President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to two of the most significant figures within Irish literature, Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Brendan Kennelly, who both died over the weekend.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, President Higgins described them as "two great figures who were a loss to poetry".

"These are two extraordinary, important figures," he said.

Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi died at home on Saturday night at the age of 99.

Considered one of the most important Irish language poets of her time, she was also the first woman to be called to the bar in Ireland, and the first woman to make it into the department of external affairs through public competition.

Poet and author Brendan Kennelly died yesterday at Aras Mhuire Community nursing home in Listowel where he had resided for the last two years. He was 85.

He had moved back to his native Ballylongford in north Kerry in 2016 following decades in Trinity College Dublin where he was Professor of Modern Literature.

He was also a popular broadcaster making frequent appearances on radio and television.

He published over 30 books of poetry as well as works of prose and received numerous awards including the Irish PEN Award for Contribution to Irish Literature in 2010.

The President praised Mr Kennelly's commitment to sharing poetry and his performance of it.

"Going around the country created huge audiences in extraordinary places for poetry," the President said. "He had crafted an extraordinary place in the affections of the Irish people."

President Higgins also highlighted Ms Mhac an tSaoi's commitment to writing in Irish, and praised her "life of courage and of defying convention".

He said that in her poetry Ms Mhac an tSaoi explained that the proximity that Irish sounds and language had to nature and that "every sound has a reason for it" in Irish, which brought an authenticity to her work.

President Higgins said he had the privilege of meeting her, and she had a high standard and formalism in her commitment to the use of the Irish language.

He said that writing in Irish allowed her poetry to move above the self-censorship and formal censorship that happened in the English language at the time.

He said she "writes very directly about sensuality and personal feelings and is very revelatory and does not hold anything back".

"In Brendan's case as well [...] Brendan had so much to give and he gave it so generously."

President Higgins said that Mr Kennelly's wish was that his poems would be remembered and would be said out loud.

He said "that was his deep commitment and why he was looked at with so much affection by people in so many places".


Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi dies, aged 99

President leads tributes to poet Brendan Kennelly