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My Mother Was An Abbey Actress – Nora Mathers

Writing.ie | Magazine | Mining Memories

Nora Mathers

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My Mother was an Abbey Actress. She tells my sister and I this on a regular basis and has done since we were very small. I, in turn, have passed this nugget of information on to anybody I thought might be slightly impressed over the years. My sister is the smart one, she never mentioned it. Our ma told us once that she was in Jim Sheridan’s first play in the sixties. I have always been particularly bad at adding and subtracting and it was only very recently (about five minutes ago when I rang her) that I realised that it wasn’t actuallyJim Sheridan who directed it but a gentleman called Noel Sheridan and it wasn’t actually in the Abbey.  It was in the Eblana, otherwise known as Busaras. Oh, and she left the production before it started, so technically she wasn’t in it at all. I’m learning the hard way not to believe everything my mother tells me. In fact since the books arrived for World Book day back in March I have also decided not to repeat any of her stories, even if she is the reason I ended up with 38 copies of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The organisers of World Book day were looking for givers, people who would give out books on March 5th. They had millions of them or a million I’m not quite sure, anyway they had loads and all I had to do was send in a little story. There was a selection of books to choose from. I spotted the winner. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the play in question from her ‘I was an actress in the Abbey’ quote . I quickly wrote to them explaining how she had acted in the Play in the Abbey in the sixties and how wonderful it would be for me to become a giver (because I am nothing if not a giver) and spread this great book, which I fully intended to read forthwith, throughout Blanchardstown and Dublin 15 in general. I also went for the sympathy vote and explained how touched my mother would be with my trip down memory lane. I pressed send and waited for my books to arrive.

I am the eternal optimist but I never win anything so you can imagine the excitement when I received the email confirming that my assumptions were correct! I was indeed a giver and if I would just send in the name of my local book shop my books would be on their way. I rang my mother. After all she was the reason behind the big win. I filled her in quickly and waited for the thespian-like tears to flow.

“I was never an Abbey Actress.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I never said I was an Abbey Actress Nora.  I may have said I could have been an Abbey Actress, that’s a whole different bag of apples. Will you have to give the books back?”

I rang my sister.

“You’re joking!” was her reply.  Clearly I was not. I had the books to prove it.

“What about all that I am a teacher! First, last, always!” I asked. (A quote from ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ that my mother, also a teacher, would recite to my sister and I when encouraging us to do our schoolwork. It was usually a precursor to ‘When I was an Abbey actress…).

I decided to just wait and see if they printed my story on the website. If they did I’d come clean and send back the books, if they didn’t I’d just give out the books and never mention any of it again. My mother still believes that I made the whole thing up, that I’m the one with the vivid imagination not her. My sister says it’s not off the ground we licked it. It would be alright if the story ended there…. it doesn’t… it actually gets worse, much worse.

Last Saturday I headed off to Dun Laoghaire to attend an Inkwell Writers Workshop.  I had already decided that I would be mouse-like for the day and just take in all the information like a big old Lild sponge. I would not recount any stories, I would not talk when other people were talking, I would not attempt to make anyone laugh even if it was appropriate, I would just be a model student. And I was! Right up until lunch time when I sat with eight of my classmates and broke bread. I realised almost instantaneously that I was among my superiors. I had a ghost writer to my right and a script writer to my left, in front of me was a winner of competitions (not like my competition) and just beside him was my old boss – that’s next weeks story. We were all chatting and eating when someone mentioned something about giving out books. Here was my in, I would tell my funny World Book day story about my mad ole’ one and we’d all laugh and someone would order wine and within minutes I’d have a three book deal.

“My mother was an Abbey Actress –“

“Really? My husband is an Abbey Actor. What’s your mother’s name?” The scriptwriter said.

“Jesus.”  I said that in my head – actually I think I said “Oh Sweet Jesus.”

Before I could explain myself someone else asked the husbands name and then someone asked my mothers name, and I told them, and then someone else asked what play she was in and I said…well of course I said The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  So by way of a confessional to the wonderful people I met on Saturday, you know who you are, I’m sorry for the lies. My mother was never in the Abbey or for that matter the Eblana but she is, was and continues to be the most entertaining and funniest actress I have ever met. And that’s the truth!

About the author

(c) Nora Mathers, August 2011

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