President of Ireland Mary McAleese presided at a ceremony this afternoon, Monday 24 November 2008, to mark the election of visual artist Camille Souter and composer Seóirse Bodley as Saoithe in Aosdána. The honour of Saoi is bestowed for singular and sustained distinction in the arts and, this afternoon, the President presented both Camille and Seóirse with the symbol of the office, a gold Torc. The ceremony took place at 3:30pm at the Arts Council's offices at 70 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, which is also the headquarters of Aosdána.
Aosdána was originally established in 1981 by the Arts Council to acknowledge artists who have made an outstanding contribution to the arts in Ireland. Membership of Aosdána, which is by peer nomination and election, is open to artists engaged in architecture, choreography, music, literature and the visual arts and, currently, the body has 233 members.
Members of Aosdána nominate and elect the Saoithe and no more than seven artists may hold this honour at any one time. The current Saoithe are Louis Le Brocquy, Anthony Cronin, Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney and Patrick Scott. Previous Saoithe include Samuel Beckett, Sean Ó Faoláin, Patrick Collins, Mary Lavin, Francis Stewart, Tony O'Malley and Benedict Kiely.
The ceremony was attended by many of the artists' colleagues and numerous members of Aosdána, including John F Deane, Paul Durcan and Imogen Stuart. Also present were Arts Council members Colm Tóibín and Aibhlín McCrann; Arts Council Director, Mary Cloake; and Registrar of Aosdána, Toby Dennett.
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