Sheila, 81, is as Beezie as ever with acting

Cork actress Sheila Flitton, 81, in Beezie.

For 81-year old Cork-born actress Sheila Flitton ‘retirement’ is a dirty word. This energetic woman will perform her 30-year-old one woman show, Beezie at Powerscourt Theatre in Dublin from July 16-26.

She wrote it with the help of her son, David. Flitton (nee Aherne) was thrilled to be invited to perform an extract from it for President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina, at a reception for Irish people living in England last year. As she says, for a working class girl from St Finbarr’s Road to end up in the Áras is quite a leap. The show is based on the life of Beezie Gallagher, born in the 1870s, who was the sole resident on an island off Sligo for over 60 years. In the play, Beezie talks about her youth, her friendship with WB Yeats, her brief marriage, her rescue during the great freeze of 1947 and her campaign to escape from a County Home.

As a child, Flitton and her family moved in Cork from St Finbar’s Road off Bandon Road to Gurranabraher. Because of her family’s straitened circumstances , Flitton had to leave school at the age of 13 to take up a job at the Lee Boot Factory. But she harboured a dream to be an actress. “When I was a young girl, I wanted to be Shirley Temple. I used to be taken by my mam to see her at the pictures. But I had straight hair which I used to plait with twine to make it curly. I was plump and I took tap dancing classes. But my dad used to say, ‘get down off that stage girl, and stop making a fool of yourself.’”

Undeterred, Flitton joined “a lovely drama group off the Grand Parade. Michael McAuliffe, bless his soul, was the best Hamlet I ever saw.”

At work, Flitton was suspended for talking too much and her friend was sacked for some other misdemeanour. “I found an ad looking for a maid in Derby. I didn’t know where Derby was but I wrote and asked if they’d take two maids for the price of one. ”

The two girls were given the job and within weeks of arriving in England, Flitton had met the man who was to become her husband. She and her friend were later accepted for nurse training in Loughborough Hospital in Leicestershire. All the while, Flitton acted both in a local drama group and in the hospital where she performed pantomimes at Christmas. She spent nine years in England where she had two children. A further two were born when the family relocated to Dublin.

Flitton joined the Brendan Smith Academy and her acting career took off. She describes herself as “a jobbing actor” and says she’s no longer actively looking for work but continues to be asked to play character roles. Career highlights include being nominated for best actress in the 2004 Irish Times Theatre Awards for her role as Mags in The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Flitton has featured in Irish and international film and TV productions including the mother superior in The Country Girls. A play that Flitton wrote about battered wives, For Better, For Worse won the Listowel Writer’s Award in 1982.

Despite her success, Flitton regrets leaving school at such a young age and says she had “a hang-up about my grammar which was very bad”.

“But I never wanted fame. I just wanted to act,” she says.

In between acting and rearing a family, Flitton also managed to write and publish three books.

“I’ve been lucky. There will always be character parts for me. I can always play an auld one!”

Beezie at Powerscourt Theatre in Dublin from July 16-26


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