Pauline McLynn, known for her role as tea-obsessed housekeeper Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, lost her mother to a stroke last year, 17 years after a stroke claimed the life of her father.
Sitting in her mother’s old bedroom in Galway, she spoke of how “there’s an awful lot less devilment in the world now that they’re both gone, so I guess we will just have to take up the baton and run with it, myself and my brothers.”
McLynn, determined to conjure positivity wherever she goes, has teamed up with the Irish Heart Foundation as part of its “Act F.A.S.T. – Minutes Matter” campaign to drive greater awareness of stroke’s key warning signs.
She said following her mother’s unexpected death in October 2022, she contacted the foundation to say, “Yeah, we’re on. Some things are meant to be, and this is one of them… All the signs were that I should get involved.”
Her father Padraig, who sold car parts, had a stroke in 2007 at the age of 69 while having his lunch at work, McLynn said, describing the loss as “devastating”.
He was brought to Castlebar hospital where he died 10 days later.
“There was nothing that could be done for him. They were really brilliant with him, and he was in the ICU for quite a lot of time and then ... they said that there was no way he was ever going to come back. It was kind of almost as if all his electrics had failed, you know, because of this blockage, so he had 10 days of the best sleep I think he ever had in his life before he shuffled off and looked magnificent at his funeral.
“The rest of us were a bit worn, but oh, he looked fabulous,” she laughed.
Her mother Sheila was aged 86 when she had a stroke while in hospital with a broken hip.
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“The things that were wrong with her were not what killed her, it was a stroke. But at least for her it was again, very quick. I don’t think she really would have known much about it at all – or I hope not anyways.
“We really thought we would have her a little bit longer, and it was not to be… It’s very quiet without her. I will say that much.
“But it just makes you realise that it’s like anything, any medical thing that happens to a family. The minute it happens, you realise you know an awful lot more people who have been through this, and I mean, I have younger friends who have had strokes, you can have a stroke at any age,” she said.
“It’s not necessarily going to be older people who are having it so, it’s good to know what you can do to help if that happens, and I just thought that if I was with somebody, would I know what to do if they had a stroke?”
McLynn, who turned 60 during the summer, but is in “fabulous denial” about it, explained how “time is of the essence” when stroke symptoms arise.
“Literally, when you have a stroke, you’re losing two million brain cells a minute and so the sooner you get help for the person or the sooner you’re given help if you’re having the stroke, the more there is to save of the person by the time the experts get their hands on you.
“It is a really positive thing to be saying to people: dial 112 or 999 and you will be giving the best chance possible to the person who is having a stroke,” she said.
‘I like to walk, and I talk to myself, possibly out loud as well. You’ll see me on the street sometimes talking out loud to myself’
New data shows only 46 per cent of stroke patients arrive at hospital within the recommended three-hour window, despite quick action potentially meaning the difference between recovery, permanent severe disability or death.
“One of the things I learned after becoming involved in the stroke campaign is that there is such hope. The quicker you deal with it, the better your chances of survival,” McLynn said.
“And, of course, I’m hoping that if my name is written on it in the stars, seeing as it’s on both sides of my family now, I’m hoping that whoever I’m with, if I have one [a stroke]… that somebody will know to act quickly and not to think, ‘rest yourself there, you’re fine’. If you have any of the symptoms, it’s better to err on the side of great caution and just call the medicals.
“So yeah, it’s been quite the rollercoaster.”
McLynn said she has friends who have had strokes, some of whom are younger than her and one of whom thought they had vertigo when actually it was a stroke.
A lot of people “can recover either entirely or to a point where they are living really full lives again, so there is a lot of help out there as well”, she said.
“I think it is very empowering for people to know that they can help hugely when something like that is happening.”
After “the milestone birthday” she has begun trying to get fitter and started aquarobics classes in Dublin, which she loves. “I am better in the water than I am on land,” she said. She has also started walking and sea-swimming off Bull Island in Dublin.
“I like to walk, and I talk to myself, possibly out loud as well. You’ll see me on the street sometimes talking out loud to myself – yes, that has happened – I am figuring something out, or giving myself a hard time about something, but it is great, I love it.”
Learn more about stroke at: irishheart.ie/your-health/learn-about-stroke/
F.A.S.T. warning signs to recognise if someone has had a stroke:
A stroke occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. Two million brain cells die every minute until blood flow is restored.
FACE: Can the person smile or has their mouth or eye drooped?
ARM: Can the person raise both arms?
SPEECH: Can they speak clearly and understand what you say?
TIME: Call for an ambulance if you spot any one of these signs.