President Michael D Higgins and Edna O'Brien at the Saoithe ceremony
One of the great pleasures of being the Director of the Arts Council is that it gives me the opportunity to attend occasions of praise and celebration. In September, I had the honour of being present at the conferring of the three new Saoithe of Aosdána by the President , Michael D.Higgins when he presented Imogen Stewart, Edna O‘Brien and William Trevor with the symbolic torc. They now join Anthony Cronin, Brian Friel, Camille Souter and Seoirse Bodley as Saoithe. The position of Saoi is reserved to creative artists who have made, in the judgement of their fellow members, a significant, remarkable and enduring contribution to their art.
To be in the presence of such artistic greatness, such inspiration and imagination was truly humbling. All three bear witness to the critical role that artists play in the life of the state. In her speech, Edna O‘Brien referred to how 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.”
Edna’s words capture the richness of the arts and culture in our collective being as a people and a place. It is not happenstance that we are known the world over for our artists. This is why the Arts Council has placed the artists of Ireland and the people of Ireland at the centre of its new 10-year strategy, Making Great Art Work.
The words of Edna O’Brien should be a constant reminder to us all of the value that we must place on the role of the arts in Irish life.
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