Jeremy Williams, Architect, Dublin 2008.
The Princess Grace Irish Library was inaugurated on 20 November 1984 by Prince Rainier III of Monaco (1923-2005) as his tribute to the attachment Princess Grace (1929‑1982), his wife, felt for her Irish origins. A short walk from the Palace on the Rock of Monaco (Le Rocher), the Library is on the first floor of the former hôtel particulier where Comte Félix Gastaldi (1821-1906, Mayor of Monaco for 39 years) and his descendants lived until 1970.
During the 1961 State Visit to Ireland, Their Serene Highnesses The Prince and Princess of Monaco visited the cottage— overlooking the Leg of Mutton lake at Drimurla in County Mayo — where Princess Grace’s grandfather John Kelly was born in 1847 during the Great Famine.
Princess Grace’s personal collection of Irish books (most of which lined the walls of her Palace office) form the very heart of the Library’s collections. Many of the volumes are from the library of leading Irish diplomat Count Gerald Edward O’Kelly de Gallach (1890-1968) which Princess Grace purchased in the 1970s. There are also books inscribed to the Prince and Princess by Irish president Eamon De Valera in 1961. In 1978, Princess Grace acquired the complete collection of Irish-American music scores collected between 1932 and 1954 by Michael E O’Donnell from Philadelphia, her native city.
Since the Library’s inauguration, some twelve thousand books have been acquired or donated; these include works from the Irish literary revival (1892‑1922) and an excellent selection of contemporary writings — many signed by the authors. There are also older Irish books and imprints. Among the prime volumes are the Annals of the Four Masters (1841-45), the modern facsimile Book of Kells (donated by Sir Michael Smurfit KBE, Honorary Irish Consul to the Principality of Monaco) and early editions of the works of James Joyce including the first English and French editions of Ulysses. A rare atlas of Ireland (1654), with Spanish text, is displayed in the Princess Grace Salon. New academic publications arrive every month thanks to the generosity of bibliophile Karl Lagerfeld.
Visitors can admire a full-length portrait of Princess Grace by Mohamed Drisi, as well as pictures by Jack Yeats, Louis le Brocquy, Jack Murray and Claire D’Arcy, bronze heads of Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats by Dutch sculptor Kees Verkade (who also designed the Library’s logo), and a magnificent 19th century Spanish silver Virgin font which was the property of the De Valera family.
The Young Readers section has a good selection of books and DVDs for age 2 upwards. There is also an activity table with pencils, crayons, images to be coloured… if the children wish to create artworks.
The Library is a very active centre for all things Irish. Its annual season of lectures and readings has featured distinguished speakers including Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize for Literature, 1995. The choice of subjects is vast in order to appeal to a wide audience. Complete list http://www.pgil.mc/list-of-speakers-from-1984
2006: Irish Poetry After Feminism — directed by Dr Justin Quinn, Associate Professor of American and English Literature, Charles University, Prague.
2008: Irish Art: Periphery to Centre — directed by Dr Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch, Curator, Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.
2010: What’s best next? The future of children’s literature in Ireland — directed by Dr Mary Shine Thompson, Saint Patrick’s College, Drumcondra.
2012: Bánchnoic Éireann Ó! — Folklore, Song and Music of Ireland — directed by Professor Ríonach uí Ógáin, University College Dublin.
2014: George Moore: Situating the Oeuvre — directed by Dr Mary Pierse, University College Cork.
2016: 1916 Easter Uprising — to be directed by Professor Christopher Fox and Professor Briona Nic Dhiarmada, Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame.
Until 2006, papers presented at the Library symposia were published by Colin Smythe in The Princess Grace Irish Library Series: Assessing the 1984 Ulysses, Irishness in a Changing Society, Yeats the European, ‘Ulysses’: A Review of Three Texts, The Literary Works of Jack B. Yeats, The Celtic Connection, Rediscovering Oscar Wilde, Beckett and Beyond, Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Images of Joyce, That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature and its Context, Hearts and Minds: Irish Culture and Society under the Act of Union, The Irish Book Lover and Irish Poetry After Feminism.
For nearly 20 years, we have worked with the English Department at Lycée Albert I (senior high school) near to the Library. Viewing films or taking part in informal encounters with visiting lecturers and writers- or academics-in-residence gives the students the opportunity to express themselves on matters as varied as music, mythology, history and contemporary social problems. We have also organised workshops for creative writing, poetry, theatre, dance and art.
Since 1999, Saint Patrick’s Day events have taken place in various venues across the Principality: The Cathedral, Chapelle de la Visitation, Théâtre des Variétés, and Cinémas du Sporting. The Monegasque public has enjoyed performances by Les Petits Chanteurs and La Maîtrise de Monaco (Boys’ Choir and Cathedral Choir), students from Académie Rainier III - Musique & Théâtre, dancers from the Académie de Danse Classique Princesse Grace, the Pallas Quartet (Cork School of Music) and Tom Cullivan. In 2000, children and teenagers from Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, performed the Gaelic opera An Iarlais at the Théâtre Princesse Grace. In 2013, Cór Mhaigh Eo, the award-winning choir from County Mayo, sang at the Chapelle de la Visitation and the Eglise Saint-Charles. In 2015, Fran O’Rourke and John Feeley performed JoyceSong at the Chapelle de la Visitation.
Some of the events have extended beyond Saint Patrick’s Day: A week-long Irish Film Retrospective delighted cinema buffs in 2001. There have been three one-month exhibitions featuring black and white literary portraits by the celebrated Irish photographer John Minihan, oil paintings by Ulster artist Jack Murray and watercolours by Mary Collins from Dun Laoghaire.
In addition to the Princess Grace Irish Library’s main funding by the Fondation Princesse Grace, The Ireland Fund of Monaco is immensely generous to the Library. In 2002, the IFM created a Bursary for Irish writers and academics to pursue their writing and research projects in the friendly surroundings of the Library. It consists of a one-month stay in Monaco in the Spring and Autumn.
The laureates to date are Eoin McNamee, Angela Bourke, Molly McCloskey, Fred Johnston, Leontia Flynn, Justin Quinn, John F. Deane, Gerry Smyth, Anne Fitzgerald, Mary O’Donnell, Brian Lynch, Fintan Vallely, Martina Devlin, Gréagóir Ó Dúill, William Wall, James Harpur, Robert O’Byrne, Turtle Bunbury, Polly Devlin, Tom Phelan, Ríonach uí Ógáin, Vandra Costello, James Ryan and Mary Pierse.
The American Ireland Fund sponsored The History of Irish Book Illumination of the Golden Age in July 2015. Susan vonMedicus and Prof Tina Waldeier Bizzarro conducted research; gave an illustrated talk for the Friends of the Library followed by a demonstration of the materials and methods of the period. From 20 to 24 July, a series of morning lectures and afternoon hands-on workshops took place daily. Each lecture and workshop focused on an aspect of Irish Manuscript Illumination.