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Final applause for Belfast actress Roma Tomelty over a Zoom link

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Theatrical titan: Roma Tomelty

Theatrical titan: Roma Tomelty

Roma's actress sister Frances

Roma's actress sister Frances

Colin Carnegie and wife Roma Tomelty

Colin Carnegie and wife Roma Tomelty

Theatrical titan: Roma Tomelty

It wasn't the send-off that renowned Belfast actress Roma Tomelty would have received in normal times.

But not even the coronavirus crisis could stop the friends and family of the theatrical titan ­- including her acclaimed actress sister Frances ­- from paying their respects from right around the world and marking her passing with a sustained round of applause.

Using the technological wizardry of Zoom, the Tomeltys staged a 'virtual' funeral for Roma yesterday outside their north Belfast home.

Due to government restrictions on numbers attending funerals here, only a small group of friends from the arts scene were able to join Roma's husband Colin Carnegie and their daughters Rachael, Ruth and Hannah for the briefest of 'services' which I was invited to watch on Zoom.

Roma's priest Father Martin Graham from St Peter's Cathedral said prayers in the street as her coffin sat on a trestle.

It was all in stark contrast to the funeral that Roma's beloved playwright father Joe, the head of one of Belfast's most famous theatrical dynasties, received in a packed St Peter's in June 1995.

Fr Graham revealed that Roma had recently come up with an idea to mark Palm Sunday in the Cathedral by parading a donkey up the aisle, to symbolise the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

The Covid-19 lockdown stymied Roma's plan but Fr Graham said: "Please God when we get to next Palm Sunday there will be a donkey coming up the aisle to say thanks to Roma."

Fr Graham said Roma had now left behind her earthly scripts to return to the word of the Lord. And he prayed for Roma's friends and family including her sister Frances Tomelty who held a lit candle as she watched the funeral on her mobile phone.

After the prayers actor Mark Claney who was a close friend of Roma's read the Dylan Thomas poem "And Death Shall Have no Dominion."

Its end was the cue for Roma's husband and daughters to inch forward to say their own farewells before walking behind the hearse for a short distance.

Other mourners kept their distance and Roma's daughter Hannah later said it was a 'strange way' for people to say goodbye to her mother.

But she pledged that the family will give Roma a 'proper' farewell when it's safe to do so.

She thanked people who offered their support to the Tomeltys and added that one of the most difficult parts of the day for the family had been the inability to hug the mourners.

Belfast Telegraph