“I’m a Dubliner who loves the rest of Ireland,” enthuses Paula Farquharson-Blengino, who grew up and went to an all-girls Dominican convent school. She picked up a Bachelors and Masters from Trinity College Dublin, famous for the Book of Kells medieval manuscript. “This education was a window to the world. My first stop after graduation was New York and having Trinity on my CV opened doors to interviews, landing me a prize starter marketing job at Christian Dior USA-LVMH headquarters.”
This was the start of Paula’s corporate world journey with companies, including L’Oréal and Pretty Polly, spanning the luxury industry and publishing with a stop in Australia and back to Ireland. “Then 20 years ago I followed my dream to base myself in France permanently and haven’t looked back.”
Moving to Nice, Paula changed everything – lifestyle, language and career. She leveraged her communications experience and landed a journalist/editor job at the English-language publication The Riviera Times (now Riviera Insider). “That honed my skills to tell a story although I guess being Irish it came quite naturally!” Writing across a wide range of topics, the job expanded her network in the region.
One of the Times partners was Top Marques Monaco so when the time came to leave the newspaper after eight years, she was hired there as Press Officer by the founder Lawrie Lewis. “I learnt a lot from him, like attention to detail and the importance of people to ensure an unforgettable event.”
When he retired, Paula moved back into the corporate world – “quite a change” with the oil, gas and renewable energy industry. “SBM Offshore is listed on the Dutch stock-exchange so that gained me a whole new tool box of skills around governance and compliance. Confidentiality was key in my role when talking to the media; I was a gatekeeper for non-financial information from the company,” she shares.
All the experience that I’ve gained during my varied career, led her to her current position as Director of the Princess Grace Irish Library. “I enjoy working in the non-profit sector now. The Library is under the aegis of the Fondation Princesse Grace, which does such good work helping sick children and assisting young people embark on training for careers in the cultural domains such as literature, music and dance. This is a way to put my corporate experience to work for the good of others,” Paula says.
The mom of two adds, “When I was new to the region, the Princess Grace Irish Library felt like a home from home. It is a lovely, intimate ambiance and over the years I met so many wonderful people at the regular talks – and not just Irish. It is nice to chat with people who ‘get’ your Irish humour and Irishisms!”
The Princess Grace Irish Library represents a loving tribute to Princess Grace’s attachment for Ireland by her husband Prince Rainier III, who inaugurated it in November 1984, and the Princess’ personal collection of books and music scores form the heart of the library. “My favourite is a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses published in 1922. But it goes much beyond its content. We organise our own events and we facilitate conferences, symposia bringing people and academics together, we host writers via the twice-yearly bursaries supported by The Ireland Funds of Monaco.”
This October the Library has a symposium planned with academics from Villanova University close to Philadelphia (Princess Grace’s hometown) and there is a desire to develop more collaboration with the schools in Monaco. Princess Grace supported the arts and culture and the Library continues her legacy, operating under the aegis of the Fondation Princesse Grace.
With Covid, the Library remains open but reservations are necessary to ensure limited numbers and everyone’s safety. “We have the Monaco Safe Label. The health crisis forced us to review how things have always been done and adapt – we have gone online with events and even when normal life resumes, the digital world will allow us to be creative and reach more people, beyond the cosy, intimate setting of the physical Library. There’s no doubt that people are craving face-to-face events but I see us benefitting from having a hybrid offering with both live and online events going forward.”
On St Patrick’s Day, the library was honoured to host a small event with Irish music and drama in the presence of Prince Albert and his children, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella. We filmed it as we could not invite Friends of the Library due to health measures.
“On the programme was traditional music by the pupils of the l’Académie de Musique Fondation Prince Rainier III and a semi-dramatized reading by actors from the Monaco-Ireland Arts Society. The pupils were so happy after a year void of performances.
On a personal level, Paula admits that with pandemic it has been hard not being able to travel to Ireland to see family and friends but “being at the Library allows me the luxury of engaging face-to-face with people safely.”
Paula Farquharson-Blengino has found a silver lining in the Covid cloud. “The past year underlines that people value culture. They also yearn for a physical place to enjoy it and by keeping our door open, the Library acts like an oasis, where you can get lost in books and meet other like-minded people here.”
Located at 9 Rue Princesse Marie de Lorraine in the old town, the Princes Grace Irish Library is open Monday to Thursday 9 am to 4 pm and Friday 9 am to 3:30 pm.