Poignant moment for Prince Albert of Monaco
Áine Ryan was amongst the large crowd who turned out to welcome Prince Albert back to Newport
A PICTURE paints a thousand words and when Prince Albert of Monaco quietly went down the narrow boreen to the tumbledown home of his maternal ancestors at Drimurla, shortly after 4.30pm last Wednesday evening, the memories must have flooded back as he stood for a quiet moment touching the ancient gable.
The first time he visited this little cottage – in June 1961 – he was just over three years old and in the company of his older sister, Caroline and late parents, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.
She was once a famous Hollywood actress but back in the auld-sod of Newport, she was simply Grace Patricia Kelly, granddaughter of John H Kelly, who emigrated in 1871.
Back in 1961, the Widow Mulchrone, dressed in her best bib, offered tea and griddle cakes. Now the cottage was slowly receding into the ground. How poignant.
Shortly afterwards, escorted by garda outriders, the prince and his beautiful fiancée, Charlene Wittstock, were escorted to nearby Newport House to meet the many Kelly relatives from the area. They also met Minister Michael Ring, who ensured the visit to Mayo was included on the three-day itinerary, and County Manager, Peter Hynes.
Meanwhile, in pubs and cafes all over the picturesque town, local people reminisced about the late Princess Grace’s familial connections and love for the area.
“She was so nice and was lovely to all of us in the house. She was with her Lady-in–Waiting and had her hair set by my mother, it was called Marguerite’s Salon back then. I still run it but it is called Mairéad’s Salon now. She gave us a plaque of herself,” Mairéad Ginnelly confided.
Mairéad and her friend, Mary Reid, were looking more glamorous than supermodels setting out for the Paris catwalk as they sipped their aperitifs in The Bridge Inn around 6pm on Wednesday evening last.
“I’d love if there was something done in memory of her. After all she had a big family tie with the place,” Mairéad added.
The women also revealed that excitement had been at a high since news leaked that Prince Albert and his girlfriend were due to make a flying visit to Newport at the end of the state visit.
“There was a great buzz around the town for the last few days because he wasn’t supposed to be coming and then he was. The whole town got a facelift and I would say the garden centre was busy,” Mary Reid said.
Meanwhile, outside on the bridge and at the gates of historic Newport House, the rain was spitting down. But it didn’t deter the crowds though who stood around in huddles and quiet, excited anticipation.
Over across the bridge, at Gráinne Uaile House, Claremorris native, Ger McLoughlin was holding a framed photograph of the Grimaldis. A lifelong follower of this royal family, Mr McLoughlin explained that Grace had originally given the Widow Mulchrone the photograph as a gift. He had acquired it from a contact in the MacBride Community Nursing Unit, Westport, where the widow spent her last days.
“We hold it in a treasured place in our home,” Ger McLoughlin said.
Among the crowd also was young Andrei Connolly from Islandeady. He had been among a guard-of-honour from Cuilmore School to honour the royal entourage as it entered Newport House earlier. The school’s roll books confirm that John H Kelly was once a pupil there.
Shortly before 7pm, the rain became relentless as the large garda presence began to move across the river in the forecourt of Newport House. Erika Gallagher, Tidy Towns chairwoman, is rushing around in a glamorous flurry, thrilled that her calls to Michael Ring’s office had borne royal fruit.
Bríd O’Connell from Swinford confirms her confidence in Minister Ring: “Grace was from a very Irish family of whom we are very proud. There were Olympic medalists amongst them. I think Newport could do more to honour her and if anyone can do it, Michael Ring can. It is such a wonderful opportunity for tourism.”
Pamela Hughes, from Westport agrees. She intends to donate her Grace Kelly memorabilia if a centre is opened in Newport.
As the royal cortege finally stops outside the Grainne Uaile, musicians and singers, Códa, tune up inside. It is time for a rousing rendering of Briar in the Rose and Dulamán. Hup ya Prince ya!
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