Lives Remembered

Newry man, Rostrevor festival, and all that came in between

John Rodgers was in his second semester of a creative writing course at University College Cork when he was diagnosed with stage IV cancer

FOR more than 30 years John Rodgers harboured a dream of devoting his days to writing.

During a productive career as a building surveyor in London, the Newry man had always kept a notebook close at hand to scribble down his varied thoughts on life in prose and verse.

And so when he returned home a few years ago it also felt like something of a homecoming when he signed up for a full-time masters course in creative writing.

Aged 60, he threw himself into his studies at University College Cork, immersing himself in reading and writing and even talking about putting together a book of his work to share with others.

However, John had just started his second semester when he received the shocking news that a cough he had struggled to shake off that winter was actually a symptom of stage IV lung cancer.

He would not get to complete his studies but continued writing over his last four months of life, even completing one poem, entitled Admission, on a hospital trolley.

His family and friends then determined to posthumously fulfil his wishes by publishing the book he planned.

Today they will come together at the Rostrevor Literary Festival to launch Deadlines – the title having been chosen by John with typical dark humour – and celebrate his memory in an environment he would have loved.

Deadlines, a collection of writings by John Rodgers, was launched at the Rostrevor Literary Festival

John was born on Pancake Tuesday in 1957 in the area known locally as ‘the Meada’ on the edge of Newry, one of eight children to train driver Bill Rodgers and his wife Bridie (née McParland), who was from a family full of musicians and writers in Lislea, Co Armagh.

At Abbey Grammar School he was a member of the debating team and president of the chess club but was persuaded to follow a vocational path and studied technical drawing at Newry Tech, where Raymond McCreesh was a classmate.

He then went to university in Southampton before beginning a career as a chartered surveyor in London.

Settling in Kilburn, he had a son, Fionnbharr, through a marriage that would end in divorce. 

He then met Linda Hyldgaard, a textile designer from Denmark, and they were partners until her death in 2014.

These major life events, as well as the Troubles, a fascination with the Irish experience of the First World War, as well as the songs of Leonard Cohen, were all fertile ground for his poems and short stories.

They embodied too his wry northern humour, and an attitude to life that allowed happiness and sadness, grief and love, to exist in partnership.

John Rodgers spent most of his working life in London before retiring to Rostrevor, Co Down

When John returned to Ireland he made his home in the picturesque village of Rostrevor.

And when his son embarked on a masters in conflict transformation, he got the idea to return to his own love of words.

He revelled in student life in Cork, where his ability to light up any room made him a hugely popular figure.

The university paid tribute to him as “thoughtful, trenchant, with a dry wit, loved and respected by all”.

John Rodgers died aged 61 on June 29 last year. He is survived by his son and by three sisters and two brothers.

:: Deadlines will be launched today at the fourth annual Rostrevor Literary Festival, which also features poets Paula Meehan and Padraig O Tuama, writers Orla McAlinden and Misha Glenny and a discussion on ‘The Irish language crossing the divide’.

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Lives Remembered