Irish people with Speech Disorder

According to statistics up to 70,000 children (under 18) in Ireland have a speech disorder. While there are several international examples of adults who have overcome their speech impairment, such as President Joe Biden, Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman or UK actress Emily Blunt,, there are thousands of people in Ireland who have done the same. Some of these are:

Dermot Bolger – Author and poet

The best selling author spoke to ‘The Irish Independent’ about his stammer saying as early as 10 years old “I was caged by a terrible stammer. To be a child so afflicted back then was to suffer daily public crucifixions. My panic at being sent to the shops began before I left the house. By the time I reached the shop it crystallized into palpable terror. Because no matter how often I rehearsed a phrase as simple as “a pint of milk, please” on the empty street, once I queued in the shop I became tongue-tied, unable to speak”. That’s when his mother took him to Speech Therapy in Temple Street Childrens’ hospital in 1969 – the same year. Dermot says that the stammer didn’t disappear overnight, but it took years before he could master sentences with words containing ‘.s’ in them. He says his mother died later in 1969 but “she could never have envisaged that, fifty years later, I’d make my living giving public readings and lectures as a poet. In the coming weeks I have speaking engagements in Ireland, France, Portugal and Britain”.

Elizabeth Bowen – Author

Elizabeth wrote more than thirty novels and non-fiction books before her death in 1972. In her biography ‘Elizabeth Bowen: A Biography by Victoria Glendinning’, the author states, “Elizabeth’s stammer, though it caused her agony as a girl, became very much a part of her as a woman. It was a stammer – not a stutter – she was particular about the distinction…Elizabeth’s stammer was a pronounced hesitation, a complete stalling on certain words. She would help herself out by gestures of her hands, and by substituting a different word. The severity of it varied; it was worse when she was tired, and sometimes almost non-existent when she spoke in public or on television… it was often found by others to be an additional charm in her.” Elizabeth was forced to see a psychiatrist for it, ‘The Stuttering Foundation’ website states “Following her successful lecture tours for the British Council in the years following the War, there were questions as to her suitability for continued lecturing on account of her stuttering. The memo in response answered, “She is a most successful lecturer with a most successful stammer.” 

Proinsias de Rossa – Poltican

Former Labour Party and Workers Party Leader,  TD for Dublin North-West and MEP for Dublin, Proinsias joined the IRA when he was 16 and was arrested a few days later. Speaking to the Irish Times he spoke about his school days, saying “I was shy and it wasn’t until I actually started school that I became aware that I had a stammer”. Having worked in his father’s fruit and veg shop he then qualified from college and got involved with student politics. While speaking at conventions, in the Dail and European Parliament and in the Irish and international media, Proinsias has one of the most prominent stammers in Ireland today. A patron of The Irish Association of Speech & Language Therapists (IASLT), Proinsias is often given as the example of successful Irish people with a speech impairment to young people with speech difficulties to inspire them.

Katie Walsh Retired Jockey, Breeder and TV presenter

The 2015 Irish Grand National winning jockey, is considered to be one of the most successful female jockeys in the history of horse racing. Katie retired as a jockey in 2018 and is now a pundit on RTE and successful bloodstock trader. Growing up Katie had a stammer saying “Looking back, I turned to horses because I didn’t have to worry about my stammer when I was riding. There was nobody I needed to talk to.” On The Late Late Show Katie said “it was terrible. It got so bad I couldn’t answer the phone. I used to get so frustrated not being able to get the words out, I used to pinch myself on the leg to see if the pain could get the words out. I pulled all my eyebrows and eyelashes out and the hair on the top of my head because of the frustration. I went to the McGuire Program. I was petrified, and I was the youngest there. I was brought into a room and I had to go up on stage in front of a camera, it was terrifying.” Her dad Ted says “and she hasn’t stopped talking since”.

Fionn Crombie Angus – Entrepreneur, Interviewer, and YouTuber

Fionn was born with Down Syndrome, and has a speech delay. He always had love of education and nature and this passion led Fionn and his father Jonathan (together known as Fionathan) to start filming a nature series and presenting this to local schools and libraries. Fionnathan’s YouTube page began to take off in popularity. Fionn is now one of the first people with Down Syndrome in Ireland to open his own business ‘Fionathan Productions’. As stated on his website: “We’ve produced dozens of our own projects, and had 22 film commissions, so far. To date, we have had 17 art exhibitions, including one in New York City! We have interviewed over 600 people. A few highlights include Angela Lansbury, Coolio, Lucinda Williams, and Brian Eno.” Their interview with President Michael D Higgins led to nearly one million views on youtube.  

