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Tributes flow for Roma Tomelty, Northern Ireland theatre's 'extraordinary force of nature'

Roma Tomelty

One of the most influential cornerstones of the theatre in Northern Ireland, Roma Tomelty, has died.

A member of a famous acting dynasty, she passed away peacefully at the age of 75 after falling ill at her north Belfast home.

And as the drama world paid tribute yesterday, one of Roma's daughters, Hannah, said the family had been devastated by the sudden passing of a woman who was described as an "inspiration" that lived and breathed the theatre like her playwright father Joe Tomelty had done before her.

As well as her theatrical roles, Roma, whose death Hannah stressed was not related to coronavirus, was also an in-demand on-screen actress.

In recent years she had roles in the Frankenstein's Chronicles TV series and the movie Your Highness, which starred Natalie Portman and Toby Jones.

She also made a brief appearance in Game of Thrones, but her role was curtailed due to unforeseen circumstances.

One of her last theatrical appearances was in a Brassneck Theatre Company production last summer of a play, Something in the Air, by Lawrence McKeown, which dealt with the start of the Troubles in Bombay Street in west Belfast in 1969.

Roma, who won rave reviews from the critics for her performance, was more recently involved in filming a new TV series, Frank of Ireland, written by and starring Brendan Gleeson's sons Brian and Domhnall.


With husband Colin Carnegie

With husband Colin Carnegie

With husband Colin Carnegie

Hannah, who like her sisters Ruth and Rachael is also an actress, said that even though her mother had suffered of late with some health issues, her death yesterday in the Mater Hospital was a huge shock.

She said she and her family were immensely proud of Roma who, along with her sister Frances, the first wife of singer Sting, were destined for theatre careers in the theatre.

They followed their father Joe onto the stage in their teens and Roma proved versatile in a myriad of different roles as an actress, director, producer and playwright, basing herself for a time in San Francisco and Scotland.


With husband Colin Carnegie

With husband Colin Carnegie

With husband Colin Carnegie

Back home Roma was an acclaimed stalwart of plays at the Arts Theatre, the Grand Opera House and Lyric in Belfast, where she appeared in dozens of productions.

Roma later became an administrator in the Newry Arts Centre and in the Riverside in Coleraine.

The artistic director of the Lyric Theatre, Jimmy Fay, hailed Roma as "an extraordinary force of nature as an actor, producer and teacher".

The head of literature and drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Damian Smyth, said Roma's death was a "huge loss to the theatre here and to her family, most of all, but also to our culture as a whole".

He talked of her "many memorable performances" and added: "As many have noted her like will hardly be seen again.

"It's a very sad day. It is also, though, an occasion to be grateful for her life, her exuberance and her energy, that have now been ended but will not be forgotten."

One of the big turning points in Roma's life came in 1986 when she and her English-born husband Colin Carnegie, a fellow actor and director, established the Centre Stage Theatre Company.

It championed long-forgotten Ulster plays by the likes of her father Joe and George Shiels as well as well as by international writers including Tom Stoppard, Noel Coward and Neil Simon.

Centre Stage became one of Northern Ireland's premier touring companies.

But three years before Centre Stage's inception, at the height of the Troubles, Roma and Colin also started up a summer drama school which, 36 years on, is still flourishing having provided dozens of aspiring young actors, directors and technicians with the opportunity to cut their teeth in their chosen professions.

Centre Stage pantomimes have also given thousands of young audiences their first taste of the theatre.

Commonwealth Games medal winning athlete Ciara Mageean said she was one of Roma's drama pupils, adding: "I had the pleasure of learning from this amazing woman, a truly strong female role model."

Hannah thanked people theatre practitioners and friends for "their kind words and memories during this difficult time".

Roma's daughter added that a memorial would be held at a later date.

Belfast Telegraph