A 19-year-old student who chose to embrace positive mental health after losing her first cousin to suicide has been named 2015 Limerick Person of the Year.
Katie Whelan was named the youngest ever winner of prestigious annual award today (Thursday, 18 February 2016) at a gala awards lunch in the Clarion Hotel, Limerick where other nominees, including racehorse trainer Enda Bolger, Limerick’s All Ireland winning Under 21 hurlers and LIT President Dr Maria Hinfelaar, also gathered.
Now in its 15th year and sponsored by The Limerick Leader, Southern Marketing Design & Media and the Clarion Hotel, the Limerick Person of the Year Awards was set up to honour the achievements and success of local people.
Katie, who hails from the Dublin Road, won the support of thousands of people and organisations such as Limerick City and County Council for her project, which saw life-affirming messages placed on Thomond Bridge.
Katie teamed up with Limerick company Alphaset to produce the Perspex boxes which displayed the messages including ‘Add friends to your tea’, ‘Take a deep breath’ and ‘Turn that frown upside down’. They were named ‘Lisa’s Lights’ in honour of her beloved cousin.
Today’s ceremony also saw Denis Brosnan being made an Honorary Limerickman in recognition of his “outstanding contribution towards the revival of Limerick and the Mid-West region, at a time when leadership and vision were so badly needed”. Although from Kerry, Mr. Brosnan has lived in Croom, Co Limerick, for many years and is a highly regarded member of the local community through his chairmanship of the Limerick Economic Forum and his chairing of the task force set up in the aftermath of the closure of Dell’s manufacturing division.
Past winners of the tile of Honorary Limerickman include philanthropist JP McManus, world champion boxer Andy lee, rugby stars Paul O’Connell and Tony Ward, author Donal Ryan, transatlantic rower Paul Gleeson and Thomond Park developer Pat Whelan.
This year’s Limerick Person of the Year judging panel consisted of Alan English, Editor of The Limerick Leader; Conn Murray, Chief Executive of Limerick City and County Council; and Cllr. Liam Galvin, Mayor of the City and County of Limerick.
“This award scheme is a wonderful initiative that covers a broad spectrum of accomplishments, ranging from excellence on the sporting field, to community endeavours which make a positive contribution to local society, to invaluable contributions to education and business in the Mid-West region,” said Mayor Galvin.
Speaking about the 2015 Limerick Person Of The Year, Mayor Galvin said, “Last May, many hundreds of people stood on Thomond Bridge with Katie and in solidarity with those who need a helping hand in their darkest days. It is my hope and belief that her project will continue to spread a message of hope and will help light a path for many people.
“I particularly want to commend Katie for involving the promotion of suicide awareness through education by advocating that our young people should be shown the reality of the pain that is caused for the families of those who take their own lives. We can only begin to tackle the issue of suicide once we fully comprehend its implications,” added the Mayor.
Limerick Leader editor Alan English said, “Katie is a wonderfully deserving Limerick Person of the Year. For someone so young to make a fantastic initiative like Lisa’s Lights happen was hugely impressive.”
“So many Limerick families have been devastated by the scourge of suicide and Katie wanted to reach out to those who, for whatever reason, had lost the will to live. Her idea resonated with many people. Limerick is proud of her and she is a credit to her family,” added Mr. English.
The 2015 nominees were:
January – Katie Whelan for the determination she showed in highlighting the importance of positive mental health, after losing her first cousin to suicide.
February – Ballyneety Golf Club members for bringing the facility back to life as a thriving golf and community amenity were recognised with a Limerick Person of the Month award.
March – The parents of the late Darragh O’Brien who lost their only child (2) from a sudden unexplained death. The couple raised over €20,000 for a charity which supports suddenly bereaved parents and families.
April – Limerick Clean-Up (TLC) for undertaking a massive clean-up day in both Limerick city and county took place on Good Friday
May – Racehorse trainer Enda Bolger for achieving an elusive treble with hunter chaser On The Fringe which triumphed at the three major spring jumping festivals.
June – Robert Laffan for opening new channels of communication with his autistic daughter thanks to the development of a device which may revolutionise one-to-one contact with people who have non-verbal disabilities.
July – Jockey Brian Toomey for his remarkable display of courage, grit and determination in returning to the saddle after been given just a 3% chance of survival, having suffered a devastating fall in 2013.
August – Ashleigh O’Hagan, Limerick’s only athlete to compete at the Special Olympic World Games in LA where she secured two bronze medals and three place ribbons.
September – The Limerick Under-21 hurlers for ending a 13-year famine by claiming the distinctive Cross of Cashel All-Ireland trophy and, in turn, the U21 All-Ireland title.
November – Sharon Slater of Limerick Museum and Archives for her passion for Limerick’s storied history and her ability to convey that passion to the people of the city, county and far beyond via her website Limerick’s Life.
December – Dr Maria Hinfelaar for overseeing a major period of expansion and innovation at Limerick Institute of Technology during her 11 years as president.