ASTI Achievement Awards

The ASTI Achievement Awards recognise the outstanding contribution teachers make to schools, students and society.

The ASTI Achievement Awards recognise teachers in three categories:

The Outstanding Teacher Achievement Award recognises the contribution of individual teachers to their schools and education.

The Outstanding Teacher Team Achievement Award recognises the contribution made to schools and education by groups of teachers.

The Outstanding Individual Achievement Award recognises the outstanding achievements of individual teachers outside of their professional life.

To nominate an outstanding teacher or teaching team for their achievements in school or outside their professional life download a nomination form by clicking here and return the completed form to ASTI Head Office by Friday, February 9th, 2018. 


James McGovern- ASTI Achievement Awards

Religion and History teacher James McGovern has been awarded a 2015 ASTI Achievement award because of his exceptional contributions both in his school and his local community. His accomplishments are in areas as diverse as Gaelic games, public speaking and debating, labour relations and authorship. In his 33 years of teaching in St. Mary’s CBS, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford James has had a significant positive impact on the physical, sporting, mental, religious and academic development of his students.

James is greatly respected by his students due to his GAA achievements. As a player, he represented Wexford on the Senior county football team from 1983 to 1988, during which time he was part of the first Wexford team to beat Dublin in Croke Park since 1917. He also has numerous achievements at club level, winning a Wexford County Senior Football title for Starlights in 1983 and reaching three county finals with Glynn-Barntown between 1989 and 1991. As a trainer, James has worked with many teams including the Wexford Minor, Under-21 and Ladies’ teams as well as various club teams.

 As a passionate advocate for GAA, he has been organising tours to European GAA teams since 1998 with a view to strengthening fledgling clubs on the continent. James has also trained the school Gaelic football team in St. Mary’s for many years, during which time they won their first Leinster Senior Football Colleges title and the Wexford Colleges Football Championship. Such is his commitment to GAA that James divided the €22,000 profits from his first book ‘Coming of age in Wexford GAA, 1983-2004’ between the St. Mary’s CBS astro-turf project and his local GAA club’s development. He is also the current Gaelic football correspondent for ‘The Chronicle’ as well as writing on GAA for a variety of other publications.

James is a long-time supporter of teaching students about mental health, and spearheaded his schools’ involvement in the Mental Health Ireland public speaking competition. With thanks to his role as coach, 14 teams from St. Mary’s CBS have won the Co. Wexford finals of the competition in 28 years. With James as coach, his teams have also reached several All-Ireland finals in the competition, including a win in 1989.

As James saw the positive effects of public speaking on students’ self-confidence he also coached teams in many other public speaking and debating competitions. He has always tried to give opportunities to those with mental health difficulties, thereby helping to raise their self-esteem. He has coached students to success in competitions run by a variety of organisations including Young Fine Gael, the Knights of St. Columbanus, UCD L&H/ TCD ‘Hist’ socities, Trinity College Philosophical Society,  Maynooth University, Enniscorthy Tidy Towns and Carlow IT. At a Civic Reception given in his honour by Enniscorthy Urban Council in 2014, James was described as being one of the most successful and longest-serving public speaking and debating tutors in the country.

A dedicated ASTI member James has served as school steward many times. He has been extremely involved in the ASTI at branch level, serving as Chairman or Honorary Secretary for Enniscorthy branch for much of the last 33 years as well as attending Convention almost every year since the early 1980s.

James is highly regarded by all staff in St. Mary’s CBS and his contributions have without doubt enriched both his school and local community in Enniscorthy. 

Shirley Higgins- ASTI Achievement Award Winner - 2015

Shirley Higgins is being presented with an ASTI Achievement Award for her outstanding work as conductor of the signing choir in St. Mary’s School for Deaf Girls in Cabra, Dublin.  Through her work with the choir, she has brought this creative form of artistic expression to a whole new level and together with her students has greatly increased awareness of Deaf culture and communication.

