis' trip were quiet. Heavy rain on Friday kept the family indoors at Ashford, save for an afternoon drive around Connemara. The family ate in the public dining room in the hotel, and the children played in the grounds.
Indeed, except for one occasion where a photographer had to be thrown out of the hotel, the western leg of the holiday was pretty hassle-free. Over the weekend, the royals sailed in Clew Bay as part of the Westport fishing festival (where Grace caught a 4lb dogfish and 7lb skate), and visited more Kelly relatives on Inniscuttle Island.
Princess Grace would visit Ireland again before her untimely death in a car accident in 1982. But for the rest of her life, she'd always speak fondly of that one week in 1961, when she walked in her grandfather's footsteps, reconnected with her heritage and came away with a love of brown bread -- and a hard-won insider's knowledge of the horrors of the Irish summer.