Famous poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi has died at the age of 99

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Máire Mhac an tSaoi, widely regarded as one of the most important Irish poets of her generation, has died at the age of 99, her family has announced.

She was called to the bar in 1944 at the age of 22 and was also a forward-thinking diplomat, serving the Foreign Ministry in Dublin, France, Spain and the United Nations.

Known for revolutionizing Irish poetry in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Mhac an tSaoi’s work was awarded the O’Shaugnessy Prize for Poetry in 1988.

She was the daughter of former Tánaist Seán MacEntee, who helped found Fianna Fáil, and was married to writer, historian and former Post and Telegraph Minister Conor Cruise O’Brien, who died in 2008.

In a statement, his family said that “it is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Máire Cruise O’Brien (Máire Mhac an tSaoi)”.

“Máire passed away peacefully at home on Saturday night where she was being cared for by her daughter Margaret,” the statement said. “She has lived a remarkable life, at remarkable times among remarkable people.

Mhac an tSaoi is survived by his children Patrick and Margaret, his daughter-in-law Fedelma and an extended family.

Mhac an tSaoi’s first collection of poetry, Margadh na Saoire, was published in 1956. Four more collections followed, as she was also known for her academic work and memoir The Same Age as the State.

Affecting

Mhac an tSaoi was deeply influenced by the Munster Gaeltacht, having been brought to Dún Chaoin in County Kerry each summer by her mother, Margaret.

In an interview with the Irish Times in 2015, she said she was lucky to have been brought to the Gaeltacht “without which life would have been inconceivably poorer”.

In a film about his life titled Deargdhúil: Anatomy of Passion, which was produced by Paula Kehoe, Mhac an tSaoi did not repent of his Gaeltacht romance, which informed his writing, much of which was about love.

“Well, it’s probably romanticism, but you could argue for a long time about whether romanticism has its uses,” she said.

“I think romance enriches life, and I think life is tough, and the world needs more romance, not less.”

President Michael D. Higgins said Mhac an tSaoi was “a woman of immense talent and one of our most gifted and creative writers”.

“She has made a profound and distinctive contribution to our society in terms of literature, diplomacy and above all poetry,” he said.

“Her fearless, powerful and intriguing personality has led her to challenge established conventions and expectations in a unique way. A prolific writer, she has always had an infectious passion for the Irish language and for the people of Gaeltacht.

Personal contribution

Mr Higgins added that Mhac an tSaoi drew inspiration from the traditions of the Celtic revival “by giving voice to his own experiences, passion, skills and perspectives”.

“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.”

Mr Higgins described Mhac an tSaoi as a “pioneer” of the Irish diplomatic service who was “full of courage and inspiration to many”.

“She will be sadly missed by all through generations who have known her and her work and, most importantly, those who appreciate the Irish language and the power of her words.”

Mhac an tSaoi’s longtime friend Liz Ó Droma said the poet had played an “extremely important” role in the Irish speaking community for decades.

“So many people have read his poetry, so many of his poems have resonated with people, very ordinary people, who remember these beautiful poems,” she said.

“She didn’t have the production that the others had in terms of quantity, but she had some pretty extraordinary poems.”

On a personal level, she said Mhac an tSaoi was “very warm, very loving and never afraid to show her warmth”.

“She’s had a long, long life, well lived,” she said.

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