Oonagh Rodgers has seen both tragedy and triumph in her life and has written about it in her first book, I Heard the Curlew Cry.
Rodgers was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She lived through the ‘Years of Hope’ between 1945 and 1969, when the north was finally becoming more prosperous after the Second World War.
“We were the only generation born in that time between those times and were brought up as children without any troubles,” she explained.
But she also lived in Belfast during the beginning years of ‘The Troubles’, a violent 30-year war between the Protestant majority to remain part of the United Kingdom and the Catholic minority to become part of the Republic of Ireland.
The conflict started when a civil rights march became deadly in Londonderry on Oct. 5, 1968 and ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on Apr. 10, 1998.
“How do you describe that,” asked Rodgers, rhetorically.
“Horrific would be a good word. Living within a community that was practically overrun by paramilitaries was, I mean nobody escaped,” she said.
“You spent your time going to funerals of people who were killed. Then the school I taught, a little preparatory school. There was more tragedy in that little school. I just find it hard to talk about it,” she said softly.
When Rodgers turned 18, she became a nun and joined the Dominican Religious Order. She travelled extensively through the order and taught English, grammar and religious studies in Lisbon, Portugal, South Africa and in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“It was very common growing up in Ireland at that time,” Rodgers said about joining the convent.
“Five or six people out of Catholic schools every year would join some order,” she said.
“As an Irish person, you are brought up with one foot in the spiritual world and one foot in the ordinary and you are quite comfortable with that because that’s part of being a Celt,” said the author.
She left the order after 25 years and moved to Canada, arriving in Maple Ridge, from Ontario, in 1998.
The Dominican grammar school Rodgers attended as a child had a focus on arts, as well as the academics.
Her parents were also artistic. They were both dancers and her father was a dance adjudicator, with both having a fine sense of humour.
“So I’ve always grown up with the love of the arts. I was a dancer, I was a singer and I’m a writer now,” affirmed Rodgers.
Rodgers has taught creative writing in Maple Ridge after losing her job as a high school teacher just before retirement.
It was her students who encouraged her to write her book.
“One of the classes I was teaching was memoir writing and spiritual memoir,” explained Rodgers.
“You can’t teach that without sharing some of your own life. Many of my students were encouraging me, you’ve got to write this down. That sort of gave me the final push,” she said.
This book is about her ongoing journey and her pursuit of answers to life’s biggest questions. Who am I? Where is my life going? Is there a purpose and meaning to it all?
“It’s really basically it’s about how you make your life, how you become the creator of your life rather than the victim of your circumstances. And just the ongoing personal journey of consistently being called to change and grow,” said the author.
Rodgers recalls the haunting sounds of the curlew, a bird found in the marshlands in Ireland, that she has referred to in the title of her book.
“Belfast was really small and our homes went down to wetland and you’ld hear the curlew,” she said.
“It symbolizes for me the numinous. The transcendent. The life beyond what you see. That there is something else” continued Rogers.
“The love of nature and the sense of the sacred and the holy in all aspects of life was always there. And the curlew sort of symbolizes all that,” she said.
The book has put closure on the trauma of her past and she hopes that people will get a sense of hope from the book.
“That no matter what the circumstances of your life, no matter how messy your life might appear, you can always be healed. We are all given the tools within ourselves to actually cope with the life we’ve been given,” she said.
“It’s all about the search for meaning within your own life. People have often lost the sense of meaning and they don’t realize that its actually right there in plain sight in your own story,” she added.
Rodgers is currently working on her second book, a work of non-fiction that is in the research stage.
• A book signing is being held from 2:30 to 5 p.m. on Aug. 20 at Colonial West Clubhouse, 20554 118 Ave. in Maple Ridge.