Imogen Stuart, Edna O’Brien and William Trevor elected Saoithe

Aosdána honour given by President Higgins for singular, sustained distinction in arts

Imogen Stuart and Edna O’Brien: ‘Two amazing women’  being honoured ‘by their peers in the most fitting way possible for artists’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Imogen Stuart and Edna O’Brien: ‘Two amazing women’ being honoured ‘by their peers in the most fitting way possible for artists’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Three artists were today elected to become Saoithe in Aosdána in a ceremony presided over by President Michael D Higgins.

Artist Imogen Stuart and writers Edna O’Brien and William Trevor were conferred the honour of Saoi – literally “wise one” – bestowed for singular and sustained distinction in the creative arts.

“The position of Saoi is reserved for artists who have made, in the judgement of their fellow members, a significant, remarkable and enduring contribution by their work,” the President said, noting that the honour was previously held by both Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

“May I congratulate our three new Saoithe, gabhaim buíochas leo, for the profound and distinctive contribution that each of them has made to the cultural dimension of our society.”

‘Moving affection’

He said O’Brien was a “fearless teller of truth” who has continued to write “undaunted, sometimes by culpable incomprehension, authoritarian hostility and sometimes downright malice”.

Mr Higgins described Stuart as a “revered and honoured member of the arts community”. Praise for her work, he said, “always goes hand in hand with a profound and moving affection for the artist”.

He then presented O’Brien, Stuart and Mary Mount, who was representing Trevor, with the symbol of the office, a gold torc.

In accepting her honour, O’Brien said she was always asked abroad why such a small country as Ireland has so many great writers, something she said is due to “the love of and the fervour of the language”.

“Language is something we have inherited and if we have a collective and an individual responsibility,” she said, “it is to retain that language, not corporate language, not glib language but the language that we’ve been handed down that is singular testament to Ireland’s humanity and to that precious jewel, Ireland’s imagination.”

Imogen Stuart accused the Government of killing the “goose that laid the golden egg” in allowing Star Wars to be filmed on Skellig Michael.

Skellig worries

“Because this is such a holy and special island,” she said, “I am really worried for the future.”

Stuart noted the film may increase tourism to the island, which she warned could have a detrimental effect.

“At the moment they have a certain amount of people there coming and going but that may be changed. There may be many more people because of tourism. That’s the big word now in Ireland, tourism,” she said. “We are a country that needs money but we need culture first and foremost. We should stick to it and fight for it.”

‘Amazing women’

Arts Council

Chair of the Arts Council Sheila Pratschke paid tribute to O’Brien and Stuart as “two amazing women” who were being honoured “by their peers in the most fitting way possible for artists”.

There can be no more than seven Saoithe at any one time. The other Saoithe are composer Seoirse Bodley, writer Anthony Cronin, playwright Brian Friel and artist Camille Souter.