Sacha Abercorn is descended, through her maternal line, from the Romanovs and from Natalya, the youngest daughter of Alexander Pushkin. She came to live in Ireland when she married James Hamilton, then MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, in 1966. Her first child, James, was born in 1969, her daughter, Sophie, in 1973 and her younger son, Nicholas, in 1979. Her husband succeeded his father as Duke of Abercorn in 1979. and dedicates his time and energy to the social and economic regeneration of Northern Ireland. During the mid-1970s, the Duchess trained as a professional counsellor in transpersonal and depth psychology, employing methodologies learned from (among others) Jung, Maslow, Progoff and Assagioli. Living through the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland made the Duchess increasingly aware of the trauma sustained by children in the province. She also became aware of their urgent need to express their thoughts, their feelings, their inner worlds – to find a ‘voice’ of their own, and to find means whereby that ‘voice’ could be heard. This led to the establishment of the Pushkin Prizes in 1987. After the Omagh bomb in 1998, the Duchess became a trustee of the Northern Ireland Centre for Trauma and Transformation. In 2003, the Duchess received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster. In the same year, she published a volume of prose poems, Feather from the Firebird. In 2006, the Ireland Fund of Monaco presented her with the Princess Grace Humanitarian Award and she was also awarded the OBE in 2008 for her services to charity.
Poet, Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939 and was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and at Trinity College Dublin, where he read Classics. He was also a teacher for a time at schools in Belfast, Dublin and London. He joined the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 1970 where he initiated programmes in literature and the traditional arts which emphasised the importance of arts in education. His early retirement in 1991 coincided with the publication of his first collection of poetry for twelve years, Gorse Fires, which went on to win the Whitbread Prize for Poetry. His collection, Poems 1963-1983 was reissued the same year and a new anthology, The Ghost Orchid, appeared in 1995. A further anthology of his Collected Poems was published in 2006 and he was appointed Professor of Poetry for Ireland in 2007. This is the first cross-border academic chair in Ireland, established in 1998 and is held for three years.