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‘She lived a remarkable life, in remarkable times’, tributes to poet and diplomat Máire Mhac an tSaoi


Maire Mhac an tSaoi. Photo: Jim Berkeley

Maire Mhac an tSaoi. Photo: Jim Berkeley

Maire Mhac an tSaoi. Photo: Jim Berkeley

Tributes have been paid to Irish language poet and former diplomat Máire Mhac an tSaoi after her death yesterday.

The Dublin native, who was married to the late politician and writer Conor Cruise O’Brien, was 99 years of age and is survived by her two children, Patrick and Margaret, and her step-daughter Fedelma.

As well as being the first Irishwoman to be called to the Bar, Ms Mhac an tSaoi also served in the Irish diplomatic corps for 15 years until 1962 while producing an impressive range of Irish language literature.

A statement from her family said the announcement of her passing was made with “great sadness”.

“Máire passed away peacefully at home on Saturday evening, where she was cared for by her daughter Margaret," it said.

"She has lived a remarkable life, in remarkable times among remarkable people.”

She published her first collection of poetry, Margadh na Saoire, in 1956 and went on to publish four more, as well as works of translation, a novella, scholarly work, and her autobiography The Same Age as the State.

President Michael D Higgins said it was with “great sadness” that the Irish language community learned of her passing.

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He described her as an “Irish scholar, acclaimed writer, member of Aosdána and one of the leading Irish language poets of the 20th century”.

Born in Dublin in 1922 to parents Margaret Brown MacEntee and future Tánaiste Seán MacEntee, he said she was a women of “immense talent”.

“One of our most gifted, creative writers, she made a profound and distinctive contribution to our society in terms of literature, diplomacy and above all poetry,” said Mr Higgins.

“Her fearless, powerful and intriguing personality led her to defy established convention and expectations in a unique way. A prolific writer she had a lifelong, and contagious, passion for the Irish language, and for the people of the Gaeltacht.”

While she drew on the traditions of the Celtic Revival by giving voice to her own experiences, passion, skills and views, she made a distinctive personal contribution at a high level to Irish poetry, making her one of the most influential poets of the last century, he added.

She got many awards through her illustrious career, including the O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award of the Irish American Cultural Institute, the D Lit Celt honoris causa award and was elected to Aosdána in 1996.

A pioneer in the Irish diplomatic service, she served as one of the few female diplomats of her generation. Along with her husband, the late Conor Cruise O’Brien, she was “replete with courage and an inspiration to many”.

“She will be sadly missed by all those, through the generations, who knew her and her work and, above all, by those who appreciate the Irish language and the power of its words,” said Mr Higgins.

“Sabina and I wish to express our deepest sympathies to her children, Patrick and Margaret, her step-daughter Fedelma and to her family and wide circle of friends.”

She was pre-deceased by her husband Conor Cruise O’Brien, a former Irish Independent columnist, historian and politician, who passed away at their home in Howth, Co Dublin in 2008. He was 98-years-old and together, they were one of the great literary pairings of Irish cultural life.

Ms Mhac an tSaoi was the subject of an acclaimed 2015 documentary, Deargdhúil: Anatomy of Passion, made by Paula Kehoe, which explored her fascinating life and work.

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