“Telling stories didn't feel like it had value to me until I went to acting school” - PJ Gallagher on finding learning that suited him

13 Mar 2024
At the AONTAS STAR Awards 2024, which took place on Friday 8th March in Croke Park in Dublin, we were delighted to welcome comedian and radio presenter PJ Gallagher for a chat with our Chair and host John D’Arcy.

Writing by Kate Smyth, AONTAS Strategic Comms Officer

PJ spoke with humour, humility, and kindness about his experience of leaving school early and finding a course - in acting - that suited him, as well as his struggles with his mental health, and his radio show.  

John D’Arcy kicked off the conversation by asking PJ about his learning journey, and his experience of leaving school at 16.  

PJ Gallagher sitting on a chair on stage in front of the audience at the AONTAS STAR Awards
Laughing, PJ said, “In a strange turn of events, I think I only found out why I left school and why I struggled at school so much – I think I only found out why two weeks ago. And I’m not even joking! I got my ADHD diagnosis two weeks ago, which has answered an awful lot of questions for me.” 

He goes on to say that having ADHD was “probably just one of a number of reasons why school was just not a place I fit into at the time.”  

He said the environment at school didn’t suit him, and he was always a person who had to work on his feet and move. He said he was “tormented by chairs and people lecturing,” and that he had to be “involved in stuff to learn from stuff.” He said it was seen as disruptive that he wanted to talk and make noise.  

“So I left,” he said. “I walked out of school, the day I could walk out of school, I left and never went back.” 

He said it is not the advice he would give to someone in that situation, but for him it worked out.  

He took up an acting course at the Gaiety School of Acting and he found his niche.  

“All of a sudden, you were in an environment where you weren’t allowed sit down!”  

At the Gaiety School, they encouraged students not to be quiet, and to communicate and move.  

He realised, “Oh my God, I can do this, this is something I can actually do. It suddenly dawned on me – I can tell stories.” And he said that “didn’t feel like it had value to me until I went to acting school.”  

PJ was a fantastic co-host, congratulating all the winning adult and community education groups and initiatives from across the island of Ireland. He had the 150 attendees at the ceremony in stitches.


He spoke about his radio show “Morning Glory” on Radio Nova, with Jim McCabe, and how their ethos is “with everything that’s going on, with how hard life is, our ethos is to say to people it’s still okay to get up in the morning. No matter how crap things are, we’ll try and make you laugh.”  

John also asked him about having resilience in the face of mental illness. 

“When you’re mentally ill," PJ said, "you really do feel you’re the only one. When I said it to everyone, it was kind of empowering. It was actually brilliant, people coming out and saying ‘I’m the same’.”  

Watch PJ chatting to Patrick Kielty on the Late Late Show here  

Find out all about the winners of the AONTAS STAR Awards

About the Festival 

The Adult Learners’ Festival, which took place this year from 4th to 8th March 2024, is a nationwide celebration of adult learning. This year’s theme was “Everyday Learning Spaces – Find Yourself Here,” celebrating safe and supportive learning environments, wherever they may be.  

Visit this page for more details about the Festival 

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