Writer, broadcaster and journalist Flor MacCarthy is almost at the end of her time as the Spring 2024 Writer in Residence at the Princess Grace Irish Library, supported by Monaco Ireland Funds. 

She has spent her month researching and getting to know the rich archives of the Princess Grace Irish Library, and she was also granted access to the Palace Archives. She admitted there is enough material to write another ten books while she gave her talk about her first The Presidents’ Letters – the Unexpected History of Ireland to an appreciative audience at Princess Grace Irish Library on Tuesday afternoon. 

With over 400 letters, memos, cards, telegrams, drawings, notes and photographs, The Presidents’ Letters reveals a personal and unexpected story of Ireland since the inauguration of its first of the so far nine presidents of Ireland,  starting with Douglas Hyde in 1938.

Flor is passionate about history and art and this book certainly comes across as a homage not only to the art of a letter but also the story behind each of the published messages that illustrate the era and also reveal a lot about the person writing.

The book contains never-before published correspondence including thank you letters from the mother and daughter Princesses of Monaco to President Éamon de Valera for his gift of an Irish pony to Princess Caroline in 1962. Flor has asked permission to publish the letters in her book and Princess Caroline has not only given her approval, she has also sent her the photograph to publish from her mother’s personal archive that marked the event.

The surprise gift, named Babbling Brook, was on the occasion of a visit to Ireland’s National Stud by Prince Rainier III with his family in June 1961, when HSH Prince Rainier of Monaco was accompanied by his wife Princess Grace and their two eldest children. This was the first-ever state visit to Ireland by any head of state. Unsurprisingly the world media covered the event and as a result it truly placed Ireland on the international map, with subsequent visits by other heads of states, including President of the United States of America John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The book also includes the handwritten letter of Jackie Kennedy to President de Valera in the wake of JFK’s funeral. She spoke of her husband’s trip to Ireland the summer before, saying it meant more than any other trip in his life, and that he would never have been president if he wasn’t Irish…

“Children are prolific writers to presidents and they ask for everything from the abolition of the death penalty to the abolition of homework,” said Flor and added an anecdote of a mother writing to president Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh about her son who is very clever and deserves to become King of Ireland’s Eye, to which the president responded about what may 10 year-old Miles discover on the island rather than rule it.”

Flor, being a journalist, looked for Miles, who, she discovered,  did become a ruler of sorts – the Irish Ambassador to Slovenia, and he had no idea about his mother’s letter to the president.

Mary Robinson, the seventh Irish president launched Flor MacCarthy’s book The Presidents’ Letters in October 2021 in Dublin, since then by popular demand the book came out as a paperback in 2022 and was shortlisted for the An Post Irish Book Awards Irish-Published Book of the Year. 

In Monaco, excerpts from the book were read to the audience by the members of the Monaco Ireland Arts Society, Miranda Dawe and Nick O’Conor. A delightful afternoon ended with a warm discussion with Flor who was busy signing copies of her sold-out books and when asked what was her highlight from her stay in Monaco she said: “People, their warm welcome and their reactions during the events I have presented the book at. Their enthusiasm is what keeps me going. I have always been interested in letters, collections of letters and archives and through my news journalism dealing with the presidency I thought here is an area of our history that hasn’t really been explored and this is our heritage. I am delighted that people here are responding to it with such positive reactions.”