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Sacha, Duchess of Abercorn (1946 – 2018)

Tuesday 11th December 2018 at 3pm 0 Comments

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has learned with regret of the death of Alexandra Hamilton, known as Sacha, Duchess of Abercorn, who has died at the age of 72. Sacha Abercorn is best known as the founder of the Pushkin Trust and for establishing the Puskin Prizes, a cross-community creative writing and arts programme in schools throughout Northern Ireland.

Sacha Abercorn, who was descended through her maternal line from the Romanovs and from Natalya, the youngest daughter of the novelist and playwright, Alexander Pushkin, settled in Northern Ireland in 1966 when she married James Hamilton, then MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. A professional counsellor in psychology, she became increasingly aware of the trauma being sustained by children living through the Northern Ireland Troubles. This provided her with the impetus to establish the Puskin Prizes in 1987. The annual creative writing competition, designed to place creativity at the heart of children’s education, was to encourage school children in all communities to find their voices and learn to express their thoughts and feelings through literary work. Ted Hughes, a long-time friend of the Duchess, was involved in the early years and the competition has since been judged by the likes of Doris Lessing, Roald Dahl and John Banville.

Seamus Heaney, a patron of the Pushkin Prizes, said in 2000 of Sacha Abercorn:

“Sacha Abercorn has been a passionate advocate of the value of creative writing in primary education, and for the past 12 years has been the inspiration of a cross-community, cross-border movement that has been its own reward, artistic and educational, for everybody.”

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland today paid tribute:

“Sacha, Duchess of Abercorn, made a considerable contribution to the creative development of schoolchildren in Ireland, especially in creative writing and expression, through her initiative of the Pushkin Prizes. A familiar figure in the broader culture, her work brought her into contact with the Arts Council many times over the decades and, on each occasion, the engagement was productive, community-orientated and inspirational.

Most recently, the Arts Council helped support the research and publication, with the Pushkin Trust, of Nearness of Ice: Arctic Convoys, complied from amazing interviews and memoirs with veterans by poet Kate Newmann and published in 2016. The book was launched by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the UK in the Crescent Arts Centre who, in a moving ceremony, presented surviving veterans with the Ushakov Medal. It was a project and an event of very high grade and one typical of the Duchess’s passion for the interface between creativity and often difficult experience. She will be fondly remembered by many in the arts.”

The Duchess of Abercorn became a trustee of the Northern Ireland Centre for Trauma and Transformation in 1998. She published a volume of poems, Feather from the Firebird in 2003 and, in 2008 was awarded an OBE for services to charity. In 2014 she was appointed Honorary Consul to the Russian Federation in Northern Ireland.

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