Tracing Celtic Heritage Across the Atlantic 

The Rosenbach Explores the Lasting Legacy of the Irish Diaspora, in Partnership with the Kelly House in Philadelphia and the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco 

The history of Ireland is closely associated with the history of diaspora—that is, the movement of Irish people all around the world, including to Philadelphia. Irish identity, history, music, literature, and culture occupy prominent space in U.S. society. One of the most important figures in modern Irish American cultural history was undoubtedly the accomplished film actress Grace Kelly of Philadelphia, whose marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 paved the way for a broader acceptance of the Catholic Irish in mainstream American society. This year, the Rosenbach Museum & Library has launched a programming partnership with the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monte Carlo, Monaco, to trace the global impact of Irish literature and culture—and the many links that connect Philadelphia, Monte Carlo, and County Mayo, Ireland, today. We invite you to join us on this journey of discovery. 

Top: The Rosenbach Museum & Library on Delance Placey in Philadelphia. Bottom: The East Library of the Rosenbach, where the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses resides, near other collections of Irish literature. Photos by Ryan Brandenberg. 

Those familiar with the collections of the Rosenbach know that we come by this interest in global Irish culture quite naturally.  Our collections redound with legends of Irish literature. In fact, when giving tours of the historic East Library here at the Rosenbach, I often refer to the space as a little corner of Ireland, right here in Philadelphia. Treasures such as Bram Stoker’s notes for his novel Dracula, the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and a substantial Oscar Wilde collection all reside in our historic home on Delancey Place and remind visitors of the importance of the Irish to 19th- and 20th-century literature. These and other items have helped our institution build meaningful transatlantic cultural and diplomatic ties with our Irish friends. Yet one of my favorite things to point out to visitors in awe of the Ulysses manuscript is that this artifact of a great Irish novel was written entirely outside of Ireland. The manuscript is indeed a material artifact of Irishman James Joyce’s peripatetic life on the European continent, where he resided when composing Ulysses.

The manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses (EL4 .J89ul 922 MS), and a death mask of James Joyce (on loan from a private collection). Photo by Ryan Brandenberg.  

Joyce’s cover sheets for the various episodes of the novel note where he resided when writing each installment—cities like Locarno, Trieste, Zürich, and Paris, which were quite a far cry from the Dublin that engrossed Joyce’s imagination. This fun fact about the Ulysses manuscript reminds us that concepts like identity and ethnicity are products of culture, society, and even individual psychology, just as much as they are products of physical geography.  One can be “Irish” while living in Philadelphia, for example. Just ask the Kelly family, who carried their Irish identity with them from County Mayo to East Falls. Princess Grace’s personal interest in Irish history and literature also resulted in a close diplomatic and cultural connection between Monaco and Ireland, which thrives to this day in no small part because of the work of the Princess Grace Irish Library, established by Prince Rainer III to honor Princess Grace’s love for her Celtic heritage. By partnering on programs, the Rosenbach, the Princess Grace Irish Library, and the Kelly House here in Philadelphia (Princess Grace’s childhood home) hope to help our various communities situate issues like ethnicity, immigration, identity, and diplomatic relations in a helpful global framework. 

Our collaboration launched at the Kelly House in East Falls on March 20, 2024, with a program titled “An Evening with American Royalty: The Cultural Memories of the Kellys of Philadelphia and the Kennedys of Boston.” At the event, Professor Mary M. Burke, author of Race, Politics, and Irish America: A Gothic History (Oxford University Press, 2023) discussed the Irish American immigrant experience, and how Grace Kelly’s life in the public eye set the stage for the rise of the Kennedys as America’s First Family just a few years later. Photos of the event are available on our social media channels here (Facebook) and here (Instagram). A video recording of the evening is available here.  

Top: Cover page of “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses, noting that the manuscript was written in Zürich, Switzerland. EL4 .J89ul 922 MS.  Bottom: Cover page of “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses, noting that the manuscript was written in Zürich, Switzerland. EL4 .J89ul 922 MS. Photos by Ryan Brandenberg.

Our next collaborative program, scheduled for Thursday, September 12, is titled “Princess Grace and Her Irish Library: The Remarkable Story of Prince Rainier III’s Tribute to His Wife Princess Grace of Monaco.” One of the most profound legacies of Princess Grace is having put Ireland on the map following the state visit of His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco to the land of his wife’s ancestors in 1961.   Two years after the untimely death of the princess, Prince Rainer decided to honor his wife’s memory by transforming her personal library devoted to Irish literature, history, and culture into a public institution. The Princess Grace Irish Library opened its doors to the public in 1984 and celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2024. Today, the library is a lasting testament to Princess Grace’s pride in her Irish American ancestry, and a burgeoning center for Irish cultural studies in a global context. While often hailed as an “American princess,” in fact the Irish people claim her as an Irish princess, and her memory links three nations today.  In this special panel discussion, I will interview leaders of the Princess Grace Irish Library to learn more about Princess Grace, the origins of the library, the work of the library today, and how Princess Grace’s legacy lives on in Philadelphia, Monaco, and Mayo, Ireland.  Registration is free, and I hope you can attend!  Sign up for the program here.

Box containing leaves from the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia. EL4 .J89ul 922 MS. Photo by Ryan Brandenberg.

The Rosenbach Museum & Library’s aspirational vision calls upon our institution to “create a community in reading and dialogue” to help our audience “cultivate an awareness and understanding of the world and our shared humanity.” For us Philadelphians, the story of Princess Grace is both intensely local and intensely global. Of course, in the 21st century, most aspects of our seemingly local lives are shaped by global events and phenomena. It is my sincere hope and wish that the Rosenbach’s partnership with the Kelly House in Philadelphia and the Princess Grace Irish Library will help us enhance our global awareness bridges using the tools of history, literature, and culture, in hopes of better understanding our own opportunities and responsibilities in the globalized world we inhabit.  

Experience Irish Literature and Culture at the Rosenbach! 

The Rosenbach regularly offers tours and programs to help you explore Celtic culture. Upcoming opportunities include (click each listing for details): 

Ethiopian Calligraphy Workshop on May 5, 2024
This workshop focuses in part on the fascinating connections linking manuscript traditions in early Christian Ireland and Ethiopia! 

“Written in My Heart”: James Joyce and Irish Authors Behind the Bookcase Tour on June 13, 2024

Bloomsday Festival on June 16, 2024

Medieval Celtic Calligraphy Workshop on June 23, 2024

On Bloomsday 2024, the Rosenbach will launch a new exhibition featuring selections from our James Joyce collection, Treasures from the Rosenbach’s Collection: Literature of Great Britain & Ireland. Plan a visit to see the show! 

Learn more! 

To learn about the Rosenbach’s James Joyce collection, check out our Joyce collections guide here.

To learn more about other Irish authors at the Rosenbach, read our Irish Authors collections guide here.