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A Christmas tale for today’s fragile world


Author Nicky Dowd

Ciara Moynihan

This month, Westport-based artist Nicky Dowd announced her debut children’s book, ‘Stumpa’. Beautifully illustrated by Winnie O’Brien, this Christmas publication tells the tale of Stumpa, a small, struggling sapling fir tree who finds herself abandoned on a hillside. Rescued from her loneliness by kind children, she soon finds a home – and, with some help from Robin and all the other forest animals, she grows to be the tallest, happiest tree in the garden.
Dowd’s inspiration came from stories she was told as a child in Yorkshire, combined with local mythical and magical tales she has learned since moving to Westport.
“It occurred to me last Christmas that some of the children’s Christmas books I was picking up weren’t quite capturing the magic of the season. It got me thinking about the stories I was told when I was little,” she explains. “My dad used to tell my brother and I a version of this story and would often leave us hanging at the end of a sentence asking: ‘What are we going to do now?’, so my brother and I would fill in what happened next.
“I wrote the outline of ‘Stumpa’ very quickly; in a day. Then I started to test it out on people: my family and friends, but also local schools [Drummin, Breaffy, Brackloon, Cuilmore], where I have completed art projects … It was in these conversations with education professionals [such as education advisors Kathy Quinn and Siobhán McGuire] and the children where Stumpa really came to life.”
The artist and now author also found inspiration in the natural landscape of her adopted home.
“When I went out for walks along the Clew Bay coast and along the trails of Croagh Patrick, more inspiration would come to me that was vividly Mayo-specific. The purples of the spongy moss; the dark greens of the trees; the sky, sometimes blue, sometimes pink, and often scattered with fluffy, white cotton-wool balls and the soft rain on the horizon, with a magical arc of coloured stripes that stretches from one side of the mountain to the other.
This book belongs as much to the local community and landscape of Westport as it does to me. This is what I am most proud of.”

Valuable resource
Nicky Dowd was born in Yorkshire and brought up in Birmingham. Having attending Bournville School of Art and Leeds, she has worked in film, theatre, television and radio. With Irish roots herself, she moved to Mayo with her family, where she has continued to engage in Community Art projects in all mediums.
These projects included a stint as production designer for the memorable 2016 Westport Arts Festival Parade, which saw the mythical story of Cathal and Macha brought to life through an enormous eight-foot-wide, 20-foot-long, 13-foot-high dancing whale, ‘Gráinne Whale’,  as well as waves, sea creatures, harps and more made by local schoolchildren who upcycled waste items to create colourful scenes. The end results was a wonderful celebration of heritage, with a strong environmental message.
Dowd also sees the story of Stumpa as a valuable resource for stimulating discussion around the environment and the interdependence of all living things. Dowd ultimately hopes that its message will help foster a sense of responsibility for the long-term care of the environment.
‘Stumpa’ will be printed in both English and Irish with a Free Audiobook Download, thanks to the generous support from State-funded Irish-language promoter Gnó Mhaigh Eo. It was printed less than a mile away from Dowd’s home, by Multi Print Solutions Westport,  an FSC-registered publisher, reducing the production footprint.
Dowd also hopes her book will inspire thousands of children to plant and nurture their own tree.  “Consider buying a live tree rooted in a pot this Christmas,” she adds. “Plant it and help bring life back into your garden and maybe a Robin will come and nest in your tree just like he did in Stumpa’s branches.”

‘Stumpa’, which was officially launched in The Creel last Thursday, is available at www.nickydowd.com and from selected book shops.
Nicky Dowd will be doing Meet The Author events on Saturday afternoons, December 2, 9 and 16, at Westport House’s Winter Wonderland, where Mrs Claus will be telling the story of Stumpa and Santa will be giving each child a live fir-tree sapling to take home.