AONTAS STAR Awards 2020

23 Mar 2020
AONTAS Social Media Officer, Emma O'Kane, reflects on the STAR Awards 2020 ceremony and the run up to this day that celebrates the transformative power of adult education.

On Monday, 2nd March AONTAS hosted the annual STAR Awards ceremony at The Law Society of Ireland in Dublin.

The ceremony marked the beginning of the 14th annual Adult Learners’ Festival and focused on acknowledging the fantastic work undertaken by learning projects throughout Ireland. The STAR Awards showcase teamwork and award recognition.

This year, we celebrated #LearningForLife and the positive contribution that twenty- two initiatives make to individual adult learners, local communities and wider society. The awards ceremony followed a competitive shortlisting process including meeting with the judging panel in February of this year. The Adult Learners attending these interviews spoke directly to the judges about the role of education in their life experiences which spanned across the counties of Ireland. Throughout the year, AONTAS supports and is witness to the amazing efforts of adult learning organisations in improving the lives of adults through innovative education methods. It was wonderful to see these organisations meet and acknowledge their success. 

The initiatives fell into the following categories; Health and Wellbeing, Sustainable Employment (Large and Small Organisations), Social Inclusion (Large and Small Organisations) and Third-level Access and Employment. Ultimately, seven organisations received awards:


Health and Wellbeing The NLN (National Learning Network) Focus Recovery Programme, Cork

Third-level Access and Engagement The Cultural and Heritage Studies Local Training Initiative at the National Print Museum, Dublin

Social Inclusion - Small/Medium Organisation The Dillon’s Cross Project, Cork 

Social Inclusion - Large Organisation The Bedford Row Traveller DRIVE Initiative, Limerick

Sustainable Employment - Small/Medium Organisation Muirhevnamor Local Training Initiative, Dundalk 

Sustainable Employment - Large Organisation Ability@Work, Cork 

Special Recognition for an ESF Initiative Healthcare Opportunities for Women, Limerick 

Learn more about the winning organisations here


In attendance were representatives from the twenty-two diverse initiatives, former STAR Award winners, professionals in the education sector, singer/songwriter Tina Carter and actor and screenwriter, Hilary Rose. The energy of each attendee was palpable, making the day particularly special for everyone including the AONTAS staff.

Given the presence of adult learners from across the country, there were many experiences and stories to be shared on the day. While Hilary Rose delivered the keynote speech, Tina Carter welcomed guests with an uplifting and celebratory playlist of songs.

Commenting on the day, Hilary said ‘Adult learning is such a positive part of Irish communities and the groups here today represent that.” Her own journey in adult education began as a mature student in 2006 when she studied drama in the Gaiety School of Acting. It continued in 2013 when she returned to the National Film School to attain a first class honours MA in Screenwriting. Hilary is a two-time IFTA nominee for Best actress in 2018 and Best supporting actress in 2017 for her complex portrayal of Mairead in the hit BBC comedy drama, The Young Offenders

Tina Carter studied as an adult learner with Gorey Local Training Initiative. She found the whole process a transformative experience which has enabled her to keep reaching for her dreams.

Tina was not the only adult learner to find opportunities in music. From music and drama to employment skills and work experience, the nominated initiatives and the individuals behind them demonstrate the transformative power of adult education in Ireland.

While some initiatives represented the power of education in strengthening mental health and wellbeing, others demonstrated the need for variety in educational programmes to suit the range of needs in communities across Ireland. The power of lifelong learning was demonstrated again and again in the STAR Awards categories which were introduced by a short video describing their purpose. 

AONTAS warmly thanks all who attended the STAR Awards 2020 ceremony and those who joined us online. In particular, we thank the twenty-two winning and finalist groups whose passion and commitment to adult education made for a fantastic celebration. Look out for our upcoming video surmising this fantastic day. 


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The STAR Awards is proudly sponsored by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), the Open University in Ireland and the Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCNNI) and European Social Fund (ESF).