One of Athlone’s leading ladies took her final bow this week, the passing of Mel O’Flynn, an iconic figure within the local and national theatrical realm, being met with much sadness by those who had the privilege to have known her.
Mel was synonymous with the Athlone Little Theatre with whom she had a fruitful relationship for six decades, initially on stage, prior to becoming a director who inspired those whom she guided in the footsteps she first walked.
Her talent as an actor was recognised with a ‘Best Actress’ award at the All-Ireland Drama Festival in 1960 for her role as Romaine in ‘Witness for the Prosecution’.
Such was her passion for the stage, Mel also ‘treaded the boards’ with Athlone Musical Society and was recognised for her arts achievements with a Cathaoirleach Award from Westmeath County Council in 2010.
The inaugural female president of the Athlone Chamber of Commerce in 1991-92, Mel was a prominent business person in the heart of Athlone where her Arcadia Antiques was located in the surrounds of the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Such was the esteem in which Mel was held in Athlone, tributes were numerous from those groups with whom she had a positive and energetic influence.
In a post on their facebook page, Athlone Little Theatre recalled Mel’s immense contribution to local theatre for a duration of almost seven decades.
‘We have lost our sparkling and inspirational president. Mel was well known for her poise, style, wit, dignity and unsurpassable way with words. Mel celebrated life and all that’s best in it, at every opportunity. She loved to share this exuberance for life with friends and family on every occasion.
‘While her acting skills are legendary, winning ‘Best Actress’ in the All-Ireland Drama competition, she is probably best remembered for her highly polished and almost professional productions that she directed in Athlone Little Theatre each autumn.
‘Each October she treated us to exquisite presentations of the works of Tennessee Williams, Conor McPherson, Neil Simon, Henrik Ibsen, Agatha Christie, Goetz, Arthur Millar and many more ‘greats’. She fearlessly took on their work and Mel possessed immense empathy, personal understanding and appreciation for the pains as well as the joys of life.
‘She brought this empathy to her stage work and used it to transport her audience to profound depths and heights of human life. We all rejoiced in it. Within the theatre she inspired us to greater things, both on and off the stage and held us, rightly, to higher values and to be better than we thought possible.
‘Many of us learned what acting skills we have under her keen director’s eye. We have lost our dazzling, bright, warm flame. We have gained the duty to keep it lighting and to carry it on. Ní bheidh a leithead arís ann.’
Athlone Musical Society noted Mel to be a ‘great friend and neighbour’.
‘The world of theatre is at huge loss. A lady who suffered no fools. The biggest, kindest heart and one of the most interesting ladies ever encountered.
‘A mentor and a great listening ear in our hour of need as a family. Imelda Wall as she was known in her younger days! The face of a movie star.
‘Our condolences to her two beautiful daughters Melanie and Ciara.’
I too had the privilege of working with Mel in the surrounds of Athlone Little Theatre when I was cast in ‘The God of Carnage’ in October 2012.
To be directed by Mel was a through privilege and every guiding word was embraced to enhance the on stage performance levels.
When you worked with Mel, she inspired you and as each rehearsal passed and the opening performance awaited, she had instilled such confidence in you and your fellow cast members that the audience would be engrossed and enthralled by the play before their eyes.
Her theatre preparation and attention to detail was of the highest calibre and being in her presence as she directed, was literally absorbing. Thank you Mel. RIP.