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When words fail: coping with stammering



Date Published: 04-Jun-2010

ALAN Joyce doesn’t like Seven-Up but for years when he was in a pub or restaurant and it came to ordering a mineral, he opted for Seven-Up rather than his preferred orange drink, “because I couldn’t say orange”.

Alan is among the one percent of people in Ireland whose life has been affected by stammering.

For those of us who have words at will, it’s impossible to imagine what it’s like to go into a shop and not be able to order what you want. But Alan paints a vivid and painful picture of a person who would buy the ‘wrong thing’ because he couldn’t pronounce what he wanted.

Even worse, imagine not being able to say your own name in social situations. That was one of his biggest problems and an ongoing nightmare.

“I couldn’t say my name for years and I’d do anything to avoid saying it. “I’d hate going back to school. If you had a new teacher, they’d ask you your name and if I was asked near the end, the tension would be building up.”

Today, Alan has no such difficulty and he introduces himself in an assertive, friendly manner, making firm eye contact – all techniques he has learned from the McGuire Programme, a system run by people with stammering difficulties to promote eloquent speech.

Alan’s stammer began when he was three or four and particularly affected his ability to use vowel sounds, including the letter A.

“If you are somebody with a stammer who doesn’t know how to control it, life can be very lonely,” says the 31-year-old from Athenry.

There are several theories on the causes of stammers, but really there are no definitive answers.

Some people think it’s in the genes and handed down, others maintain that if you get a fright when you are a child you get nervous and it’s something that becomes a habit. Whatever the reason, it has huge consequences.

A stammerer always keeps his head to the ground and talks quietly, Alan says.

“And [in class at school] you’d always keep your head down in case the teacher was going to ask you a question.

“If a teacher thought it would help me, they’d leave me out and then my mother would be quick to tell them the opposite at parent teacher meetings.”

Alan’s school years sound like a nightmare. “I was bullied and people would imitate my stammer.” On one occasion he recalls a girl who he fancied in Junior Cert turning behind her to ask the answer to a question and when she saw it was Alan she said ‘oh, it’s you!’

“All the people I met through the McGuire Programme, they all said they hated school.”

In fact, a lot of people with stammers don’t go to college because of problems in school. “If someone asks you a question and you can’t communicate the answer, they tend to think you have a learning difficulty, so it can be very cruel.

Alan overcame that issue, however, and you sense that’s in part because of his mother. She never shielded him and always encouraged him to make his way in the world, despite his stammer which speech therapy did not help overcome. It was tough at the time, but it worked. “If you try and protect people they’ll get a bit soft,” he feels.

Alan went to UL and got an IT degree working first in Shannon and now with APC by Schneider in Galway City.

He’s with APC almost seven years and his interview went well, “but it was very stressful and I really had to focus.”

His first job with APC was answering phones at the service desk. “How cruel is that?” he laughs. However he took a positive attitude and it worked.

For more of Alan’s interview see page 27 of this week’s City Tribune


See also

As many as 1 in 100 may suffer

• The programme that can help

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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