Lives Remembered

Bobby Rooney: 'Don't grieve my going, take joy from my contentment. See a smile in my face'

BOBBY Rooney was a caring, compassionate man who inspired and touched the lives of many as a teacher, father figure and family man.

A son of two teachers from Belfast's Falls Road, his energy and vitality for life may have taken him along a different pathway if his father, John, had not asked him to help him at St Aloysius' Special School.

From that day on he dedicated his life to helping others.

The school contained an eclectic mix of boys who had moderate learning difficulties as well as those who were failing in mainstream education for various reasons.

Appointed teacher of the senior class in 1966, Bobby managed to combine being a brilliant and gifted educator with kindness and understanding.

He made the boys feel valued and dedicated himself to giving them the skills to take up employment.

During his retirement, he wrote a book entitled It Wasn’t Me, All Right? about his early years teaching before and during the Troubles.

He relayed his journey from early bewilderment to genuine enjoyment of his job with sincere affection and respect for his pupils.

Bobby was appointed principal of St Aloysius’ in 1987 and the following year it moved from Somerton Road to the Gort na Mona site on the Upper Springfield Road.

His devotion to his pupils was only surpassed by his love for his wife Eileen, who also taught and supported him in St Gerard's.

Bobby saw an opportunity to redefine the approach to special education.

He oversaw an amalgamation with Immaculata Special School for girls to form an incredible facility called St Gerard’s Educational Resource Centre, with outreach provision for pupils in mainstream schools.

At St Gerard’s everyone received a warm welcome, especially from Bobby who delighted in bringing visitors around the classrooms.

At lunchtime he played handball with the pupils, teaching them mutual respect, good manners and the benefits of healthy competition.

Through his warm personality, with jokes and laughter, he created a school that pupils wanted to come to each day.

Bobby remained in St Gerard’s until his retirement in 2000.

As chairperson of Monagh Developments for over 20 years, he also worked alongside the late Fr Matt Wallace as they made an enormous contribution in bringing employment and business to Holy Trinity parish.

Bobby had an amazing energy and zest for life. His hobbies including gardening, music and painting, but his true passion was fishing.

He was an accomplished fly fisherman and extremely skilled in the art of tying flies.

He also kept a fishing boat in Teelin, Co Donegal and greatly enjoyed going out around the coast at the foot of Sliabh Liag.

Bobby Rooney was an accomplished fisherman

As a committee member of Newry and Mourne Fishing Club, he produced a quarterly magazine.

If he was not fishing in the water, Bobby was swimming, canoeing or kayaking in it.

He took part in the Swimathon several times for Macmillan nurses, frequently completed the Liffey Descent and loved canoeing and kayaking in Teelin bay.

Bobby was also an active member of Lecale Ramblers and climbed regularly in Scotland, the west of Ireland and of course Errigal, Muckish and his beloved Sliabh Liag.

And combining a love of cycling and travelling, he and his lifelong friend Kevin cycled along many European rivers including the Danube, Moselle and Loire.

He even became more adventurous and cycled round Rajasthan, India with friends Barry and Catherine.

An avid reader, Bobby loved language and literature and especially the poetry of Séamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh.

He had several short stories published and his poetry short-listed in an international competition.

Bobby met his beloved Eileen while they were both at college.

Eileen and Bobby Rooney on a boat below Sliabh Liag

They married in 1969 and had three daughters, Paula, Louise and Aoibheann.

Bobby was a loved and cherished husband and father. He enjoyed sharing his many interests with his children and eight grandchildren.

In addition to being a gifted raconteur, he had an amazing sense of humour and was the life and soul of any party.

Unfortunately, Bobby was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2017 and this cruel illness returned shortly before Christmas 2020.

He passed away aged 76 on New Year's Day, to be survived and sadly missed by his wife, children and siblings Joseph, Clare and Rosemary.

They are left with many happy memories, as well as Bobby's own fitting epitaph in his poem On My Sudden Death, written in 2013.

On My Sudden Death!

I leave with a lot to be glad about

Three girls whose characters are a source of joy

Grandchildren that I lived to see develop their different personalities

Loyal friends, memories of great adventures

And Eileen, a love I probably didn’t deserve but rejoice in her being.

I was lucky, lucky in so many many things

An ill divided portion of enjoyment and passions

Hobbies and pastimes, enough for ten.

So don’t grieve my going

Take joy from my contentment

See a smile in my face

And a peace in my eyes.

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