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The Finalists

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The Trench Award

Now, in its tenth year, the purpose of the Trench Award, which includes a number of bursaries, is to assist singers and musicians from the Midlands/Mid-West region to develop their professional careers through further study at a University/Music College/accredited music establishment, in Ireland or abroad, undertaking classical music studies in pursuit of a career in professional performance.

Following our callout for applications, we invite six finalists to perform a 15-minute programme at the Trench Award Gala Concert during Birr Festival of Music. The winners are selected by a prestigious panel and also take part in a series of masterclasses during their time at our Festival here in Birr.

In previous years, Fergus Sheil, David Brophy, Sandra Oman, Bruno Caproni and Julian Evans have all been adjudicators. 

The Trench Award 2023

Sunday 30 April | 7.30pm
Birr Theatre & Arts Centre


Deirdre Higgins


Deirdre is completing a Masters of Music in the TU Dublin Conservatoire under the tutelage of Mairéad Buicke and Mairéad Hurley.


Her operatic debut was with Irish National Opera as chorus member in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (2022). She then joined the chorus of Wexford Festival Opera (2022) for four productions. 


At the ‘Corsi Internazionali di Musica di Lurisia Terme 2022’ Deirdre performed two roles -La Contessa di Almaviva - Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart) and Adina - L’Elisir D’Amore (Donizetti) and received reviews such as - “in half a century of activity in the operatic field I have rarely heard this very difficult aria from the Contessa sung so well”.


Deirdre was honoured to be selected to participate in Tara Erraught’s ‘Celebrating the Voice’ 2023 and to perform in their Opera Gala. 


Deirdre looks forward to returning to Wexford Festival Opera to perform the role of Suor Osmina in Suor Angelica. 

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Adam Buttimer


Adam began his career at 8 years old- starting on euphonium in his school band and proceeding to Banna Cluain Meala on tuba. He is now in his third year of the Bachelor of Music Performance degree at the Royal Irish Academy of Music studying under Francis Magee.

Currently on an Erasmus at the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, he is studying with Petri Keskitalo. As a soloist Adam has enjoyed attending multiple masterclasses with well renowned brass players such as Garry Curtain and Jen Bjøren Larsen.


An aspiring Orchestral player Adam has had the opportunity to work with many world renowned conductors such as Sakari Oramo and Christian Vasquez, and has featured in the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra, RIAM Philharmonia, National Youth Orchestra of Ireland and Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra.


In December 2022, Adam took part in an apprenticeship program with one of the world's leading contemporary ensembles; Klangforum Weir.

Julieanne Forrest


Julieanne is 20 years old and studies at MUK Vienna with Professor Pavel Vernikov. Previously she studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music under Dr. Fionnuala Hunt, was part of the RIAM Young Scholar programme, the Eversheds Sutherland Accelerator Academy and was awarded the inaugural John Pollard Bursary for Violin.

In September 2019 Julieanne was announced as the National Concert Hall of Ireland's Young Musician of the Year and in October 2020 she won the Fr Frank Maher Classical Music Competition.

Julieanne held the position of Concertmaster of The National Youth Orchestra of Ireland between 2018 and 2021. She was leader of the RIAM Symphony Orchestra and Dublin Youth Orchestras.


In October 2017, Julieanne made her debut as a soloist with the National Concert Orchestra. In April 2019, she made her Carnegie Hall debut performing the Barber Violin Concerto with the New York Concerti Sinfonietta and she also played the Bruch Violin Concerto with the Wexford Sinfonia at the National Opera House in February 2022.

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Anna-Helena McLachlan


Anna-Helena is currently in the final year of her BMus Vocal Performance degree, studying with Mary Brennan and Gráinne Dunne.


In her second year, she won the Irene Sandford Award, and was also awarded one of the top bursary prizes of the Veronica Dunne Bursary for Young Irish Singers. Anna-Helena was also selected to take part in the 10th Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition, in which she was the youngest participant.


Recent opera roles include Cold Genius from Purcell’s ‘King Arthur’, Victorian 2 in Will Todd’s ‘Alices Adventure in Wonderland’, Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, and Melissa in Francesca Caccini’s ‘La Liberazione di Ruggiero’.


Song projects include Colman Pearce’s ‘Sundays at Noon’ concert in the Hugh Lane Gallery and Iain Burnside’s European tour, ‘Open your eyes and tell me what you see’. 


Oratorio experience includes alto soloist in both Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah and baritone soloist with the all-female Diva Voces Choir, performing Faure’s Requiem.