The choir have been highly praised for their talent and skill, with Paul Whittaker founder of UK charity Music and the Deaf, saying “I was so impressed with them, they actually made me cry…I have seen many signing choirs over the years but the ensemble, musicianship, body language and facial expression they showed was phenomenal. Signing is not just about what your hands do, but the whole body, and St Mary’s are absolutely first-class.” Shirley’s passion and commitment has helped the choir to grow from strength to strength.

Since Shirley founded the choir four years ago, they have gone from performing at school celebrations to performing at events as diverse as the 50th International Eucharistic Congress (2012), the Saturday Night Show (2013), the International Mental Health and Deafness Conference (2014), Emmanuel (2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015) and ‘Feel the Music’ (2014).  In 2014, members of the choir travelled to Bonn to perform with other signing choirs at a European event called ‘Feel the Music’ where they were accompanied by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.

Shirley dedicates many hours to bringing music to life for her students through the medium of Irish Sign Language. Since ISL is a visual language, students learn songs from DVDs. This means that Shirley must translate songs into ISL before videoing them. The enthusiasm and dedication to music shown by Shirley has had a huge impact on the members of the choir, who practice five mornings a week before school begins.

For the students in St. Mary’s, the benefits of learning and performing these songs go far beyond mere enjoyment of music, with improved confidence, self-esteem, co-ordination, rhythm and literacy skills as just some of the additional benefits.

Shirley has also worked to promote sign language both internationally and locally. She provided help and guidance to Schools for the Deaf in Prague, Italy and Germany who have been inspired to set up their own signing choirs. These four schools met in September 2014 to exchange ideas and perform together in the native sign languages of their own country.

In her own community, Shirley has developed a Transition Year Module in ISL which she and her class teach ISL to Transition year students in a neighbouring school. The ‘4 Schools 1 Language’ initiative emerged from this module. Under this initiative, Transition Year students from St. Mary’s school for Deaf Girls, St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys and neighbouring mainstream schools learn and record contemporary songs together in ISL.

Principal Eimear O’Rourke said “Ms. Shirley Higgins is an exceptionally dedicated teacher and a hugely valued member of both our School Community and the wider Deaf Community.”

“That our students have shown that they can engage and compete on equal terms with their peers is testament to her success and to her ability to guide, motivate and empower,” she continued.

Shirley is a worthy recipient of this award who is highly regarded by colleagues and students alike. Her tireless contribution, dedication and work ethic have truly enriched the lives of her students and the greater school community.




Ciarán Collins

Ciarán Collins is being presented with an ASTI Achievement Award thanks to his outstanding contribution to Ireland’s literary world. While Ciarán Collins teaches full time in the Hamilton High School in Bandon, Co. Cork, he is also an acclaimed writer. The English and Irish teacher published his debut novel in 2013 with tremendous success. The book, entitled The Gamal was internationally lauded, with critical praise ranging from “outstanding” (Irish Times), to “remarkable” (New York Times). The book is available in six countries and is due to be translated into French and German.

The Gamal is set in West Cork and is told through the eyes of Charlie, a ‘gamalóg’ or simpleton from which the book derives its name. The protagonist has been advised by his psychologist to write his thoughts down as a form of therapy. Though Charlie is construed to be something of a village idiot, his observations prove that he is far more insightful than he might appear.

The story chiefly revolves around Charlie’s only two friends, Sinéad and James, a teenage couple who have much in the way of hope and talent in their young lives. The book depicts their kinship with Charlie, their own star-crossed relationship and the unhappy consequences of begrudgery and buried history in rural Ireland.

Though the book deals with dark themes, Charlie manages to strike a lighter balance with his unique outlook on life. The result is that The Gamal has not only poignancy but sheer entertainment value. It is described as “one of the most imaginative and entertaining novels to be written in Ireland” (Irish Times), and “an engrossing story that's brilliantly told” (Irish Independent). Ciarán himself has been praised as “a writer of extraordinary talent” (Sunday Independent) and “a tremendous storyteller” (Independent on Sunday).

The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for 2013 was awarded to Ciarán in recognition of his achievement and outstanding promise as a writer. Previous winners of the Rooney Prize include Bernard Farrell, Neil Jordan, Frank McGuinness, Deirdre Madden and Anne Enright. Ciarán also recieved a nomination for Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards as well as having The Gamal appear in several newspaper 'Best Reads' lists.

