Tullamore-based Catherine Wilkie has published her debut novel 'The Easter Snow'.
The ecologist is described as one of the finest emerging Midlands writers, following in the footsteps of Patricia Gibney and Anne Griffin, both from the region.
Born in Streamstown, Westmeath, Catherine's story is inspired by a sad but true story of her granduncle from Killare, who lived in the shadow of Uisneach.
Catherine was a Bord na Mona head ecologist for 18 years, responsible for restoring and rehabilitating many bogs. Among them, she saved Abbeyleix Bog in Laois, one of Ireland’s best-known bogs, and was in charge of its restoration.
Having recently been made redundant by the company after 18 years, she has turned to her love of the arts and environment for inspiration and decided to release a book!
The mother-of-three will see 'The Easter Snow' launched by Senator John Whelan at Midlands Books, High Street, Tullamore on Wednesday, May 15 between 6.30pm and 8pm.
Catherine is deeply connected to the landscape, with a strong appreciation for the role we play as custodians and stewards of change in this world. This book is part of that journey and is a celebration of the ordinary yet extraordinary men and women of the midlands of Ireland, and of how we are all bound and connected in a wonderful, humbling way.
'The Easter Snow’ is a tale of finding your peace in the place you least expect it. The story reconnects the characters with landscape, sense of place, heritage and home.
Set mainly in a nursing home in modern day Offaly-Westmeath, with flashbacks to days when farming ruled the area, the book is centred on a family mystery with twists and turns answered by the colourful residents of the nursing home known as Kileens.
Catherine takes her inspiration for ‘The Easter Snow’ from the landscape of Offaly and Westmeath, weaving a story that moves with the seasons and is tracked by the flowers that keep time for us all. While a nursing home may seem like an unlikely stage for a story, it is here that we meet the central characters that draw the readers into the rhythm of daily midlands life.
The story has its roots in a family secret.
“I spent a lot of time in and out of nursing homes, visiting my grand uncle when he was admitted after a stroke in the early 2000s. I was always struck with the diverse nature of the people who had come to call those places home, and I often found myself imagining the stories behind each person and the circumstances that led them to being there,” says Catherine.
We meet Lily, head nurse in Killeens, and we follow her as she steers a fraught path between motherhood and carer for the ageing population of the local town Lisheen. The arrival of a stranger, Marianne, from beyond the midlands heralds a new path for both Lily and the resident of the nursing home, and we see how that despite our best efforts, the call of home is often stronger than our will to escape it.
The book is inspired by a story of her own family – her granduncle Paddy who stayed on the farm and his sister Lily Young, that left the village of Killare in County Westmeath to find her fortune in New York in the fashion industry. They never saw each other from the day Lily left the village, and were only reunited when Paddy went to collect Lily’s ashes in Dublin Airport. She had died in New York having never seen her brother or homeplace again. Paddy was crestfallen at the loss. And so, learning of the story in a nursing home, Catherine contrived to reunite brother and sister in the fictional world.
"When I walked in those doors of the nursing home, all carefree and able, I walked into another world. And every week I left knowing my health, youth and freedom and how precious that is," says Catherine. The book is also a moving look into modern living, post Celtic Tiger. The main character, Lily, works all hours in the nursing home, rarely spending time with her two children or her out-of-work husband, who desperately wants to provide for the family and wants his wife back. There are other characters who every reader will identify with – kindly nurses, fashion-obsessed youngsters and sinister solicitors.