President leads tributes to poets Brendan Kennelly and Máire Mhac an tSaoi

Brendan Kennelly.

Two of Ireland’s most beloved poets died over the weekend.

Irish-language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi, died aged 99 on Saturday, while Brendan Kennelly died aged 85 on Sunday.

Brendan Kennelly published over 30 books of poetry and received numerous awards, including the Irish PEN Award in 2010 for his contribution to Irish literature.

He was also well known as a broadcaster.

He moved back to his native Ballylongford, County Kerry, in 2016 after decades working as a professor of modern literature at Trinity College Dublin.

He had been ill for a number of years.

He died on Sunday at a nursing home in Listowel, County Kerry surrounded by family.

Máire Mhac an tSaoi.

Daughter of Tánaiste Seán MacEntee, Mhac an tSaoi served as a diplomat in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, France, Spain and at the United Nations in addition to being a renowned poet.

Credited with revolutionising Irish poetry in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, her work won the O’Shaugnessy Award in 1988.

She was married to the writer, historian and former minister for Conor Cruise O’Brien, who died in 2008.

President Michael D Higgins, a poet himself, led the tributes to both poets.

He said Mr Kennelly had “forged a special place in the affections of the Irish people”.

The President said of Brendan Kennelly in a statement: “As a poet, Brendan Kennelly had forged a special place in the affections of the Irish people. He brought so much resonance, insight, and the revelation of the joy of intimacy to the performance of his poems and to gatherings in so many parts of Ireland. He did so with a special charm, wit, energy and passion.

“With more than 30 collections, he leaves a major body of work, a legacy of teaching as Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College Dublin, and the gratitude of so many younger poets whom he encouraged with honest and helpful critical advice.

There are many for whom an insightful and twinkling intelligence has left us, but it will endure in the lines of the poems as he wished.

“Sabina and I offer our condolences to his sister Nancy, his brothers, Sean, John, Alan and Paddy, his granddaughters and the extended family as well as his wide circle of friends, all of whom treasured his presence among them, a friendship he valued.”

In a tweet, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the country had lost “a great teacher, poet, raconteur; a man of great intelligence and wit” in Brendan Kennelly.

Trinity College also paid tribute to Kennelly saying: “Very sad to hear that Brendan Kennelly has died. A kind man, a great poet, gifted teacher and great friend to many in Trinity.”

The President described Máire Mhac an tSaoi as a ‘woman of immense talent and one of our most gifted, creative writers’.

He said: “It is with great sadness that the Irish language community will have learned of the death of Irish scholar, acclaimed writer, member of Aosdána and one of the leading Irish language poets of the 20th century, Máire Mhac an tSaoi.

“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.

‘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.”

He continued: “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.”