Caroline Behan


Caroline, a native of Kill, is currently a postgraduate student at the Royal Northern College of Music studying with Elizabeth Ritchie, where she is generously supported by the N.W. Award.


In 2022, she graduated with Distinction from the Masters in Music Performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where she studied with Mary Brennan and répétiteur Dearbhla Collins.


In 2021, Caroline was awarded 3rd Place in the Irené Sandford Award and was the inaugural winner of the Song Prize at the Northern Ireland Opera Festival of Voice.


Caroline is also the 2020 winner of the RIAM Gaiety Bursary. Her Operatic Roles include Humpty Dumpty/Dormouse (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Will Todd), Venus (King Arthur –

Purcell), Serpina (La Serva Padrona - Pergolesi), Giunone (La Calisto - Cavalli) and Damigiella Alcina - Caccini).


Caroline has also performed with the chorus of Irish National Opera in several of their productions.

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Heather Sammon


Heather Sammon is a Mezzo-Soprano from Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare. She completed her undergraduate degree from Maynooth University, where she studied Irish and Music, majoring in Vocal Performance. Here, she was a member of the Maynooth Choral Society between 2016-2020.


Heather then went on to complete a Diploma in Vocal Pedagogy and Performance in the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 2021. She is currently under the tutelage of Mairead Buicke.


Heather began working professionally for Irish National Opera in 2020 and is currently a member of their Company Chorus 2022/2023.


Heather is a numerous prize winner in Feis Ceoil, placing second in both Dermot Troy and Mezzo Soprano Solo. She was also a finalist in the Glenarm Festival of Voice 2022.


She made her solo debut with University College Dublin in 2022 singing the Alto solo in Handel’s Messiah. Heather also recently performed in ‘Celebrating the Voice’ in conjunction with Drogheda Music Festival. Here, Heather received masterclasses from Angela Brower and Tara Erraught while also performing in concert alongside Angela Brower.



The Trench Award is our top bursary, named in honour of Julia & Patrick Trench.



2022  Martina Rosaria O'Connell | Flute

2021 Aoibhin Keogh Daly | Cello

2020 Ben Gannon | Oboe

2019 Aidan Chan | Piano

2018 Philip Keegan | Tenor

2017 Richard Thomas | Violin

2016 Sarah Brady | Soprano

2015 Carolyn Holt | Mezzo Soprano 

2014 Heather Fogarty | Mezzo Soprano

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Janet White Spunner presents The 2022 Trench Award to

Martina Rosaria O'Connell at Birr Theatre & Arts Centre.

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President of Birr Lions Club Ronan O'Hare & Aimee Banks


This award is named in recognition of Birr Lions Club's ongoing support of Birr Festival of Music. They have generously supported numerous community, education and cultural organisations in Birr since establishment in 1974.



2022  Aimee Banks | Soprano

2021 Maria Matthews | Soprano

2020 Jessica Hackett | Soprano

2019 Leah Redmond | Soprano

2018 Ben Gannon | Oboe

2017 Kevin Neville | Baritone

2016 Rachel Goode | Soprano


In memory of the late Audrey Chisholm, concert pianist and hugely popular teacher for many years at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin.  Audrey grew up on Oxmantown Mall, Birr. Her father, William, was head forrester at Birr Castle, her mother, Ciss, taught piano and gave Audrey her first lesson. 


Awarded to an instrumentalist and funded from Audrey's estate by her brother Danvers and curated by Linda O'Shea Farren.


2022 JJ McNamara | Piano 

2021 David Vesey | Piano

2020 Peter Regan | Piano

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JJ McNamara and 2022 Trench Award adjudicator Sandra Oman

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Julian Evans, Niamh St John & Bruno Caproni


Awarded to a singer in the Trench Award, this is a residency at the Summer Opera Academy in Tuscany of renowned baritone Bruno Caproni and pianist Julian Evans. 


The recipient joins a small group of international singers for vocal coaching, Italian lessons and performance opportunities, visiting Puccini's birthplace in nearby Lucca and generally immersing themselves in Italian culture.


2022 Niamh St John | Soprano

2021 David Kennedy | Tenor

2020  Sarah Luttrell | Mezzo Soprano

2019  Dylan Rooney | Baritone

2018  Philip Keegan | Tenor


A bursary awarded to a Midlands student entering full-time music studies in the classical field. 



2022 Catherine Cotter | Cello

2020 Aoibhin Keogh Daly | Cello

2019 David Kennedy | Tenor

2018 Dylan Rooney | Baritone

2017 Mollie Wrafter | Violin 

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Maureen de Forge & Catherine Cotter

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