Making art while the sun shines

Mary Crowley. (1207PG66)
Mary Crowley. (1207PG66)

Mary Crowley’s attitude to life mirrors her attitude to her art. If she’s not happy with something, she starts again.

A proud member of the go getting group of businesswomen LegenDerry ladies, the 52 year-old knows what it feels like to start again, and again and again.

Six years ago, she suffered a life-threatening brain injury which left her co-ordination and mobility impaired. During the recovery period, a surgeon suggested the action of brush strokes might help in the rehabilitative process. That was the birth of Mary Crowley, the artist, and the mother-of-one discovered a passion and ability she never knew she had. Mary took a chance and threw herself into her art 100 per cent. The result is a stunning collection of watercolours featuring her beloved Inishowen landscape as well as a number of images inspired by Derry city.

Mary describes herself as “an artist who has to eat!” She knows the value of getting her work out there and exhibits locally whenever the opportunity presents itself. She’s a member of the LegenDerry ladies network, the Craft Village Collective and the Inishowen Rural Arts Network.

“When you really want to do something, when you have to do something, you just have to go for it! You don’t get second chances, and you only live once,” says Mary.

This Inishowen woman appreciates the fragility of life more than most.

As well as a brain injury, she experienced two separate major cardiac emergencies with crash carts rushed to her side in coronary care. And, as if that all wasn’t enough, she suffered a back injury which left her facing a life unable to walk.

“So much of what has happened has made me wake up every morning and think ‘I’m alive, this is a pretty good day!’ she smiles.

“Life is so short, we could all be gone tomorrow. That’s why I paint, because it’s something I totally love. When I paint, I feel complete. I remember when I was recovering just sitting on the beach in Urris and listening to the waves. Now I sit with a brush trying to catch the magic of that perfect wave. I’ve never yet caught it, but I still try!”

Urris holds a wealth of happy childhood memories for Mary. After spending her childhood in England, she returned with her parents to her family’s home area of Tire na Sligo in Urris in the 1970’s.

“That was like coming home for us,” says Mary.

“Even when we lived in England we spent our summers, Christmases and Easters back here so coming here to live was a dream.”

Mary spent her early teenage years in Inishowen until the family moved to Lexslip where her father got work.

She credits her father, the late Patrick Doherty, with instilling in her a desire to get the very most out of life.

“He always said we should never stick too long at the same thing and that’s something I’ve always remembered.

“So I suppose you could say I’ve dabbled in a few things over the years,” says the local artist, underplaying just how many careers she’s trained in over the years. Before she found her spiritual home in the art world, Mary worked as an auxiliary nurse, a dental nurse, a personal assistant to four doctors, a medical unit manager, a driving instructor, a beauty therapist, ran a boat charter on the Shannon and became a teacher of anatomy and physiology.

“Daddy always told us we could be whatever we wanted, and I listened. It wasn’t until I started painting that I settled on something and now, for the first time in my life, I know I’m doing exactly the right thing, in exactly the right place.”

Mary has one daughter, Laura, who she describes as “an amazing, wonderful girl.” While she travels around the North West showcasing her work, Mary’s heart lies at home in Buncrana. She says she never fails to find inspiration right on her doorstep.

“I open my curtains and look out the window and I see Lough Swilly and that three mile walk I do around Fr. Hegarty’s Rock never fails to amaze me.”

Mary has also found numerous scenes in Derry to satisfy the artist in her, and says she loves the unique feel around the city.

“I think it’s the fact that Derry doesn’t really feel like a city that I love most about it. It’s like a village and it’s really unique in that sense. I love walking along the river at Prehen and I like the way the Peace Bridge has changed the landscape.”

She’s hugely grateful for the networking opportunities provided by her fellow LegenDerry ladies.

“I first heard about the group on Facebook and I loved the ethos of an organisation which was promoting all these amazing women who were doing it for themselves. Founder Ann Marie Coyle arranged the first meeting and I couldn’t believe how many women were there who had all these amazing stories to tell. They’d all overcome lots of things to start up their own enterprises.

“I suppose as women, that is what we always do. We try so hard and we offer each other help where we can. This is what communities are supposed to be about.”

As a result of her involvement with this and other initiatives, Mary has been able to sell more of her work and will return as part of the LegenDerry Ladies pop-up shop to the Richmond Centre on July 26. She’ll also have her own unit in Derry’s Craft Village for the month of November and will have her work on display as part of the Craft Village Collective ahead of that.

“I’m really excited about a workshop I’ll be holding for eight people from August 20-23. It will be about people having fun and creating their own pieces and I think it’ll be great so it’ll be lovely to be able to do that in such a great setting, and have my own work on display too.”

She’s come a long way since first showing her work in the Eden Place Art Gallery at the Pilot’s Row Centre and Mary Crowley isn’t for turning.

“I’m so so lucky,” she says. “I get to do what I love to do every day. Life is about enjoying the moments as they come, because before you know it, they’ll be gone.”

View Mary’s work on or find her on Facebook under Mary Crowley artist.