De Paor, Máire (1925–94), archaeologist, was born 6 May 1925 in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, second child among four children (one son and three daughters) of Eamonn (Ned) McDermott, grocer, and Delia McDermott (née McVeigh), teacher; both parents were veterans of the republican movement, who had left Derry after partition. She was educated at the local convent school and in 1942 moved to Dublin to study at UCD, where she became active in the Cumann Gaelach and An Comhchaidreamh, the federation of Irish university language societies, and closely studied the writings of James Connolly (qv) and Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv). In 1946 she graduated with an MA for her thesis on the poet Francis Ledwidge (qv), and two years later became an assistant lecturer at the college's department of archaeology, where she was to teach until 1958. Fascinated by early Christian archaeology and the viking age, she completed her doctoral thesis on an ecclesiastical artefact, the ‘Kells crosier’, which was published in Archaeologia (1955), and, as an associate of Seán P. Ó Riordáin (qv) at Lough Gur, took part in important archaeological digs and subsequently published her monograph on tenth-century Irish metalwork. Her best-known publication was Early Christian Ireland (1958), written in collaboration with her husband, the historian Liam De Paor (qv), whom she had met in UCD in 1944 and married in 1955. They had four sons and a daughter. This book, which became a best-seller, was indicative of Máire's approach to scholarly matters: serious but not solemn, and above all accessible. She also cultivated academic links abroad, her visit to Norway with Françoise Henry (qv) increasing her interest in viking art.
By now she had left UCD, partly due to the demands of raising a young family, though perhaps also as a result of her restless and creative spirit which seemed more suited to a freelance career. This she embraced with vigour, teaching courses in New York and Toronto and lecturing in Scandinavia, Paris, and Britain, as well as spending a year in Nepal with her husband on a UNESCO project, where she became active on a committee for Tibetan refugees. Politically and socially active, de Paor was a committed republican, socialist, and feminist. After joining the Labour party in 1965 she unsuccessfully contested the senate elections on the NUI panel. Her contribution to the world of arts was considerable, as were the contacts she fostered – to her contemporary admirers, she ‘pioneered the outgoing, engaging, and glamorous spirit of modern Ireland in archaeology and the arts in general. She was our foremost new-style preacher of the values of archaeology, heritage, and good taste’ (Archaeology Ireland, no. 33 (1995), 48). In 1960 she had been elected MRIA; she was a member of the council of the Academy for five terms, championing the cause of cultural heritage and the National Museum.
As a member of the organising committee of Cumann Merriman from its inception in 1967, she obtained the opportunity to indulge in all her favourite disciplines, including history, art, culture, language, and archaeology, and particularly their use as methods of exploring nationality. In the late 1960s RTÉ recognised her talents as a broadcaster, and she began extensive specialist research for television and radio programmes; in the late 1970s she was one of the main motivators behind the ‘Treasures of Ireland’ tours of Europe and the USA. In 1973 she was appointed a member of the Arts Council, and, probably because her talents were recognised across the political divide, was subsequently reappointed (1978, 1983, 1988), giving twenty years unbroken service until 1993. In 1982, after tension between the government and the Arts Council chairman, Colm Ó Briain, she was adamant about the council's need to resist political interference, insisting on its absolute independence and pointing out that the arts were not like some drainage scheme that could be administered by civil servants.
Showing a strong commitment to artists, she particularly championed visual arts and the formulation of new policies for literature and the performing arts, and was a regular patron of the theatre. Regarded as a superb administrator and mediator, she was also socially gregarious: a colleague has suggested that she was ‘networking’ before that term was invented. Notwithstanding her passionate belief in political equality, she accepted that she was an elitist as far as the arts were concerned, maintaining that original artistic ability was the preserve of a relatively select number of practitioners, whom she worked ceaselessly to discover and publicise. Before her death (6 December 1994) she had been appointed a member of the cultural relations committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the interim board of the National Museum of Ireland.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).