Like Charlie in the book, Ciarán comes from a small village in West Cork. One of eight children, his love of English developed partly in thanks to the abundance of books that were in his house growing up. Ciarán went on to study English and Irish in UCC, completing an MA there where he specialised in modern drama. Though Ciarán has written plays and short stories over the years, he had no contacts in the industry, finding potential publishers by using search engines on the internet.

Possibility and limitation are themes that are threaded throughout The Gamal and it is fulfilling one’s own potential which inspires Ciarán both personally and professionally. He has coached GAA teams for years in the school and is highly regarded by colleagues and students alike. Ciarán’s achievement demonstrates the heights that can be reached when possibilities are explored.



Una O’ Brien

Music teacher Una O’ Brien is also aworthy recipient of a 2014 ASTI Achievement Award. She has been awarded the honour because of the exceptional contribution she has made to her school and the commitment she has shown to her students. Una is an accomplished musician in both the classical and the traditional styles and has brought dedication, passion and competition success to Presentation College, Currylea, Tuam.

With thanks to Una, students have performed incredibly well in competitions both local and national. Presentation College, Currylea were three times awarded Best Orchestra in the Galway University Musical Awards. The school has also twice received the Connacht Tribune Award for Best Musical Accompaniment. Further success was achieved in 2011 and 2012 with students reaching the finals of Our Schools Got Talent, a nationwide competition organised by Special Olympics Ireland.

Una has had a life-long engagement with music both on a personal and academic level (Una has a BA in Music and Irish a Masters in Performance) and encourages students to get involved in extra-curricular activities related to music. Una has directed the scores of five musicals in the school which has involved the organisation, rehearsal and conduction of solo singers, choir and orchestra along with all instrumental arrangement.

Una has not neglected her traditional Irish leanings either, and the school’s trad group was successful in the Gael Linn Siamsa competition. ‘Canann Tuaim’ a CD of Saw Doctor songs as Gaeilge was launched in 2009, a collaborative effort with the Irish Traditional Group and transition year students. These songs were arranged by Una who also supervised rehearsal and recording. Una brings music to life for her students and organises workshops with professional musicians such as the Contempo String Quartet. She also organises trips to concerts and shows for students.

Una’s devotion to her role as music teacher is not exclusively extracurricular and she is dedicated to her students in preparation for the state exams. Una always accompanies music students to their practical exams and even arranges parts for group performances, giving students every extra support.

Principal Neasa Cosgrave has stated her contribution to the school as ‘phenomenal’. A worthy recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Achievement Award, Una O’ Brien’s contributions have without doubt enriched both school and student body.



2013 Achievement Award winner

Colm McFadden

Colm McFadden received an ASTI Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to his school and for his personal achievements in sport, which include playing a vital part in Donegal’s Senior All Ireland Football victory in 2012.  

Colm teaches maths in St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny, where he also coaches the school football team. Colm attended St Eunan’s himself, and in 2000 was part of the team that brought the Ulster schools McLarnon Cup back to the school for a third time.

Ten years after making his GAA Senior Championship debut for Donegal in 2002, Colm played a huge part in the team’s All Ireland Football win in 2012. He was top scorer in the 2012 Championship season, with the impressive tally of 4-32. This achievement earned him a GAA All Star and nomination for Footballer of the Year.

ASTI Achievement Award Winners 2012

Anne Dunphy
Anne Dunphy, a music and Irish teacher at Presentation Secondary School, Ballyphehane, Cork, received the 2012 ASTI Achievement Award for her outstanding contribution to her school and her commitment to her students, which culminated in the school’s victory in the All Island Choir Competition in 2010.

Anne’s hard work and that of her students was rewarded again last year when the choir was invited to perform for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during her historic visit to Ireland.

The Galway Techno Teachers Committee
Galway Techno Teachers Committee provides weekly meetings for Design and Communication Graphics teachers who wish to upskill and improve their students’ learning experience.

