Jamie Googan can remember the exact moment he started to stammer as a child, and the daily challenges he faced because of it for over two decades. But after working hard to overcome the difficulty, he’s now committed to helping others
A CLONAKILTY man who worked relentlessly to get past a debilitating stutter is now committed to helping others facing the same challenge.
Jamie Googan (31) can remember the exact moment his stammer started.
‘I was four years old. I fell and hit my head on a curb, knocking out four front teeth. That trauma led to me developing a stammer over the months to come, that would impact everything I did for the next two decades,’ he remembers.
Back then, as still is the case, speech and language therapy waiting lists were long.
‘As a public patient I had 12 hours’ therapy every year-and-a-half,’ said Jamie.
‘I remember my mum and dad were on the phone every day, year after year, trying to get me help. It was very tough, and that left a lasting impression.’
Growing up he quickly developed a range of techniques to navigate every day encounters. ‘Introducing myself could take me up to 50 seconds. That’s a long time for the person listening, but it felt like a lifetime for me. My older brother is called Ross and I’d often use his name as it was just easier to say.
‘Asking for things in shops was also hard, or ordering food in a takeaway. I’d often just write my order down and hand it in.’ Not surprisingly, reading in class was also very difficult for Jamie. ‘It was torture at times,’ he said.
After school he went to CIT, now MTU, and graduated with a BA in business of sports and exercise.
‘I’ll never forget the first presentation I did at college. It was supposed to be 15 minutes long, and after 20 whole minutes, I still hadn’t even gotten past the first line.
‘ I felt so embarrassed that I locked myself away in my student accommodation for three whole days,’ he said.
But that marked a turning point in his life, and aged 21 he sought the help of a Waterford man, and fellow stutterer, Michael O’Shea, and the two have been working together for the past decade.
‘We clicked straight away and I felt that if he broke free from it, so could I. The fact that he had a stammer himself meant he understood me on a whole different level,’ said Jamie.
Michael has helped Jamie with his breathing and also trained him in methods which combine physical techniques with mental strategies. The results have been incredible.
‘I decided that the more effort I put into it, the more I’d get back. Now, I don’t even think about my stutter, and I’ve no fear it will come back,’ said Jamie, who works in Clona Dairy Products.
Having come through what were ‘dark times’, Jamie, along with Michael, Clonakilty Community School teacher Con Hurley and Tipperary man Michael Ryan set up Stuttering Awareness Mental Wellbeing Ireland.
Con, a native of Skibbereen, was in fact Jamie’s maths teacher and was always a huge support to him.
The group offers a range of support services for people with stutters, both emotional and practical, as well as building awareness for the condition.
Fellow stutterer President Joe Biden was the motivation to set up the group. ‘In February 2020 I watched the then former vice-president Biden speak at a Town Hall with Anderson Cooper.
‘That night he detailed his experiences with stuttering and his love of Ireland. That broadcast inspired me to establish, with the help of a few like-minded individuals, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the issues surrounding those who stutter, as well as addressing the mental health challenges that accompany the condition,’ said Jamie.
‘Since then the group has gone from strength to strength. In that time, we have established dozens of support groups across Ireland.
‘We have also established a growing teacher education programme to support classroom practitioners who encounter students who stutter.
‘We have garnered the support of civic leaders as well as support from across the political divide, with then Taoiseach Micheál Martin becoming the first government leader in the world to launch World Stuttering Awareness Day, alongside Christopher O’Sullivan TD.
‘Michael Collins TD has supported our campaign from the start, attending all of our events all over the country to support our efforts, even inviting the team into the Oireachtas to present to all TDs and senators.’
They also linked up with the US-based World Stuttering Network to spread their message of hope to the wider stuttering community.
Jamie had a ‘pinch me’ moment earlier this year when he travelled to Washington DC and New York to further enhance Irish-American relationships and to build a foundation necessary where children can access help and support.
‘On St Patrick’s Day we were invited to the White House as guests of President Biden and met with over 150 of the most influential Irish-Americans and friends of Ireland in the world, including former speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, United States special envoy to Northern Ireland Joseph Kennedy III, congressman Richard Neal, ambassador Claire Cronin, and more.
‘It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be there and I’m possibly the first Clonakilty man to enter The White House!’
His message to parents of a child with a stammer is simple: ‘You’ve done nothing wrong; just be patient, listen, and provide positive reinforcement. There is light at the end of the tunnel.’
And to a young person with the condition, he says: ‘Be kind to yourself. And by hearing our stories, you’ll know there’s a way out.’
He’s adamant that everyone deserves the freedom of speech and the group is working hard to highlight the importance of early access to speech and language therapy.
It is also organising for speech and language therapists from the University of Tennessee to come to Cork next year, to offer free help for parents and children over a period of two weeks.
The hope is to put a framework in place to make it an annual event.
‘At all times our focus is on the 50,000 who live with a stutter in Ireland and, most especially, the kids who begin to stutter and who need the support that wasn’t there when I needed it,’ said Jamie.
• For more information or for support see stutteringawarenessmentalwellbeing.ie