By Brian McCabe
To those who were students in the 1990s, and even 2000s, Máire Mac an tSaoi was best known as one of the key poets, in the Irish language, of her generation. There was however, so much more to her very eventful life.
Maire Mhac an tSaoi was born as Máire MacEntee in Dublin in 1922. Her father, Seán MacEntee, had been born in Belfast and had been a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and of the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War.
He was also a founding member of the Fianna Fáil party, a long-serving TD and Tániaste in Dáil Éireann.
Her mother, County Tipperary-born Margaret Browne (or de Brún), a teacher at Alexandra College, Dublin, also came from an Irish republican background. Her uncle Monsignor Pádraig de Brún was a scholar of the Irish language.
As Máire’s mother was a teacher of Irish, Máire grew up immersed in the surviving Bardic poetry and in “the medieval aristocratic tradition of courtly love poems in Irish.” She was also, no doubt, heavily influenced by her stays with her uncle, Monsignor De Brún, in the County Kerry Gaeltacht surrounding Dún Chaoin.
The extent to which the Gaeltacht of her early life was an imagined, as well as an actual, place was acknowledged by the poet herself, but her relationship to ‘the miraculous parish,’ of Dún Chaoin has been seen as the cornerstone of both her poetry and her poetics.