Tea for two: Pauline McLynn returns to Cork

Pauline McLynn and Peter Gowen will star in a new production of Enda Walsh’s ‘The Small Things’ which will be staged outdoors in the atmospheric surroundings of the Old Waterworks in Cork. Photo: Moya Nolan.

It comes as a joy - and even a little bit of a relief - when Pauline McLynn sits down for our interview and orders a proper pot of Irish breakfast tea.

Entitled as she is to her tastes, to hear her ask for a flat white latte or a mocha would just seem wrong.

In a career crammed with memorable performances, McLynn played TV’s most-loved tea-pusher in a show widely regarded as one of the funniest of all time.

It’s almost 25 years since she first brandished a fancy teacup, a nice blouse and a sensible skirt to play Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle, a housekeeper whose day would be ruined if Ted, Dougal or even Jack didn’t accept copies amounts of her favourite brew.

While other actors could by now have tired of the association, she good-naturedly embraces it, posing with a teapot for our photoshoot and telling how one of her favourite hobbies is knitting tea cosies.

While researching for the interview, I tell her, I was delighted to discover an episode I hadn’t seen before, where the whole of Craggy Island is up in arms about a stolen whistle.

In one hilarious scene, Ted comes into the sitting room in the dead of night, only to find Mrs Doyle standing in the dark, suffering hallucinations from tiredness but ready to provide a cuppa. She cackles at the memory.

“That was one of my favourite moments I'd say. You can be sure that she's been there 24/7 here and that she's hallucinating as well.

"You know it's weird. I don't remember an awful lot of it. Sometimes I'd be a little bit like Dougal. I'd be able to tell what episode it was, or I'd recognise a blouse that I used to like wearing.

"Only me and the costume lady knew I had favourites. I'd say to her: ‘The green one with the little pussy bow’.”

After three smash-hit series and a Christmas Special, the cast and the world was shocked to hear of the sudden and untimely death of Dermot Morgan.

The TV show ended, though writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, she says, are working on a Father Ted musical with musician Neil Hannon. “That is gonna be the weirdest sensation of my life. I'm going to be sitting in the auditorium, literally saying to whoever is beside me: 'This is where I come on’.” Already a well-known actor, the sheer success of Father Ted did become a turning point.

“I guess that was the start of me spending more time in the U.K. than here working, that would be the main thing, although it was very gradual. Then anything that I got sent for was always older tea ladies. And at that stage I was 25 years younger.

You would get sent for the same kinds of parts and they were never gonna be as good as the one that I was playing anyway.

Many other roles have followed in theatre and on TV, including high-profile parts in Shameless and Eastenders.

But she seems touched by how widely Ted is known, even among those who weren’t born when it first aired.

“It means people love it still and that's wonderful. I came out of an underground station in Ukraine once and a guy walking along the street stopped and said: ‘I love Father Ted’.

“Once I was doing a movie and the accent coach on it had just been working with Brad Pitt and he said he was a huge fan. Graham Norton told me that he was interviewing Cher many years ago. And she said to him: ‘I've been watching you for a long time - I loved you in Father Ted’.”

McLynn has a soft spot for Cork and two years ago spent the summer in Cobh, where her husband, actors’ agent Richard Cook, grew up. She lived there while rehearsing for and performing Corcodorca’s Far Away, one of the highlights of the Midsummer Festival, staged in the striking backdrop of Spike Island.

“I still have my badge that says Cork Girl,” she laughs.

“When it would get dark the audience would be brought over on a ferry then be locked in with us into the jail and then we did the play all around the environs of the jail. And then they went home on the ferry.

There were three of us in the play and we lived in a house in Cobh for the duration. It was absolutely fantastic.

It sounds like just the type of project that would appeal to the offbeat McLynn, and she’s returning Leeside to work with Corcadorca for this year’s festival. She and Peter Gowen will star in a new production of Enda Walsh’s The Small Things.

It will be staged outdoors, in the atmospheric surroundings of the Old Waterworks on Lee Road, and McLynn cannot wait to return to the county.

“I feel like I'm a Cobh girl - Cork has a lot to live up to. But the Waterworks is wonderful, a gorgeous building. I’m looking forward to it. I'm a martyr to the charity shops of Cork as well so I'll be thrilled to be back.

"Interestingly the last time I did a show with Peter we were in the crucible in Sheffield and we did a Beckett play called Happy Days and it was just the two of us.

“Enda is often likened to Samuel Beckett in the way that he writes. It's all about tyranny I suppose and freedom of speech. I think people are gonna be pretty blown away by it. Certainly Corcadorca are famous for just finding unusual places, aren't they, and doing plays in them.”

McLynn’s mother often jokes to her that she’s the first person in the family to get paid for showing off, and her desire to entertain was honed while at college.

“All my family are from Sligo and we moved to Galway when I was six months old because my dad's job moved there. He sold parts of cars around the west of Ireland. Himself and my mother I have to say were fantastic in never in any way trying to influence you to do anything.

“I was lucky enough when I went to school I went to the Mercy Convent primary and secondary in Galway and there was always a bit of something going on, school concerts, or there was one nun that used to write plays both in English and Irish.

“I went to Trinity to study the history of art and modern English. When I came out in 1983 there was a big recession so there were no jobs and in the meantime I'd been practically living in the student drama society.

There was no such thing as a steady job or anything when I came out of college, I just kept going with the acting. My parents were brilliant, they never batted an eyelid.

She fondly remembers the buzz of getting her very first paid job, as an extra in a production of Don Juan in Dublin’s Peacock Theatre. “I was various courtiers and whatever else. The only line I had was I had to run on with some chairs shouting ‘dinner’."

She has worked consistently for many years since and recent projects such as children’s TV series Drop Dead Weird have brought her to Sydney, a city she has fallen in love with.

She will soon be on our screens in a new season of GameFace for Channel 4, a comedy which stars Roisin Conaty as a thirtysomething seeking direction in her life. “It's a bit wicked, very funny and a bit filthy you know which is great.”

In her downtime you’ll find her in front of the telly watching golf or football, always with her needles and a ball of knitting wool. Knitting has long been a hobby but in recent years it’s become a cottage industry that saw her launch a range of tea cosies - called Go Ons, naturally.

“I spend time watching sport on the television. Love the golf. And a little bit of football, but I can't sit in front of the telly without knitting something, I feel like I am wasting time somehow.

"I particularly like doing the tea cosies because they're small, If you're going to knit something bigger, you won't know till the end if it has gone horribly wrong.”

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