by Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
The ancestral home of Grace Kelly, Oscar-winning American actress, fashion icon and ultimately princess of Monaco, doesn’t look like much at first glance.
And, honestly, it’s really not much more now than the crumbling ruin of a two-room house where her grandfather, John Kelly, was born in 1857 in Drimurla just outside Newport, Co. Mayo. In 1887, he left Ireland for Philadelphia, where he founded one of that city’s leading construction companies and made his family’s fortune.
Grace’s path through life eventually brought her back as royalty to the Newport area in 1961 accompanied by her husband, Prince Rainier Grimaldi III of Monaco. The couple stayed at the elegant Newport House and had tea with Ellen Mulchrone, who owned the charming ancestral cottage that back then had a traditional thatched roof and was a viable dwelling.
Grace reportedly bought the house and surrounding land for 7,500 Irish pounds from Mulchrone in April 1976, planning to build a holiday home there. She returned later that year, attended Mass in St, Patrick’s, shopped and had her hair done in Newport, and returned again in 1979 with Prince Rainier to see architectural plans for the holiday home. She told the local press that she would return in a few years to see the home finished, but she died at the age of 52 on Sept. 14, 1982, when her car left a winding road in the cliffs of Monaco. Local residents sent a wreath of wild flowers – picked around her ancestral home in Drimurla – to Monaco for the funeral.
For years, we’d been told that Grace Kelly’s ancestors came from the Newport area and we had little reason to doubt it, as there is no dearth of Kellys in the town itself. There’s a small and good restaurant at the top of the main street called Kelly’s Kitchen and next door is Dominick Kelly’s Butcher Shop, where we often stop to buy the famous, award-winning flavored sausage and black and white pudding.
So, we decided last spring to find out for ourselves just exactly where her grandfather had lived. We drove out the R311 to a sign for Drumgoney Lough, better known as “Leg of Mutton Lake,” turned down a country lane and saw several ruins but couldn’t find the holiday home that might have been built by Grace and her prince. We finally stopped a woman who was leaving her house and she directed us to the first ruin we had seen on the way in.
One exterior wall of Grace’s ancestral home is now part of a paddock for the cows that graze the greenest of fields between the house and lake. One end of the house holds up part of the fence that contains the small herd.
The ruins are nothing to see or photograph now, but there is still a certain mystique about that pile of rocks and the surrounding area. We wondered whether the Rainier family still owns the land and ruins? It seems that a local development association asked permission to erect a memorial to Princess Grace on the land at Drimurla and Princess Caroline, her daughter, said the family would donate the cottage for restoration as well as surrounding lands if they received an acceptable proposal. That was more than 15 years ago.
MAYO NEWS REPORT
We read an October 2007 Mayo News column online called “County View,” in which John Healy writes that a Castlebar photo exhibit by Fr. Mattie McNeely (who died in September, 2010) included some images of the Kelly’s ancestral home.
“Forty years ago,” Healy wrote, “Princess Grace and her husband, Prince Rainier, visited the small cottage which her grandfather, John Bernard Kelly, left for a new life in Philadelphia. It was a visit that captured the attention of the world media, the visit of the fairy tale actress-turned princess to the ancestral home.
“In 1976, the Rainier family purchased the old cottage and adjoining lands and prepared to construct a 2,000 square foot holiday home on the site. But all of the plans came to naught with the death of Princess Grace in a road accident in 1982. The dream died, too.
“Apart from one brief visit by Grace’s son, Prince Albert, the link to the Kellys has been forgotten. The cottage is derelict, and the visitors who still come to search out the roots of the film star Princess go away disappointed.
“It is several years now since local county councillor Frank Chambers mooted the idea of turning the cottage and the Kelly connection with Newport into a tourist attraction. Few would quibble with the idea. The story of the emigrant Kelly whose grandchildren won fame on the silver screen and as Olympic athletes was the stuff of the American dream. Surely that ancestral cottage could be made a tourism Mecca for those who came back across the Atlantic?”
Healy added that “for whatever reason, Frank Chambers’s suggestion was never acted on. The Kelly cottage is now well on its way to disappearing into the undergrowth. The last surviving signs of what was truly a unique story of emigration and its aftermath is about to be wiped from the landscape. Only in Fr. Mattie McNeely’s gentle photographs will survive the family home of Princess Grace of Monaco.
“Whether it is too late to do something to retrieve the tumbledown structure and to make it into the tourism magnet it could be is another day’s work. It is hardly for want of funding, but more for lack of will, that it should be left the way it is. Or maybe, the name of Grace Kelly, the Rainier royal family, and the emigrant success no longer holds the interest it once did.”
We will certainly do further research when we return to Mayo in the spring.
For the uninitiated, Grace debuted in the film 14 Hours, in a minor supporting role, starred in High Noon, and appeared in Mogambo, which won her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She won the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role of 1954 for The Country Girl and a gold record for the song "True Love" from the movie High Society.
Grace and Prince Rainier had three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stéphanie. If you happen to be in Monaco, be sure to visit the Princess Grace Irish Library, which opened in 1984 and is just a short walk from the palace. The library holds conferences, symposia, and film screenings and focuses on all things Irish. Monaco also observes St. Patrick’s Day with special events and performances.
CROSS OF CONG
The Cross of Cong recently returned to Mayo for first time in 170 years and is on display at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar.
An e-mail from the Museum of Country Life says that The Cross of Cong is one of Ireland’s greatest treasures. “It was created in 1123 to encase a fragment of the True Cross that was brought to Ireland and displayed in different places around the country. The medieval Annals of Tigernach record that Tairdelbach Ua Chonchobair (Turlough O'Conor), king of Connacht and high king of Ireland, asked for part of the Cross to be kept in Ireland. On his instructions, a shrine was made in Roscommon to house the fragment - long since lost. That shrine is the Cross of Cong.”
For further details about the exhibit, visit museum.ie/en/exhibition/cross-of-cong.aspx
The museum also has a well-stocked museum shop with books and handcrafted gifts as well as a café with seasonal meals and yummy freshly-baked treats.
Visit museum.ie for details of events planned through December and contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be on the mailing list. The Museum of Country Life is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m., and closed on Mondays.
Want to book a very special holiday gift for someone special? Take a look at Dromoland Castle’s offerings. Dromoland is near Shannon Airport in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare, and was built in the 16th century. The property includes more than 410 acres of parkland and a championship golf course as well as a spa, golf and country club and many traditional outdoor recreational opportunities.
A post-Christmas three-night break includes accommodation starting at 420 euro per adult. The package is available from Dec. 27-30 and includes a full Irish breakfast and one night’s dinner for two.
For those who want to ring in the New Year in Ireland, Dromoland has three great New Year’s Eve specials. For more information, visit dromolandcollection.ie
It is “off-season” and you can find great fares and offers from many airlines that service the Emerald Isle. Try aerlingus.com for direct Boston-Shannon and Boston-Dublin service and look at other US carriers that fly to Ireland. For details about what’s going on in Ireland this month, visit discoverireland.com/us/
If you’re older than 66, take a look at the free Golden Trekker pass, which gives you free train travel all over the Republic of Ireland. For details, call Tourism Ireland at 1-800-SHAMROCK or visit the Discover Ireland website at least 48 hours prior to your arrival in Ireland.