Until 1979, when I was 17, I was with the Sisters of Mercy in Galway. I was taught by the same set of nuns in my primary and secondary schools, which were across the road from one another with the convent equidistant between them.
Sister Albee taught secondary Irish and Latin and was a huge Irish speaker. I was always good at languages at school and it was a pleasure to be able to speak Irish to the teachers. She had such a passion for life, teaching, literature and the theatre. Just last night I was in touch with another former pupil on Facebook, who said: “Sister Albee was the reason I became a writer and loved reading so much.”
Albee was also very rigorous. When she shouted at you, it wasn’t meant to be hurtful. It was more: “How can you not want to be better?” She dragged me up to a very good result in Latin over the years.
But she was so much more than just my Latin teacher. She was special on all levels: she even ran the tuck shop.
At that time in the West of Ireland, there weren’t really any extracurricular activities, which made Albee even more important. She loved writing plays and she was forever luring me into them. When I was supposed to be studying really hard for my A-levels, she wrote an Irish play about a nun who was doubting her ability to be a nun and was having a hard time with an itinerant woman whom she was trying to help but didn’t really like.
I was cast as the woman. When Albee spoke Irish, she spoke with a proper accented lilt – blas. She would correct me and insist that my blas be perfect for the part of Itinerant Woman. We did really well in local competitions and were sent to the national competition in the middle of what were supposed to be the most important exams.
Albee was the theatre reviewer for the local paper. After I had left school and run off to college in Dublin, she would often review shows that I was in, writing under a pseudonym. She would always give me some praise, starting with “Well now, I do have a bit of a vested interest…” or “It gives me great pleasure…”
Years later, I was doing a play back in Galway and she lured me to lunch in the convent. In the middle of summer, she put up the hugest turkey dinner I’d ever seen. She ate nothing and kept saying, “Will you have something with that?” She meant a drink: “A Bailey’s Irish Cream will do nothing!” So she poured me a wine glass of the stuff…I had to sleep it off.
Over lunch, she told me how she ended up in the nuns. Her older sister got the family farm and the pub in Galway, got married and had kids – and so Albee received the kind of “education” for which she was given a trousseau and became a Bride of Christ, although it wouldn’t have been her first choice. Even so, she worked really hard and became a brilliant nun.
In school, you always heard Albee before you saw her. If she was coming along a corridor, there was always something to be said to someone in her very distinctive voice. Like Mo Mowlam with her wig, Albee would often slip off her veil and scratch her head as she tried to get the great things she had to say through to us.
She’d always had a heart condition and got really fed up with the treatment and medication in later life. She stopped both, was hospitalised and decided that she would gently let herself drift away because she had done whatever it was she needed to do.
She’s been gone 20 years now, but she’s still remembered by so many generations of West of Ireland women for the great passion, humanity and joy that she brought to everything. Anyone who went through her hands would never forget Albee.
Pauline McLynn was talking to Lily Farrah
Who’s for tea?
Born 11 July 1962, Sligo, Ireland
Education Sisters of Mercy, Galway; Trinity College Dublin
Career Stage and screen actor best known for playing Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, Libby Croker in Shameless and Yvonne Cotton in EastEnders. McLynn has also published 10 bestselling novels