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President leads tributes to 'two great poets' Mhac an tSaoi and Kennelly

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the President described both poets as “two great figures” of Irish poetry.

Brendan Kennelly
Brendan Kennelly
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has led tributes to poets Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Brendan Kennelly who passed away on Sunday.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the President described both poets as “two great figures” of Irish poetry. 

Irish language poet Mhac an tSaoi died yesterday aged 99. Celebrated poet and novelist Kennelly’s death was also announced yesterday. He was 85. 

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.

Born in Ballylongford in Co Kerry on 17 April 1936, Kennelly wrote over 20 books of poetry, along with plays, novels and criticism.

Some of his most famous works include Cromwell (1983/87), Poetry me Arse (1995) and more recently Reservoir Voices (2009).

He was also a Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College Dublin for 30 years until his retirement in 2005.

Provost of Trinity College Dublin Linda Doyle described Kennelly as “an inspiring teacher, a talented poet and a warm and good humoured presence on campus”.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin added: “We’ve lost a great teacher, poet, raconteur; a man of great intelligence and wit.

“The Irish people loved hearing his voice and reading his poetry.”

The President described Mhac an tSaoi as one of the leading Irish language poets of the 20th 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,” he said.

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“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.”

Martin said she “lived a remarkable life”.

“Without question, she was one of the great modern Irish poets,” he tweeted.

“She leaves a wonderfully rich legacy that will last for generations.”

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