Sarah Poyntz obituary

Paul Clements
·2-min read

A Guardian Country Diarist for 23 years, my friend Sarah Poyntz was inspired and sustained by the beauty of the Burren in County Clare, Ireland, where she made her home in the 1980s.

Curiously, in a limestone area renowned for its vast range of rare Arctic-alpine plants, Sarah, who has died from cancer aged 93, was a galanthophile – her favourite flower was the humble snowdrop. When she moved to live in the Burren in 1986, she wrote to the Guardian asking if the paper would like some contributions. The editor of the section warned her not to hold out much hope since 300 people were on a waiting list to write a column. Undaunted, she began in 1987 and continued with a regular diary – the sole Irish contributor – until 2010.

Related: Country diary: The Burren, Ireland

Sarah was born in New Ross, County Wexford, where her parents, Frank and Nellie (nee Murphy), both worked in a local law firm. She was educated at Loreto Abbey school in Gorey and University College Dublin, graduating with an arts degree before becoming a teacher and moving to England.

There she taught at Callington grammar school in Cornwall and was later appointed head of the English department at the Perse school for girls in Cambridge, before spending a number of years travelling first in the US and then in France. On one occasion, in the early 60s, her love of France led her to spend an afternoon sharing a bottle of wine with Samuel Beckett in Paris. She had written to him asking if they could meet, and he sent a postcard arranging a rendezvous.

The Burren, though, was Sarah’s adopted home. It was a place that held a bewitching appeal for her, not just because of the flora, but because of the wild sea on her doorstep and rapidly changing landscape moods. Evocatively, she documented the thrills of nature, along with stories of the flourishing local community, frequently invoking literary quotations.

Field glasses in hand, she roamed the limestone hills as well as the shorefront at her house near Ballyvaughan, delighting in seeing the first spring gentian – the floral emblem of the Burren – or spotting the elusive pine marten. She quartered the ground, searching for mountain avens, twayblade, early purple orchid, geraniums and ferns. Many of her best ideas were found by walking the fields and pavement, stumbling across a dolmen, an ancient ringfort or fulacht fiadh (cooking site). One of her hobbies was building model boats.

Sarah’s Guardian diaries were collected in an anthology, A Burren Journal (2000), dedicated to her partner, Mary Ann Radzinowicz, whose father had served as a general in the US Army alongside Eisenhower during the second world war. In 2005 she privately published a memoir of her early days in Wexford, Memory Emancipated, and in 2010 she edited Burren Villages: Tales of History and Imagination.

She is survived by Mary Ann.