Ollie Gleeson – CEO of Ollies Tours

Speaking to The Irish Independent Ollie said “As far as I know, I’ve had a stutter for my whole life, It isn’t something that runs in the family, so I don’t know where I got it from, but it started getting really bad when I was a young child and I developed a coping mechanism of making really long sentences in order to avoid words that I couldn’t say. Over the years, my parents tried so many different treatments for me, including speech therapy, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy and even hypnosis — but none of it worked. It was very difficult at school and, of course, I got a fair bit of stick for it.” Eventually when Ollie was sixteen his parents signed him up to a course on costal breathing in Galway, and this was when everything started to change. Having spent time in Germany doing walking tours, Ollie came back to his native Clare and started his own business giving walking tours around his home town of Ennis and Doolin and Bunratty.

Aidan Greene – Comedian

According to his website Aidan Greene is undoubtedly Ireland’s foremost stammering comedian. Since stuttering his way into comedy in 2010 he’s become a regular in comedy clubs across Ireland. Along with this he has become a regular at every major Irish comedy festival including the Vodafone Comedy Festival, Longitude, Indiependence and The Cat Laughs. He had a sold out run at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival with his show (500) ‘Days of Stammer’, a one man show about stammering and falling in love. The show was performed to acclaim in Dublin, Galway, Albuquerque, and Montreal. In 2018 he returned to the Fringe with another sell out show ‘Stutter Island’. In 2019 he returned with two sell out show ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Stammering Man’ and ‘Did I Stutter’.  As well as a comedian, Aidan is also an accomplished storyteller. In 2016 he was runner up in the Moth Grand Slam in Dublin. His story ‘The Early Days of Stammer’ was featured on the Moth Radio Hour and was broadcast to a listenership of over 30 million. In October 2017, he was invited to speak at National Stammering Awareness Day in Dublin about being a stuttering performer.”

The Team At the McGuire Program

The McGuire Programme was founded in 1994 by Dave McGuire, a stammerer. The course uses physical and psychological techniques and can lead to life-changing results. Over the four day intensive course, from 7am to 10pm the students can talk to no-one but their coaches. They can have no contact with their loved ones. And within 48 hours they’ll be forced to talk to complete strangers using the techniques they’ve learned. The program has a tiered pricing system for Ireland. For €1200 you get a life-time membership, or two to three day courses for €80-150. The course has helped thousands of students around the world overcome their stutter and you can see some of their success stories in Ireland on their website here.

Colm Tobín – Author 

Multi-award winning novelist, short story writer, playwright, journalist, critic, poet and lecturer, Colm has written more than thirty books and received more than 14 awards including being nominated and winning  the prestigious Man Booker Prize.  In 2016 in an opinion piece for the Irish Independent ,Colm said “my father’s illness affected me so deeply that I developed a stammer.” In The New York Times he said “I still have a stammer that I can control by not opening a sentence with a hard consonant, or by concentrating for a moment, breathing down”. His 2014 novel ‘Nora Webster’ has a young character who develops a bad stuttering problem. When asked about his own speech in an interview about the novel in the Irish Times on September 27, 2014,  Toibin answered, “I have it still, yes. I still couldn’t say my own name for example. But I wouldn’t try. I would think carefully and get around it in some way or another.”

Nora Trench-Bowles – Vice-Chair of The Irish Stammering Association,

Nora spoke to The Irish Independent about her condition, saying “I stammered for as long as I can remember….I do have a standout memory of that one time someone in school said something mean to me about my stammer, but the impact is perhaps more internal. It’s about the debating societies I didn’t join and the school plays I didn’t take part in because, at that age, I didn’t think it was possible to have a stammer and do those things; the idea of a stammer being heard that publicly was too much to bear. It hasn’t changed completely, because there are still days I avoid certain words or situations…When stammering comes up in popular culture, like in the media or on TV or in films, it’s either as the butt of a joke or a sign of someone sinister…As a society, we have come a long way towards tolerance in lots of ways, but that hasn’t caught up to people who stammer.” Nora now works in the higher education sector back in Dublin, having previously studied and worked in EU affairs in Brussels, Strasbourg and Sweden.

 David Heney – Chairperson of Irish Stammering Association

David has had a stammer since he was a child and works as a civil servant in Dublin. He  is the Chairperson of Irish Stammering Association. According to the ISA “He has been on the Board of the ISA since its incorporation and was previously a member of the committee. He has been involved in the ISA Dublin Support Group for over ten years and has co-facilitated it for much of this time. David is a strong proponent of the development of a stammering community, and believes that this can both help the person who stammers as well as building a greater acceptance of stammering in the general population. 

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