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Máire Mhac an tSaoi was born in Dublin in 1922, the eldest of three children born to her parents Seán and Máiréad. Her father was Seán McEntee, an eminent politician who had been in the GPO in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916, while her mother (née de Brún) was a teacher at AlexandraCollege where Máire initially attended school. Later she attended Loreto College, Rathfarnham, the National University of Ireland, Dublin and the Institut des Hautes Études en Sorbonne. She studied Modern Languages and Celtic Studies. Among those she cites as having influenced here are her mother, in particular, Míchéal Ó hAodha, Colm Ó Lochlainn, Gearóid Ó Murchú, Roger Chauviré, Prof. Joseph Vendryes and her uncle, Monsignor Pádraig de Brún. She is married to the scholar, politician and author, Conor Cruise O’Brien and lives in Dublin.
From 1943 to 1945 she was a Scholar at the School of Celtic Studies at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and was a Travelling Scholar of the National University from 1945 to 1947. She later joined the diplomatic staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and served in France, Spain, in Strasbourg and at the United Nations and was a member of Prof. Tomás de Bhaldraithe’s pioneering lexicographical team which produced the English-Irish Dictionary (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair, 1959). Máire Mhac an tSaoi has a particular feeling for the language and literature of the Classical Period (c.1200-c.1650), has edited poems of this period in scholarly journals and produced an edition of the prose works Dhá sgéal Artúraíochta (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946).
Máire Mhac an tSaoi is regarded a major poet; her intimate knowledge of traditional, Classical poetic forms and of the West Kerry dialect combine with a modern, European sensibility to produce a voice that is unique.
Her Irish language collections include: Margadh na saoire (Dublin: Sáirséal & Dill, 1956); Codladh an ghaiscígh agus véarsaí eile (Dublin: Sáirséal & Dill, 1973); An galar dubhach (Dublin: Sáirséal & Dill, 1980), An cion go dtí seo (Dublin: Sáirséal Ó Marcaigh, 1987), and Shoa agus dánta eile (BÁC: Sairséal Ó Marcaigh, 1999).
Among the other works she has produced there are a collection of translations from English to Irish of work by her uncle, Monsignor Pádraig de Brún, Miserere (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1971) and A heart full of thought (Dublin: Dolmen, 1959), translations of poems from the Classical Irish period (c.1200-1650) into English, and Trasládáil (Belfast: Lagan Press, 1997) which contains the Irish language originals of poems by such masters of Classical Irish as Maghnas Ó Domhnaill, Liam Dall Ó hIfearnáin and Piaras Feirtéir and others. The Classical period is a particular passion and Máire Mhac an tSaoi has written an imaginative novella about Piaras Feirtéir entitled A bhean óg ón (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 2001).
The National University of Ireland conferred an honorary doctorate in Celtic Studies on heri in 1991. She is a great public reader of her poetry and the recording Máire Mhac an tSaoi: guth an fhile (Indreabháin: Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 1992) is worthy of mention. O’Brien Press in Dublin published her autobiography in English, The same age as the state, in 2003. Her latest work of research about Piaras Feirtéir is due for publication from Sáirséal Ó Marcaigh.