Sincere commiserations this week go to all at Red Kettle over the unfortunate cancellation of the last night of Riddley Walker in Waterford. I’m still kicking myself for leaving it until the last night to go and see it. It was bucketing down as I pulled into the Woodlands Hotel where the play was being staged in a tent. Many people were sheltering at the entrance to the hotel waiting to be called for the performance. It wasn’t long before someone had the unenviable task of coming to deliver the bad news to the crowd. Electricity and water are a dangerous mix and there was no retrieving the situation.

The disappointment of both the assembled crowd and the cast and crew was palpable, but the situation was what it was and there was no controlling the circumstances. Obviously the cast were all set to go so with full make-up and costume and within minutes they started trudging across the car park from the performance area. In their post apocalyptic garb they cut a curious dash emerging from the darkened night to mingle with the crowd. It was a nice touch and the costumes were incredible.

Shortly after nine it was decided to stage some excerpts from the play in the hotel but unfortunately at that stage I had already made the call and was on my way home. I had heard great things about the play all week so congratulations and commiserations to all involved.

The previous night I had attended the Waterford launch of a new book by local man Michael O’Shea titled Why I Called My Sister Harry. Due to a severe stammer, Michael O’Shea from Slieverue could barely say his own name for more than 40 years, let alone conduct a conversation. After a lifetime of difficulty with stammering and numerous efforts to cure or control it, in 1999 he discovered The Maguire Programme. Today Michael O’Shea not only speaks fluently, but has gone on to be a highly regarded trainer with the Maguire Programme, a method developed by Dave Maguire from the States, that now has global affiliates helping thousands (singer Gareth Gates among them). Michael himself has publicly spoken on the subject of stammering all over the world.

The book was discussed on the Late Late Show a few weeks ago, shortly before its national launch in Dublin in October. Since then the comments and tributes have been pouring in from Stammering Associations worldwide. That sounds like an exaggeration but they have literally come from South Africa, The States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. The main reason for this is that preview copies of the work were available at World Stuttering Conventions held in Croatia and Atlanta, USA, during the summer.

‘Why I Called My Sister Harry’ is a frank account of Michael’s life and in a simple, easy-to-read story, he charts the day to day difficulties of living with a speech problem and how it began in the first place.

I was silly enough to think that stammering (or stuttering as it is called in America) had something to do with particular letter sounds. It has little to do with words at all but is a highly complex psychological condition that is triggered by an emotional charge. Shocking events can send a surge to the brain and with a child it can be anything from the splitting up of the family to a simple house move or sudden change in environment. We all have the potential to develop a stammer given a set of circumstances for it to flourish and one per cent of the world’s population suffer.

Before reading Michael’s book stammering was a subject that I was very unaware of and perhaps even dismissive of. I never really considered that having a stammer could impact a life to the extent that it does. We are so tuned in to physical and mental disabilities that stammering doesn’t even register on the life hindering problem scale. Having read Michael’s story my views have changed. The even better news is that Michael’s story has a happy ending in that he has triumphed and so can others. I take my ability to speak totally for granted as I assume do most fluent speakers. Simple day to day issues like using a telephone, ordering a drink or a meal or buying something in a shop can all be nightmare scenarios and very upsetting for someone with a stammer.

According to some of the feedback that Michael has received it would appear that he has provided a text that people can identify with. Up to now most books about stammering have revolved around academic studies and theories. Michael’s book, as far as anyone is aware, is the first book of its kind on the subject. No doubt it will spark a number of similar books in the months and years to come which should help remove the stigma and isolation for many. Meanwhile it is a proud thought that the first one was written by a local man.

Here are a few of things that have been said about the book. “A compelling read which will both educate and consume whoever reads it” – Velda Osbourne, Chairperson, British Stammering Association. “No one has ever written anything like this to my knowledge. My clients and students will have this book as number one on their reading list” – Judith Kuster, Minnesota State University, USA. “You have written and explained what no one else has done in over fifty years. Every stammering organisation in the world will want copies of this book” – Herman Christmann, Danish Stuttering Association.

If you have a stammer or know someone who stammers or you work with children then this book is highly enlightening and well worth reading. There is no doubt that it will help thousands all over the globe and it all started just over the bridge in Waterford!