Flanagan, Pauline (1925–2003), actress, was born 29 June 1925 in Sligo town, youngest child of Patrick J. Flanagan and his wife Elizabeth (née McLynn). Her paternal family, originally from Co. Fermanagh, were driven out by anti‐catholic pogroms and resettled in Sligo, where her parents managed a retail business. The family’s politics were strongly nationalist and republican; her father fought in the war of independence, spending much time on the run or in jail. Both her parents served as mayors of Sligo, her father as an independent republican in 1939, her mother (the first woman to hold the office) in 1945; Pauline’s uncle Thomas Flanagan served two consecutive terms as mayor (1904–5).
Educated in Sligo at the Ursuline convent school, Flanagan was drawn to acting while a schoolgirl, but faced some family objection to pursuing the interest as a career. After performing in amateur dramatics, she landed her first professional roles with the Garryowen Players during the 1949 summer season in Bundoran, Co. Donegal. In the early 1950s she spent three years in the renowned fit-up company of Anew McMaster (qv), in later life recalling fondly the constant travelling, cheap digs, hard work, invaluable experience, and wonderful fun. She played a great range of roles – support and lead, comic and tragic – in Shakespeare, ancient Greek drama, contemporary potboilers, and melodrama. Colleagues in the company included T. P. McKenna (qv), Patrick Magee (qv), Milo O’Shea (qv), and Harold Pinter.
While visiting a sister in New York in the mid 1950s, Flanagan took a job as understudy in a production of ‘The living room’ by Graham Greene. Thus began her long and distinguished career on the New York stage and elsewhere in America, including numerous appearances on and off Broadway. Her Broadway debut came in the first Main Stem production of Dylan Thomas’s play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ (1957); the cast included Tom Clancy (qv). Other early New York credits included ‘Ulysses in Nighttown’ (1958), an adaptation from the text of James Joyce (qv), directed by Burgess Meredith; Flanagan played both Molly Bloom and Mrs Dedalus among other characters, opposite Zero Mostel as Leopold Bloom. She appeared in two other stage adaptations with Irish settings: ‘God and Kate Murphy’ (1959), directed by Meredith and starring Larry Hagman; and ‘Drums under the window’ (1960), from the autobiographical work by Sean O’Casey (qv).
In the early 1970s Flanagan performed several major Broadway roles with the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center: the Female Chorus Leader in ‘Antigone’ (1971); Ann Putnam in a revival of Arthur Miller’s ‘The crucible’ (1972); and Bessie Burgess in O’Casey’s ‘The plough and the stars’ (1973), in a cast that included Jack MacGowran (qv) as Fluther Good, and Christopher Walken as Jack Clitheroe. She played Myra White in ‘Summer’ (1974) by Hugh Leonard (qv), both in the original production at the Olney Theater in Maryland, and at the Olympia in the Dublin theatre festival. Pinter directed her on Broadway as Mrs Grose in ‘The innocents’ (1976), an adaptation of Henry James’s ‘The turn of the screw’, starring Claire Bloom and a young Sarah Jessica Parker.
Flanagan received a Drama Desk nomination for outstanding featured actress in a play for her Broadway performance as the First Woman of Corinth in an acclaimed production of ‘Medea’ (1982), supporting the Tony‐winning Zoe Caldwell in the title role. She appeared in the original Broadway production of ‘Steaming’ (1983), and with Keith Baxter and Milo O’Shea in the long‐running ‘Corpse!’ (1986). In her last Broadway role, she played Madge in a revival of ‘Philadelphia, here I come!’ (1994) by Brian Friel (qv). Her many roles with the off‐Broadway Irish Repertory Theatre included Sean O’Casey’s mother in ‘Grandchild of kings’ (1992), adapted and directed by the noted impresario Hal Prince from O’Casey’s early autobiographies, for which she was nominated for best actress by the Outer Critics Circle. Other credits with the troupe included O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the paycock’ (1995) (as Mrs Boyle), and Leonard’s ‘A life’ (2001).
From the early 1990s Flanagan returned to the Irish stage with outstanding performances in some of the most important Irish plays and productions of the period. She was Mrs Grigson in Shivaun O’Casey’s production of her father Sean’s ‘The shadow of a gunman’, in both Dublin and off‐Broadway in New York (1991). In ‘The desert lullaby’ by Jennifer Johnston at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre (1996), Flanagan played Nellie, the housekeeper, friend, and confidante of the mistress of an old Wicklow country house (played by Stella McCusker); the performance, ‘all mothering minder and loving tender, yet never without due reserve’ (David Nowlan, Ir. Times, 1 Nov. 1996), won her the TMA Barclays Award for best supporting actress in UK regional theatre. She appeared as Mother in ‘Tarry Flynn’, adapted and directed by Conall Morrison from the novel by Patrick Kavanagh (qv), both in the Abbey Theatre premiere (1997), and in the warmly received London run at the Royal National Theatre (1998).
