'The bravery of the Rising heroes sparked my passion for painting'
When Laura Doherty was facing a long road to recovery after a car accident, it was the leaders of the 1916 she turned to for inspiration.
Doctors didn't expect Dr Laura Doherty to survive the horrific injuries she sustained in a car crash, but she battled against incredible odds - and this fight ended in a resounding victory.
Now the 35-year-old Longford woman, a keen student of history, is using her artistic talents to pay tribute to the heroes who inspired her brave fight - the 1916 leaders - with a special calendar featuring her portraits of the men, published as part of the Longford centenary commemorations.
Laura has come a long way since that fateful day in February 2009 when, as a 28-year-old newly qualified doctor, she was involved in the near-fatal accident while on her way to an interview in Sligo where she hoped to work as a GP. The collision happened about eight miles from her family home where her parents John and Patricia received the devastating news.
"She was in a coma for 10 days and doctors told us to prepare for the worst," recalls her mother Patricia.
"It was a terrible time. The whole family was in shock, but we vowed not to leave her on her own for a minute.
"As each day passed by, the doctors grew less hopeful for her recovery, but then one night when her sisters Aoife and Orlaith sat by her side, they started singing softly to her, 'Sonny, don't go away…' And suddenly, Laura opened her eyes.
"They couldn't believe it. She didn't speak for two months, but then finally, she turned to her brother Patrick one day and asked, 'What time is it?'"
It was the start of a slow, painstaking recovery during which Laura spent eight months in the National Rehabilitation Hospital learning to walk again and do all the everyday things most people take for granted.
Now she goes to the gym three times a week, and while she may not be the athlete she once was - she played football and basketball, and ran a marathon and several half-marathons - she's lost none of her lust for life.
"I lost my career and the ability to play sport, so my hopes and ambitions had to change radically," she says.
During this time, Laura turned to art, something she'd always enjoyed, and as her talent emerged, she became an accomplished portrait artist. Her depictions of the signatories of the Proclamation were inspired by her newfound interest in the Rising.
"In researching the project, I discovered a part of history that I hadn't known much about. I came to realise how brave, selfless and idealistic these men and women were, each with their own fascinating story and each bringing a level of integrity, idealism and selfless dedication to the cause of Irish freedom.
"I feel especially proud to be Irish and to say that these are the people who laid the foundations for our independence. They gave their lives for their country and worked so hard to pave the way for our freedom.
"I don't think any country could lay claim to more honourable and idealistic men and women that we have the privilege of remembering and honouring in 2016."
Laura's calendar forms part of an extensive programme of centenary commemoration activities in her home county. Coordinated by County Librarian Mary Reynolds, the programme was launched this month after almost a year of planning.
"Laura has made an important contribution to our county and produced something of great value to people nationwide," says Mary.
"She talks of the bravery and idealism of those who fought in 1916, yet she embodies those qualities herself. She's an exceptional woman and we're blessed to have her in our community.
"She spoke beautifully at our launch, as did 16-year-old Transition Year student Adam Farrell, who said, 'It took the burning of our cathedral to show us what Longford working together could accomplish. Even during the recession, our small community was able to band together just like 100 years ago and make our lives better.'"
Completely destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 2008, St Mel's Cathedral in Longford was re-opened last December.
"It rose like the Phoenix from the ashes, and is a monument to the fantastic community spirit we have in Longford," says Mary.
"And that's what the centenary commemorations are all about - community.
"It's an opportunity for every man, woman and child to have a better understanding of the birth of our nation and the people involved - not just the signatories of the Proclamation, but the unsung heroes who took part in the Rising.
"We know of 14 from Longford, including Dr Brigid Lyons, then a 20-year-old medical student who tended the wounded in the Four Courts and was later imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail.
"In April we'll have a civic reception for her relatives and those of all the Longford people who participated in the Rising. We'll also have a parade, followed by a reading of the Proclamation.
"There are tons of things going on in our schools, with céilís, debates through Irish, creative writing projects, an original drama in our Youth Theatre, and a cross-border initiative to celebrate everybody who has worked for peace in the land.
"Cultural events include 1916-inspired themes in the Edgeworth and Goldsmith Literary Festivals and the Cruthú Arts Festival, and there's a time-travel family day on May 6 in Ardagh.
"GAA clubs from overseas will join Longford GAA for an event at Pearse Park, and there are lots of events planned for the diaspora communities overseas.
"The centenary commemorations rely on people with enthusiasm and commitment and we have that in spades here in Longford."
To order a copy of Dr Laura Doherty's 1916 calendar, or for further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org