A LEAVING Certificate student who chose to embrace positive mental health after losing her first cousin to suicide has been named Limerick’s Person of the Month.
Katie Whelan, 18, who hails from the Dublin Road, won the support of thousands of people – and crucially Limerick City and County Council – for her project, which saw life-affirming messages placed on Thomond Bridge.
One of the youngest winners of the Limerick Person of the Month, 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.
“It’s great – and I am delighted. I am so happy Lisa’s Lights has been brought back into the spotlight,” Katie said upon receiving her award at the Clarion Hotel.
Since the lights went up, at a launch ceremony attended by Munster star Keith Earls, the Ardscoil Mhuire student said the reaction has been “mad”.
“Everyone has been so positive and supportive. I have had a great reaction from people who saw the lights up and felt better. It really has made a difference to people,” she said.
Katie’s school principal, Colette McGrath, said: “This is a wonderful recognition of the great work Katie has done. She did not do this for herself. It was for the good of others. When she has an idea, she follows it through.”
This is not the end of Lisa’s Lights, however.
On Sunday, May 10, her classmates will hold a garden fete to acknowledge her work and raise more money for the scheme.
The hope is that Lisa’s Lights will appear on other bridges across the city centre, with Katie pinpointing Baal’s Bridge.
She said when she initially put the idea to light Limerick’s bridges out in the form of a petition – which ending up getting 8,000 signatures – she did not expect such a big reaction.
“To see the way everybody reacted was so special and fantastic. To be able to promote positive mental health in such an amazing way was just wonderful,” she said.
Asked what she enjoys doing in her spare time, the youngster laughed: “I like giving my grandma computer lessons! I also enjoy spending time with my family, and friends.”
Her grandmother, Eileen Culhane, said: “I could not be more proud of her today. She has done everything with me. She has done five marathons with me in Dublin. Once, we managed to get lost! But she is wonderful.” Grandfather Tony added: “I am proud as anything to have a granddaughter like Katie. I was delighted when I found out she had won Person of the Month. She deserves everything she gets. It is brilliant.”
Mum Michelle added: “This is for all the hard work she has put into it. It is fantastic for Katie to get this award.”
Katie paid tribute to her sister Chloe, and the rest of her family, for their support.