Flanagan appeared in two first productions by the Abbey company of plays by Marina Carr. In ‘Portia Coughlan’ (1996) she played Blaize Scully, the vicious‐tongued paraplegic grandmother of the eponymous character (played by Derbhle Crotty), directed by Garry Hynes. In another pungent work of earthy midlands gothic, she was (in Nowlan’s words (Ir. Times, 8 Oct. 1998)) ‘strikingly and effectively unpleasant’ as the ‘venomously selfish’ Mrs Kilbride in Carr’s ‘By the Bog of Cats’ (1998), opposite Olwen Fouéré; directed by Patrick Mason, she was nominated for best supporting actress in the Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Awards. She appeared as Nell in ‘Endgame’ (1999) by Samuel Beckett (qv), with Alan Stanford, Barry McGovern, and Bill Golding, which played Dublin’s Gate Theatre, the Melbourne Festival, and the Barbican Centre in London. Directed by Mason at the Abbey, Flanagan was superb as Rima West, the hard drinking, raunchy mouthed, but compassionate widowed matriarch in ‘Dolly West’s kitchen’ (1999) by Frank McGuinness, set along the Donegal–Derry border during the second world war. Receiving a Beckett Award as best actress in the 1999 Dublin theatre festival, she remarked: ‘At my age I should be saying my prayers and getting ready for the grave, but here I am winning awards’ (Ir. Times, 20 Oct. 1999). For the production’s run at the Old Vic (2000), she won an Olivier Award as best supporting actress on the London stage, which she described as the pinnacle of her acting career.
Primarily a stage actress, Flanagan did relatively little work in television or film. Early in her American career she performed in two worthy productions of television theatre: in ‘Juno and the paycock’ (1960) in a cast that included Walter Matthau and Liam Clancy; and in ‘Little moon of Alban’ (1964) by James Costigan, supporting Julie Harris and Christopher Plummer. She made several appearances on US television in the 1980s, and impressively supported John Hurt and Brenda Blethyn in the feature film Night train (1998), set in contemporary suburban Dublin, directed by John Lynch.
Flanagan’s last performances were among the greatest of her career. In a revival of Tom Murphy’s ‘Bailegangaire’ she played the physically and mentally demanding role of Mommo, a confused, bedridden old woman (on stage throughout the entire play), who night after night tells the same disjointed story without ever arriving at the conclusion: how a laughing competition resulted in the renaming of the eponymous ‘town without laughter’. Flanagan compared the role to a nightly ascent of Everest, the script being so tight that the performance must not only be word‐perfect and letter‐perfect, but every punctuation point must be perfectly placed. Directed by the playwright as part of the Abbey’s five‐play Murphy retrospective in the 2001 Dublin theatre festival, supported by Jane Brennan and Derbhle Crotty as Mommo’s two granddaughters, Flanagan was hailed for liberating the play from the legend of Siobhán McKenna (qv), who had originated the role in the Druid production of 1986. Fintan O’Toole praised Flanagan’s ‘exquisitely detailed’ performance, ‘not the baroque opera of McKenna, but a haunting chamber piece’ (Ir. Times, 5 Oct. 2001). As the role had been the swansong of McKenna’s career, so it was of Flanagan’s; the production’s reprisal at the Peacock in 2002 was her last appearance on an Irish stage. Though ill with lung cancer, she repeated the role with the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York, where Bruce Weber described her ‘captivating performance’ as ‘by turns comic, pathetic, and chilling in depicting the madness of old age’ (NY Times, 15 Oct. 2002).
Among the best Irish actors of her generation, Flanagan was strikingly featured rather than beautiful; Leonard remembered her ‘Nefertiti profile’ (Sunday Independent, 6 July 2003). Some thirty years old when she first hit the New York stage, she never played ingénue roles, and few leading ones, but excelled as strong supporting characters, with distinctive, often difficult or disturbed personalities, going from strength to strength in such parts as she aged. Michael Colgan of the Gate Theatre compared her legacy to the Irish theatre to that of Donal McCann (qv) and Ray McAnally (qv), remarking: ‘It takes such a long time in theatre to nurture that level of timing and talent’ (Ir. Times, 1 July 2003). Lauded by Murphy as ‘a superb woman, a lion-hearted woman’ (ibid.), she was eulogised for her kindness, generosity, and tolerance. She married (1958) George Vogel, an actor whom she met when he was writing a thesis on O’Casey; they had two daughters, and resided in New Jersey. She died of heart failure 29 June 2003 in New York.