President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi who has died, aged 99.

In a statement, her family said Máire passed away at home last night.

She was considered one of the most important Irish language scholars of her time.

She was also the first woman to make it into the department of external affairs through public competition.

Máire was the wife of Conor Cruise O'Brien and the daughter of TD Seán MacEntee.

In a statement, President Higgins said Máire was "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," he added.

"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.

The statement said Máire Mhac an tSaoi received many awards throughout her career including the O'Shaughnessy Poetry Award of the Irish American Cultural Institute, the D. Lit Celt honoris causa award and was elected to Aosdána in 1996.

In a post on Twitter, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Máire Mhac an tSaoi had "lived a remarkable life as a former diplomat and poet".

She is survived by her children Patrick and Margaret, her step-daughter Fedelma and an extended family.

Conor Cruise O'Brien and Máire Mhac an tSaoi in 1997 (Courtesy: RTÉ Stills Library)