A LIFE LESS ORDINARY: In the second of a new Sunday series chronicling the stories of remarkable people who lived remarkable lives, KillarneyToday.com reflects on the life and times of the late Beatrice Grosvenor, a hugely accomplished and inspirational woman who played a key part in community life in Killarney and whose family’s remarkable legacy remains for all to see
IN an obituary following her death in June 1985, Beatrice Grosvenor was remembered as an imposing women who combined a dynamic personality with a keen, incisive mind.
But, much more than that, she will always be remembered in her adopted home of Killarney as a towering pillar of the community who played a major role in the economic, cultural, social and religious life of the town.
A wonderfully enterprising and driven woman, who never countenanced failure in any project she tackled, she was for many years one of the driving forces behind the tourism industry in Killarney, spearheading a local committee set up to devise ways to attract visitors to the town from all over the world.
She acquired a majority interest in the Castlerosse Hotel in 1960 and completely transformed the business which has a sublime location overlooking Killarney’s Lower Lake with the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountains, as a majestic backdrop.
Mrs Grosvenor was the founder president and guiding hand in the Killarney Soroptimists Club and went on to serve as national president in 1967/68 and, later, international president of the organisation, bringing its world congress to Killarney in 1971 and attracting over 1,000 members to the town at a time when the troubles in Northern Ireland were at their most threatening.
In recognition of that notable achievement, which promoted Killarney all over the world,she was honoured at a State banquet hosted by then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, in the then Great Southern Hotel.
A brilliant fundraiser, Beatrice was a member of a committee that ran the operations of St Mary’s Parish Hall and her uncanny ability to attract the crowds – and fill the tills – at the annual fundraising sale of work was legendary.
She was a thoroughly dedicated campaigner for those less fortunate and worked extremely hard to create the circumstances for better facilities for the poor and the under privileged and she proved, time and again, to be a very accomplished and skilled conciliator when it came to settling disputes of any kind.
A lifelong President of Killarney Golf and Fishing Club – founded by her uncle – she was also chairperson of the club’s board of directors for many years and she was the holder of the majority of its shares which she later transferred to the then Bord Fáilte.
On her death, at the age of 70, her nephew sold the balance of her estate to the government – as was her wish – with the Castlerosse Hotel purchased by a private company.
The eldest daughter of Lord Edward Grosvenor and Lady Dorothy Browne, her father was a son of the first Duke of Westminster.
Beatrice was the last member of the Browne family in Killarney following the initial arrival of her ancestor, Sir Valentine Browne, in 1587. He was appointed Surveyor General of Ireland by Queen Elizabeth I and was presented with extensive lands in Kerry from the Crown following the Plantation of Munster in 1586.
The Brownes were later bestowed with the titles Baron Castlerosse, Viscount Kenmare and, in 1800, another Valentine received the superior title Viscount Castlerosse, Earl of Kenmare for his support of the Act of Union with England.
The Earldom continued until Gerald, the 7th Earl died, in 1952 without a male heir. His niece, Beatrice, inherited the 25,000-acre estate but she had little option but to sell the manor house and much of the lands to pay death duties although she retained close on 6,000 acres.
In 1956, Beatrice built Knockreer House, on the site of the former Victorian mansion Killarney House, in Knockreer, which was gutted in a fire in 1913. The house, known locally as The Mansion, was designed by her cousin Francis Pollen and she lived there for several years before she moved to a new home near the Castlerosse Hotel. The mansion and surrounding land, formerly part of the Kenmare Estate of the Earls of Kenmare, was later donated by to the State and developed as part of Killarney National Park.
In the same year Beatrice sold the second Kenmare House, along with 25,000 acres, to an American syndicate, which in turn sold it on to building contractor John McShain and that property is now the major tourist attraction that is Killarney House and Gardens.
Beatrice, who was born on 6 November 1915, married Major Richard Desiré Girouard in 1944 but they were divorced the following year. The marriage was later annulled and she never remarried.
She was Assistant Superintendent in Chief with the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, during the Second World War and she was appointed Commander, Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1952.
Known and addressed in Killarney as Lady Grosvenor even though she held no official title, she was a member of the Advisory Committee High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations between 1959 and 1960 and she served as a valued and innovative member of the Southern Health Board between 1971 and 1976.
Following her death at the then Tralee General Hospital in 1985, Beatrice Grosvenor was laid to rest in the Kenmare family vault in St Mary’s Cathedral, the church were she so often spent time in private prayer.
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