A decade or so ago, nobody would have guessed that Catherine Rock would become an acclaimed artist.
Coosan native Catherine had always been interested in art when growing up, and was drawn to galleries, but never thought that she would be able to create art and didn't know any artists.
"I take great pride that I had five paintings acquired by The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland and they are on show in their new head office in Dublin," said Catherine.
The OPW commissioned two of her paintings for a new contemporary building in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. Catherine has exhibited in galleries in Galway and also at the Market House gallery, Mullingar, and she was selected by curator Maria Kerin for the Emerging Artist award by Westmeath County Council in 2009.
"There was absolutely no mention of art when I went to Coosan NS and it was something I just did in the Bower school to pad out other subjects, but I did it for Inter Cert," she said. "I was always interested in colours, and the combinations and reactions of different colours side by side, and mixed together."
Catherine Farrell, as she was in the 1970s, left the Bower School, and went to work in Lloyds of London for three years. Upon returning to Ireland she met her husband, Mick Rock, within three weeks.
Mick is a native of Cornafulla and the couple met at Glasson Carnival when Brendan Boyer and the Royal Showband was playing and after they married, Catherine became a fulltime mother to their children, Gary, Anna and Karen.
"I suppose I was ambitious only for my children, while they were growing up, and I was happy out in my garden," said Catherine. "If I wasn't doing art, I would be gardening; that was my art and I planted dozens of bushes and shrubs over the years."
A decade ago Catherine was made redundant after working for two years with William Hill betting and was urged to join the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) in Athlone.
On the training course Catherine did computer courses and really got into the art class, as taught by Carol Quinlan, who runs Clonmacnoise Pottery, with her husband Damien O'Brien. Catherine did stained glass, batik, ceramics and of course painting on paper, which became her favourite.
Catherine also did a night class in art with local artist Geraldine Kretsch and learned a lot there.
"I never missed a day on VTOS and Carol gave me the encouragement to apply to college, so I thought I'd apply to the IT in Galway for the craic, thinking it wouldn't happen," she said. "I applied and submitted a portfolio for the part-time and fulltime Fine Art and Design courses and got both."
Catherine freely said that she was shocked to get offered a place and had to take a huge decision about whether she would take up the offer or not. She was living happily at home with Mick, and her children had grown up, but she wanted to take her art further, because she had gotten much praise for her creations at that point.
Catherine was in her early 50s when she accepted the fulltime offer to go to the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) to begin a three-year course. She had never left the family home, with the exception of her two years working for William Hill, and two years studying at VTOS. However, both of those venues were in Athlone and she could go home to Coosan every evening.
She decided to move to Galway for four days a week and take up a life of study.
"When I took it on I remember being in a pickle, wondering was I mad, and my sister Bernie said to me if you don't do it, you are going to regret it and you can always give it up," said Catherine. "I got 200% support from Mick, and I couldn't have done it without him. Whatever I wanted to do he always supported me."
Catherine got herself a flat on the Tuam Road, Galway, and drove early each morning to the GMIT to begin a day's study.
"I knew nobody in the college when I started and my heart was in my mouth, but I wanted to know more about art and wanted to know what the whole art world was all about and my interest had been sparked on VTOS," said Catherine.
She looked forward to driving back to Athlone each Friday afternoon. However she also loved her course from the minute she went to GMIT and got into the whole creative process of painting and working with other art forms. She also learned about the history of art and what was happening in the art world.
"A few in the course were my age group, but most were young, although there were a few in their 20s and 30s, who wanted to go back to fulltime study," said Catherine. "I'm glad I did the course when I did it and it gave me great confidence."
She completed her three-year course in May 2008 and graduated with a BA in Fine Art and Design later that year.
Since that time, Catherine has used her training to continue studying art, by reading art magazines, like 'Modern Painter' and the 'Irish Art Review', and watching art programmes, and of course, by painting.
"I paint what I feel, and that's what most people do in modern art, and that is what I would have been geared towards in my training," she said. "It's a whole new life for me since I did the course, and I go to exhibitions all the time, and have a real understanding of it all."
She converted a room in her house into an art studio, because she needed a secluded place to work, where she could close the door and leave her paint and work behind.
"If something really good happens in painting, it's sometimes impossible to repeat it and I could do something and it could turn out really fabulous, but if I try and repeat it, it just doesn't work," said Catherine. "I don't plan my paintings and the ones I planned for generally don't work. It all comes from your psyche, if you let it."
She is hoping to have a solo exhibition in the future, but believes that she is nowhere ready for such an event. She is working on having about 20 paintings ready, some of them really large ones.
She recently got a body of work together from her six-month stint working as one of the first artists of the Abbey Road Studio at St Mary's Hall. Catherine loved having somewhere to go each morning and got on really well with the other artists there, including Lesley Wingfield, Emer O'Connor, and Margo McNulty. Catherine is looking forward to Emer and Margo's joint exhibition in September in the Roscommon Arts Centre.
"Abbey Road was brilliant for me and I'd go up there every day to paint," said Catherine.
Catherine recently got a Westmeath County Council bursary for a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie centre, Annaghmakerig, Co. Monaghan.
"Paintings can take one hour or one year for me and if things aren't going right, I turn them to the wall and a lot of the time for me, I nearly have to get to the point of being prepared to pull off the canvas and put a new one on, and then I'll let rip and then it works," she said. "I'm looking forward to Athlone having a new art gallery, it's going to be great and it will put the town on the map. It's progress in the right direction. The building itself will be beautiful and beside the castle, the old bridge, the church and the river, and will be a great attraction for visitors nationally and internationally."
Derville Murphy, who is a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland and was Art Curator for the Bank of Ireland from 1998 to 2008, wrote of Catherine's work: "Catherine's painting 'Territorial' (2009) is confidently painted with an atmospheric exuberance and joie de vivre. This work, along with her other colourful abstracts, will provide a perfect foil to the architecture of the new building. (New Accountancy building, Dublin)."
Samples of Catherine's working can be viewed at: http://www.catherinerock.ie