By her presence at the funeral mass for Mire de Paor last week, Mary Robinson, the Irish President, paid tribute to a remarkable woman whose persona and achievement were iconic of the new Ireland.
Mire de Paor was an Ulsterwoman by birth and background: her parents, Delia and Ned MacDermott, veterans of the Republican movement, left their native Derry in the early 1920s, crossing the border of the newly established Irish Free State. Mire lived in Dublin from 1942 - first as a student, later a lecturer in Irish Archaeology in University College, where, after initial work in prehistory, she turned to the early Christian centuries and the Viking age. Her doctoral dissertation on an important ecclesiastical artefact, the "Kells crozier", published in the early 1950s, was the first of several specialist papers culminating in the admirable volume Early Christian Ireland (1958) which she wrote with a fellow archaeologist and historian, Liam de Paor; they were married in 1955.
Following a visit to Norway with Francoise Henry, much of Mire de Paor's interest centred on the relationship between Viking and Irish art. She taught courses in New York and Toronto, and lectured in many centres in Britain and Scandinavia and in Paris.In 1964 she spent a year in Nepal with her husband on a Unesco project. At home, she was in demand as an extension lecturer for the Royal Dublin Society. For many years she served as Secretary for "Polite Literature and Antiquities" in the Royal Irish Academy.
What it is hardly an exaggeration to call a small cultural revolution instituted a process of change in Irish life in the 1960s, to which Mire and her husband significantly contributed. Politically, she was a Republican by family tradition, a liberal and a socialist by conviction, and she made a dramatic entry on to the political scene when she gave challenge to a perceived conservative bastion, the National University constituency in the Irish Senate. She was unsuccessful, but she opened the way to su bsequent electoral victories.
It was in the exciting world of contemporary arts that de Paor made what will perhaps be seen as her greatest contribution. She was an active member of the Irish Arts Council, and her encouragement of young artists was immense, both modestly as a privatecollector and notably in promoting work for public and corporate patronage. Her enthusiasm extended to literature - in Irish and English - and the performing arts: she was a familiar figure at the Wexford Festival and a regular patron of concerts in Dublin and elsewhere, of the ballet and especially of the theatre.
Her generosity and hospitality were boundless and she had a huge sense of fun. Some of us will remember her mainly as a participant in the proceedings of Cumann Merriman, named after a late-18th-century bawdy satirist, where she personified the society'sunique mix of fun and high scholarship. She was known to many others as a broadcaster, and her contribution to radio and television as a specialist researcher and adviser was considerable.