This group initiative began in 2007 when Design and Graphics was introduced in place of the subject Technical Drawing. The Committee of the Galway Techno Teachers’ Association saw the new subject’s potential to meet modern students’ educational needs. However, they knew that in order to give full benefit to their students, they would have to re-develop their own skills and abilities, particularly in relation to the use of technology. They have since devoted many hours of their time to delivering peer-based professional development to new and existing teachers in the Galway area.

Previous ASTI Achievement Award recipients



Tom Reynolds and Triona Brosnan
With the encouragement and guidance of their teachers, Tom Reynolds and Triona Brosnan, four students from St David’s Secondary School in Greystones worked towards one goal: to win the F1 in Schools World Championship. In September 2009 they achieved their goal.

Over the two years it took to get to that point, Tom and Triona guided the four boys up an extremely steep learning curve. The team undertook all the activities of a real Formula 1 team: they designed, manufactured and tested a working model Formula 1 car; created a team identity; secured sponsorship; developed a marketing plan; and, raced their model car against fellow competitors from around the world. At the international finals in London, the team faced the judges in all these areas and were ultimately crowned World Championships.

Angela Walsh
Angela Walsh teaches PE and Maths at St Augustine’s Dungarvan. She is an accomplished athlete and led the Cork Ladies Gaelic Football team to a fourth consecutive All Ireland Victory in 2008. She has been awarded many prestigious titles including GAA All Star Awards and Irish Times Sportswoman of the Month. 

As a teacher Angela is committed to the whole development of the young people in her care. By encouraging her pupils to participate in sports within and outside the school, Angela is helping them develop characteristics such as working as part of a team, interpersonal skills, goal setting and creativity: skills that are crucial to almost all areas of life.

Donal O’Grady
As Manager of Cork Senior Hurling team, Donal O’Grady took the county to two All Ireland finals and managed the team to victory in 2004. Donal’s sporting talent emerged during the 80’s as a school coach and player. He coached school teams throughout his teaching career and as a player he has club and county medals in both hurling and football.

Donal’s teaching career began in 1976 in Mallow VEC. An Irish and history teacher, he moved to Gaelcholaiste AG, North Mon, in 1978. He would later serve as Principal of Coláiste Eóin in Youghal, and Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal in Blarney before returning to Gaelcholaiste AG as Principal in 1999. While Donal has been enormously successful in his hurling pursuits, he was always 100 per cent committed to the students and staff at his school.

Eileen Murphy
Champion kayaker Eileen Murphy, a geography and maths teacher at Old Bawn Community School in Tallaght, was awarded for her outstanding commitment to motivating young people to reach their potential at outdoor activities through her involvement in water sports, mountain and rock climbing, and the Gaisce President’s Award.

In 2005, Eileen became the first Irish woman to complete a solo circumnavigation of Ireland by sea kayak. Eileen first became involved in competitive water activity in her teens and is a former Irish international in canoe slalom, whitewater and marathon racing. Eileen is also a Gaisce President’s Awards leader at Old Bawn Community School, where she has guided teams of students through the empowering Gaisce experience.

Patsy Toland
After spending 22 years as a geography, English and learning support teacher in Coláiste Phádraig in Lucan, Patsy Toland left his teaching post to take up the position of Development Education Officer with Self Help’s Africa.

Pasty spends much of his time in schools and classrooms introducing the Africa Alive project and working with students and teachers participating in the project. Pasty also takes part in the annual trip for students and teachers to Self Help projects in five East African countries. Patsy has always been committed to the delivery of extra curricular opportunities for students. This commitment led him to establish Coláiste Phádraig’s photography club many years ago. A keen canoeist, Patsy made sure his students also had the opportunity to participate in the sport and some of them even participated in the Liffey Descent.

Eddie O’Sullivan
Before former national rugby coach Eddie O’Sullivan became known as one of rugby’s most professionally thorough and innovative coaches he spent 11 years teaching PE in Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew in Galway.

Eddie’s days as a rugby player saw him excel as a high speed utility back with Garryowen and Munster and his professionalism as a PE teacher was a great asset to the Holy Rosary Basketball team. As national rugby coach, his strategic approach to the game helped to develop a team that exuded a confidence and optimism never before seen in Irish ruby.