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When words fail: coping with stammering

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



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

Judy Murphy



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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Rory takes on fresh challenge as lauded DruidMurphy returns

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 03-Apr-2013


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After twenty years Sarah lands dream role in Druid

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 04-Apr-2013

 Sarah Lynch has been living and breathing Druid Theatre since she wangled a job as a runner fresh out of college two decades ago at age 20. After holding down just about every role imaginable there – from company manager to director to stage manager – her appointment as general manager to one of the country’s most prestigious theatre companies last October seemed almost inevitable.

Because once she had tasted the fruit of Druid she was going nowhere . . . and going everywhere. Sarah’s tenure at Druid since 1998 has brought her on a journey that has reached just about every corner of the globe and almost all the islands off Ireland in between.

After graduating from Limerick with a degree in French and English Sarah spent a stint teaching in a secondary school. But it immediately became clear that wasn’t the road for her.

“One thing I was always certain of was I’d be involved in the performing arts, whether on stage or off stage or behind it. The immediate reaction of the audience is such a buzz,” she grins.

Her earliest memory was of her grandfather, Bud Clancy, on stage with his trumpet and dance band. “I must have been three or four because he died shortly after that. But it never left me. I got bitten by the bug. I started playing the trumpet. A friend of my grandfather taught me how to play and I was with the Limerick brass and reed orchestra known as the Boherbuoy Band, I was just a kid with all these adults.”

She learned to play other brass instruments such as the French horn and cornet before turning her hand to the guitar and song-writing. “I taught myself guitar. Sometime I tinker on the piano and I think that’s my next instrument. I love percussion. You can’t get me off a drum kit for love or money. Many is the night I’ve made a fool of myself on one of those,” she laughs.

In 2010, Sarah released her debut album, Letter to Friends, which was launched by playwright Enda Walsh, whose short play, Lynndie’s Gotta Gun, she had directed as part of the 2008 Galway Arts Festival.

The collection of songs was produced by Wayne Sheehy, a musician she had met when opening for Juliet Turner on Turner’s Burn the Black Suit tour.

“I could probably have done it ten years ago but for the manic schedule with Druid and touring so much,” she reflects. “I haven’t done much with it since. I used to play gigs in the Róisín Dubh. The bigger twin is theatre at the moment. The bigger twin bullies the other twin. You don’t get much time to do music.”

After fleeing the classroom, Sarah knocked on the door of a former college mate, Andrew Flynn, now with the Galway Youth Theatre, who kindly offered up his couch. He also managed to get her a job as a runner – the person who does everything from making tea to helping with props – on a Druid production of As You Like It.

“I remember working with Mark O’Halloran, I had great fun with him. There was Helen Norton, it was Maeliosa Stafford directing. He’s coming back to the Druid after ten years to star in Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark. He left me as a runner, now I’m general manager.”

Much of Sarah’s time behind the scenes at Druid has been spent on the road. In 2009 alone, Druid toured to Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA presenting 364 performances in 26 venues.

Indeed so much of life has been out spent living of a suitcase that she gave up her base in Galway to move back in with her family in Caherdavin, on the Galway side of Limerick city.

The tour of the Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh was so long the crew were instructed to pack two suitcases, one with summer clothes, the other winter gear, as they would be spanning the seasons. Her job now entails a lot of commuting, but driving is where she gets a lot of thinking done.

Sarah’s decision to apply for the more home-based job of general manager was one she made discreetly while on the Druid Murphy tour around the US. She had to undergo her interview in between shows at the Lincoln Center in New York. It was the most nerve wrecking experience of her life, she admits.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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