Poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi ‘remained engaged with the world outside’ up to the very end

Bilingual requiem Mass takes place at Our Lady of Dolours church in Glasnevin, Dublin

President Higgins speaking to Patrick Cruise O’Brien, son of the late Poet Maire Mhac An tSaoi at her funeral. Photograph: Alan Betson

The mystery and the miracle of Máire Mhac an tSaoi was that she, a middle-class Dublin woman, emerged as the “standard-bearer” for the language and literature of rural Gaeltacht life, her funeral Mass has heard.

Poet Louis de Paor said Mhac an tSaoi credited the “miraculous parish of Dún Chaoin” in Co Kerry with providing to her the Gaelic language - the “perfect instrument, the ideal medium” for poetry.

"The real miracle, the mystery was how she, a middle-class Dublin woman was able to so completely immerse herself in the language and literature of the west Kerry Gaeltacht that she herself became a standard bearer for that particular tradition," he said.

“Her work has already become a standard against which the contributions of others are measured…This achievement ultimately is hers. It is considerable, it is formidable and indeed very, very daunting.”


About 100 mourners attended the bilingual requiem Mass at Our Lady of Dolours church in Glasnevin, led by Mhac an tSaoi's children, Patrick Cruise O'Brien and Margaret Cruise O'Brien, step-daughter Fedelma Cruise O'Brien and wider family.

Chief celebrant Fr Richard Sheehy said Mhac an tSaoi's life had been intertwined with the development of the Irish Free State which was coming into being in 1922, the year she was born.

Active participants

“She and her family were not mere observers of the development but active participants, politically, socially and culturally…Máire was steeped in both her family’s nationalist tradition and Catholic faith,” he said.

“Both her parents were involved in the struggle for independence and her father Seán [MacEntee] a member of the first Dáil, held various ministries over the course of a long political career.”

He said she had “felt keenly” that preservation, nurturing and keeping alive the Irish language was “the responsibility of being the custodian of a great memory”.

Patrick Cruise O’Brien said his mother’s life with his father, the late writer and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien, was “as complete a partnership as I have seen or could imagine”.

“They collaborated academically...they were each other’s readers and editors…They were a match for each other intellectually, which meant the house could get hot every now and again and they encouraged and supported each other every endeavours…They were most content in each other’s company,” he said.

Care given

Paying tribute to the care his sister Margaret had given their mother during the last decade of her life, he said she “made it possible not just for Máire to be alive but to live”.

“Máire remained engaged with the world outside right up to the very end. She continued to read voraciously. She consumed The Irish Times daily in its old-fashioned paper format.”

She remained “happy and healthy as she pushed into her 90s. All of that was made possible by Margaret, he said.

“Margaret you have been constant, you have been reliable, you have been dependable and have been ever present and for that I will love you forever.”

Among the mourners were President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina, Irish-language poet Gabriel Rosenstock, Professor of Modern Irish Rióna Ní Fhrighil, lecturer in Irish at Dublin City University Deirdre Nic Mhathúna, screenwriter Gerry Gregg, scholar Siobhra Aiken and restaurateur Jay Bourke.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times