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President Higgins pays tribute to Irish-language poet Máire Mac an tSaoi who has died aged 99

Máire Mhac an tSaoi was one of the leading Irish language poets of the twentieth century

Image: NUIG

IRISH LANGUAGE POET Máire Mhac an tSaoi has passed away at the age of 99.

President Michael D Higgins led tributes this afternoon to the “scholar, acclaimed writer, member of Aosdána and one of the leading Irish language poets of the twentieth century”.

“A woman of immense talent and 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 President 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 in her poetry 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 20th century. I recall, for example, her keen critical judgement in her edition of Poetry Ireland.”

Mhac an tSaoi was born in 1922 to Margaret Browne MacEntee and future Tánaiste Seán MacEntee. Her father was in the GPO throughout the 1916 Rising and her mother Margaret assisted Michael Collins’s assassination squad during the war of independence.

Credited with helping to revolutionise the Irish language in the 1940s and 1950s, Máire Mhac an tSaoi published five collections of poetry, releasing her first, Margadh na Saoire, in 1956.

She served in the Irish diplomatic corps from 1947 to 1962, and was married to Conor Cruise O’Brien, who died in 2008.

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Higgins notes in his tribute that Máire Mhac an tSaoi was the recipient of many awards throughout 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,” said Higgins.

“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.

“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,” Higgins concluded.

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Adam Daly

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