IRENE SUNTERS, who has died after some years of poor health and inactivity, will be fondly remembered as one of her generation's stalwarts of Scottish theatre. Not that a future in the theatre would have been according to the wishes of her parents.

Born in a flat in Gorbals, where her fatherwas a funeral undertaker, she was expected to earn her living in what was seen as a suitable fashion.

This she did, initially, as a primary school teacher, although her first wish had been to study art.

What is pretty certain is that performing, and doing so with style and relish, had been part of her character all along. She did, however, meet and marry her lifetime partner (the late Jack O'Neil, a teacher of English) in those years before theatre took over as a career.

But maybe fate had taken a hand in things. The story goes that, even as a baby, Irene had, on one occasion, been carried on stage at the nearby Citizens' Theatre. Were the gods, even then looking down favourably on her future career?

Certainly, Irene Sunters went on to become a personality on the Scottish stage. During the late 1950s she was a weel-kent figure in Citizens' productions when directors included Fulton Mackay, Callum Mill and, eventually, Ian Cuthbertson.

She was also adept at making much of the light-hearted side of things in the annual Christmas shows. I myself have evidence of this in a sketch I once made of her as a highkicking comedian in feathers and flounces.

While she was part of the very determined anti-Citizens' attitude voiced by Scottish actors in the early years of Giles Havergal's long reign, Irene Sunters, like other fellow Scots in the profession, was eventually sucked into the Citizens' ambience to give memorable performances, both in the main theatre and upstairs in the Close.

She took part, for example, with Ida Schuster, in Philip Prowse's Citizens' production of Jakob Lenz's Die Soldaten at the 1993 Edinburgh Festival.

Irene Sunters was also a familiar figure in non-Festival productions at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh: Juno and the Paycock, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, to name but two) and, at the early Traverse in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show.

Also, in the days before Dundee acquired its fine new theatre, she was one of the gifted company under Stephen McDonald's direction in the Victorian church building which, in memorable productions like The Rising, given the skills of all concerned, served its temporary purpose as a theatre remarkably well.

Touring groups such as Borderline also succeeded in persuading the indefatigable Sunters to share the stage with Billy Connolly in the farcical piece An'Me Wi' a Bad Leg, Tae.

However, it was also as a serious actress that she was a favourite with directors, Michael Boyd, for example, for whom, in the Tron's first years, she played in Michael Tremblay's The Good Sisters, and Stuart Long, for whom, much later, she worked on The Crucible.

Irene was also part of Jimmy Logan's short-lived company in the former church at St George's Cross which, in memory of the Logan family's old music hall in Trongate, briefly became the New Metropole.

Most of Sunters's work, apart from the occasional visits to London with Traverse Productions, was seen in Scotland.

But there was one memorable occasion when, at very short notice, she played in Newcastle, learning her role in the train journey south. That's professional in anyone's sense.

But Irene's skills and personality were in use beyond the theatre itself. You would see her occasionally on television, in Dr Finlay's Casebook, for example, hear her voice from time to time in radio plays and maybe recognise her in a film like The Wickerman, as the woman who feeds a slug to a young girl as cure for some ailment or other.

But that was not the real-life Irene Sunters, who was, in fact, a very caring person with a compassionate ear for the troubles of others in the profession, usually younger than herself. In that respect, she had plenty of firsthand experience, being both a mother (her son, David O'Neil, has followed her into theatre, but in direction, not performing), grandmother and even, so I believe, great-grandmother.