President Hillery was asked for help over princess’s insurance claim after jewel theft

Unusual request following Dalkey armed robbery revealed in newly released State papers

Dr Patrick Hillery received an unusual request in 1978. File photograph: Pat Langan

Dr Patrick Hillery received an unusual request in 1978. File photograph: Pat Langan

 

Presidents get some strange requests, but surely few as strange as the request made to president Patrick Hillery in 1978, which related to the robbery of a princess’s family jewels at gunpoint in a Dublin house. The president was asked if he could help in any way as the princess tried to deal with an insurance company following the incident.

Princess Christa von Preussen of Prussia, who was the great-granddaughter of the last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was visiting her friends Cecil and Renata Coleman at Monte Alverno, Dalkey, when the home was broken into by armed robbers on June 28th, 1978. The details of the incident were set out in a newly released letter sent to Dr Hillery by the Irish consul general in Bavaria, Liselotte Linnebach, in November 1978.

She said the princess, and other guests who had arrived for dinner, were tied up by masked men with machine guns. The princess’s family had lost all its fortune during the two World Wars, the diplomat explained, but the princess still had some family jewels. “She took her last family jewels with her to Ireland, and they were all robbed!”

The items stolen included gold chains, necklaces, brooches and bracelets as well as many precious stones, including diamonds and sapphires.

The newly released file relating to the incident also contains a letter from Princess Christa to Mr Coleman in which she placed a value of 38,195 Deutsche Marks on the pieces of jewellery stolen and added that her companion Hanns had items stolen that were valued at 3,900 DM. The combined losses equal €21,500, although this does not take into account more than 40 years of inflation, which could treble that sum.

“After the unbelievably horrible experiences which Hanns and I suffered in your house on June 28th, I was glad to have a sign of life from you . . .” the princess wrote to Mr Coleman.

Recoup losses

Meanwhile, Ms Linnebach told Dr Hillery the relevant ambassadors had been told about the incident and efforts were being made to recoup the losses through insurance. “The shock the princess has had cannot be compensated in all her life!” the consul general wrote.

“Should you be able, dear President, to help in this matter I would be most grateful. Perhaps you know the Chairman of the insurance company.”

She told Dr Hillery that the princess “in her modest aristocratic way” had not talked about the unpleasant affair because she did not want to damage tourism and business links. She had “a great fancy for Ireland and spends her holiday every year there”.

The president’s office sent the letter to the department of the taoiseach, who forwarded it to the department of justice due to the criminal nature of the matter.

Renata Coleman confirmed the details of the case to The Irish Times last week and said Princess Christa had been visiting Ireland for Derby week when the burglary happened. The IRA was thought to be involved.

Princess Christa was an old family friend and was alive and well, Ms Coleman said. The princess is now 85. Ms Coleman, a businesswoman and horse breeder, is from Bavaria, like the princess. She said many of the items stolen from Princess Christa were irreplaceable family heirlooms and were never recovered.

Diplomat burglaries

The documents were among State papers released to the National Archives that also contain incidents of burglaries affecting diplomats in Ireland.

A cultural attache at the Japanese embassy reported the theft of his one-year-old Honda Integra in 1989, while the home of a French diplomat was burgled in 1982 and the thief made off with a Grundig radio and a handbag.

The residence of the Iranian embassy’s first secretary was unlucky enough to be burgled for a second time in 1991. The embassy wrote to the department of foreign affairs to complain and pointed out that other diplomats at the embassy had also been victims of burglaries.

“Since the provision of necessary security measures for all diplomats resident in Ireland is the responsibility of the Government, the Embassy expects the Department of Foreign Affairs to issue the necessary instructions to the relevant authorities as soon as possible for the appropriate security measures to be taken,” an Iranian official wrote.