Sonya Keogh, the creator of singing festivals, summer camps and workshops for children at home and all over the world, received the award for her unique Summer Sing and Sign Festival which brought deaf and hearing children together in a choral celebration in her native Cork earlier this year.
Opera singer Sonya, creative director of the ArtLifeCulture initiative, worked with the Cork Deaf Association to bring 200 children together in song in a venture she is determined will become an annual event in the city.
She was one of seven people honoured in the annual Hidden Hearing Heroes Awards which aim to recognise the often unseen and unheard everyday heroes who make invaluable contributions to society.
Sonya was nominated by pianist and music teacher, Orla O’Sullivan, who is deaf and visually impaired and accompanied the young Summer Sing and Sign singers.
“I’m very honoured that she nominated me,” said Sonya.
“When I’m working abroad, it’s with groups of children of mixed races, cultures and religions so you design programmes that engage and embrace all and facilitate all.”
Other winners, who received their awards from RTÉ’s Brenda Donohue, included 97-year-old Maureen Cronin from Co Clare who played a key role in getting the marriage ban lifted for school teachers in the 1950s when she became a test case for the INTO teachers’ union, remaining in her job for a full year without pay until the ban was removed.
At the other end of the age spectrum, nine-year-old Quaid Cleland from Dublin was honoured for his crusade to get RTÉ to have a signer on this year’s Late Late Toy Show. Although he can hear, he is committed to the cause and sends RTÉ a video every month showing himself signing new words.
One very special winner couldn’t be there — 15-year-old Ben Wallace from Co Kildare is due to get a bone marrow transplant from his seven-year-old sister, Ava, next week and was nominated for his bravery in battling leukaemia, even sitting his Junior Cert exams in Crumlin Children’s Hospital.
Awards also went to Kevin Stanley from Dublin, who has carried out extensive voluntary work with the deaf community for the past 30 years; campaigning GP Dr Phelim Donnelly from Galway; and Valerie McCabe-Slattery from Dublin, who was widowed last year but has shown indefatigable spirit in keeping up two jobs as well as caring for her 95-year-old father, Charles.