Situated on the Rock of Monaco, near the Prince’s Palace, the Princess Grace Irish Library (PGIL) is a hidden gem of Irish culture. The library was established in 1984 by Prince Rainier III of Monaco in memory of his wife Princess Grace. The library pays tribute to the Princess’s attachment to Irish culture and Ireland in general, where her grandfather hailed from. Today, PGIL is proud to possess the personal collection of Princess Grace’s books and Irish-American sheet music as well as beautiful reference books (including many rare first editions) and items of historical value, photos and art works. The library also houses thousands of fiction and non-fiction books on Irish culture and history. A substantial amount of books were also donated to the library by the renowned late fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld. PGIL is a non-profit institution which relies on donations and works under the aegis of La Fondation Princesse Grace.
Truth be told, the title “library” doesn’t do PGIL justice. Of course, the institution’s massive book collection is available for lending and its doors are always open for school visits and the general public. When I first walked in I was astonished at how quickly I was transported from the Old Town of Monaco to the very centre of Irish culture. I was surrounded by James Joyce’s early editions, Celtic manuscripts, Irish music sheets and busts of Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and other masters of Irish literature. I heard Irish accents all around: the first time I visited PGIL was on Bloomsday, which was celebrated with a brilliant reading. The library is truly an Irish cultural centre, that is also personally linked with the Prince’s family in its homage to Princess Grace, meaning every undertaking of the PGIL is carried out with royal precision and care. There is no other national cultural centre in the Principality like PGIL.
“As Farquharson says, “a varied path” led her to where she is now, and “the Trinity degree absolutely gave me a really great head start in professional life.””
The current director of the library is Paula Farquharson, a Trinity alumna and a perfect profile for the job. As Farquharson says, “a varied path” led her to where she is now, and “the Trinity degree absolutely gave me a really great head start in professional life.” After her graduation, Farquharson moved to the US where she worked in marketing with luxury brands such as Christian Dior and L’Oréal. While rightfully giving the credit to her skills and performance, Farquharson reiterated how helpful it was that, in the interview room, the Trinity name always sparked recognition.
In the early 2000s, Farquharson moved to France where she worked as a journalist for The Riviera Times, a monthly English-language newspaper serving the Anglophone community in the South of France. Her Business and French Trinity degree came in handy again, this time language-wise. The connections she had developed locally in Monaco and her expertise in media relations served as a great asset when Farquharson applied to lead the library. The trustees of the institution “wanted me to use those contacts to create a lot more awareness for the library. They wanted to expand the community of library visitors. Also, they strived to strengthen the connection with Trinity, which has very much happened in the last years.” Most recently, the connection between Monaco and Trinity was cemented by Prince Albert II’s visit to the university in 2021.
“PGIL has also collaborated with many renowned Irish intellectuals, including award-winning authors Dermot Bolger, Claire Kilroy, Martina Devlin and John Banville.”
The library has hosted a number of talks with speakers associated with Trinity, for example Dr Rachel Moss (Department of History of Art and Architecture) and Professor Jane Ohlmeyer (Department of History). PGIL has also collaborated with many renowned Irish intellectuals, including award-winning authors Dermot Bolger, Claire Kilroy, Martina Devlin and John Banville. Thanks to the funding from The Ireland Funds Monaco, the library is able to provide bursaries for Irish writers and academics.
In addition, the library is known for accommodating various cultural events, opera performances, readings, and theatre shows. Their most recent event was a talk with the Executive Director of the Irish Georgian Society, Donough Cahill, on the topic “Stemming the tide – conserving Ireland’s historic buildings.” Annually, the library chooses a topic that remains a central theme throughout the year’s events. 2023 promises a variety of exciting talks on the “Irish-American influence on literature, music and culture”. It is remarkable how much PGIL contributes to the preservation and celebration of the Irish cultural heritage abroad, whilst remaining a functioning lending library.
“Undoubtedly, it is thanks to Farquharson’s hard work that the awareness for PGIL has increased.”
Undoubtedly, it is thanks to Farquharson’s hard work that the awareness for PGIL has increased. Farquharson took on her role at the start of the pandemic, which turned out to be “a perfect time to move the Library towards the digital age, because we had to.” The online conferences allowed for larger audiences, while reaching out to different cultural institutions gained PGIL recognition.
PGIL’s success becomes all the more impressive when one realises that there are effectively only three staff members: Farquharson herself, administrative assistant Géraldine Lance and intern Gina Ivaldi, who is currently finishing her Arts and Culture Bachelor’s Degree at Maastricht University. In a quote that beautifully sums up Farquharson’s role as a director and mentor, Ivaldi says that the director talks “a lot” about the importance of teamwork. “It’s important that there is a sense of cohesion and valuing each other’s input equally,” she continues, “to be able to grow on that input and go forward in the best way we can. In the end, the work we are doing is not for ourselves, it’s for the library and the community.”