Stammer to sermon: A priest’s struggle with words

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Media captionStammer to sermon: A priest’s struggle with words

“As a boy, I couldn’t say the word chemist. That’s when my difficult journey with words began.”

Father Patrick Lagan would struggle to say certain words out loud and his stammer got progressively worse as he grew up.

“I told myself I had a problem with my vocal chords,” the priest, who is usually based at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry, told BBC News NI.

“I just couldn’t get certain words out. It leaves you incredibly frustrated.”

He said he stopped answering the telephone at home.

“That was dangerous. You start to avoid things and that’s not good for your confidence.

“People would have stared at me the odd time. I never got seriously bullied though.”

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Fr Lagan says he needs to do breathing exercises before big events

He later joined the McGuire Programme, which offers a method of controlling stuttering, and it changed his life “completely”.

So much so, he was able to finish a reading at his leavers’ mass from St Patrick’s College in Maghera.

“It was a reading from the prophet Jeremiah,” he said.

“That was a big turning point for me because I finished the piece.

“I realised for the first time that I could really do this. It was a big confirmation for me. It transformed my life.”


The McGuire Programme has courses around the world.

It explains to people why they have a stutter, the physiological aspect of it and how to breathe and pause in the right places.

Fr Lagan said: “I learned how to accept who I was and then I started going to the classes to learn how the breathe and take my time with words.

“You need a lot of patience and self determination but slowly but surely you get there. It’s important to talk to people, read different books and seek guidance.”

Parishioners’ verdict

“He’s fantastic,” said Carmel Moore, from Rosemount in Derry.

“He has overcome a lot. I think it’s a great message he is sending out to young people.”

Peter Houston, from the Waterside, said he was “really good to talk to” and the stammer “did not hold him back at all”.

“He has too many good attributes to let that hold him back in life,” he said.

“He’s a good example to young people and anybody really.”

Fr Lagan said he knew he wanted to become a priest at a young age.

“The Catholic Church was always very supportive. Certain clergymen were a great help along the way and told me to take things slowly.

“There are still days where I think I could do better. I go back and practise. Sometimes I rehearse before I do weddings or funerals in the cathedral.

“It’s amazing to think I’ve come this far.”

Northern Ireland’s five health trusts have told BBC News NI that about 600 adults and children are being treated for a stammer.

However, many people also seek independent care through programmes and charities.

“I would advise children who have a stammer not to be afraid,” said Fr Lagan.

“Those who are going through a difficult time should seek the right help. It’s not a hopeless situation.

“Carry on, persevere and don’t let anyone get you down.”

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Former shadow chancellor Ed Balls has spoken candidly about his struggle with a stammer

Stammering facts

  • Stammering – sometimes referred to as stuttering – commonly occurs in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing rapidly
  • It can also occur in older children and adults after an injury, illness or trauma
  • It is not possible to say for sure why a particular child starts stammering but it is not caused by anything the parents have done
  • Stammering is more common in boys than girls
  • It is important to get referred to a specialist as soon as possible
  • Famous people who have had a stammer include King George VI, former politician Ed Balls and singer Gareth Gates