The Leaving Cert

The Leaving Certificate, also known as Gaeilge as the Árd Teist, was first established in this country in 1924 and the first papers were marked in 1925. It is the final examination in the secondary school system and also serves as the university matriculation exam. There was a time when these two were separate exams. It is for the senior school cycle, most of the participants are 16 to 19 years old, although an increasing number of mature student now sit the tests.

The exams take place annually, usually at this time of the year (invariably accompanied by beautiful weather ). Preparations normally take two years and repeating is permitted. The student can choose to sit a Pass paper or an Honours paper, the standard of questions being higher in the latter. In the old days, if you achieved 40 per cent in a subject, you passed, and 60 per cent earned you an honours. Today, papers are graded from H1 down to H8.

The last days of school were not really celebratory, most were focussed on the forthcoming tests. As they came closer, the nervous tension built up. Some rejoiced at leaving the Alma Mater and chanted songs like “No more Latin/ no more French/ no more sitting on a hard oul bench. Kick up tables/ kick up chairs/ kick our teacher down the stairs”.

Those who have sat the exam will have memories of the experience, mostly okay, some bad. The lonely hours studying; the times of relaxation often spent trying to take your mind off the tuiseal ginideach or a particular maths problem; the questions from friends — How many hours did you do last night? Will anyone notice the black circles under my eyes? Why are there suddenly so many easy distractions? The pressure can feel like an anvil sitting on top of your head. The tough/stupid people who pretend they don’t see the point of studying.

‘Good Luck’, ‘You’ll be fine’, ‘Don’t panic’, ‘I’ll say a prayer for you’. Your granny has probably significantly added to global warming with all the candles she lit.

Finally, it is into the exam hall, praying as you are handed the paper. How is everyone writing so fast? Is that one over there asking for extra paper already? Sitting there hating anyone who is enjoying the sunshine outside. Wondering about the fellow who left after 45 minutes, did he fly it or did he fail it? My hand is getting sore from writing. Oh no! I suddenly realise I forgot to answer a question and there is only 17 minutes left.

And then suddenly, it is all over. There is a huge weight off your shoulder. The relief. You are free. Out in the real world. Halleluiah!

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are going through the Leaving Cert experience at the moment. The pressures on them, because of the points system, are considerably worse than they were in my day. Our photograph today is of those scholars from St Joseph’s College, the Bish, who did the test in 1961.

They are, back row, left to right: P Murphy, PJ Qualter, S Clancy, J Joyce, P Burke, M Lally, M King, J O’Gara. Centre row: P Ridge, B O’Connor, F Conway, Michael Shea, Hugh Nalty, Brian Cunningham, J O’Brien, B McCarthy, Liam Kelleher, Johnny Spellman, Paddy O’Halloran, Alan Sherlock, Liam Kavanagh, Kevin Brophy, Joe Lillis. In front are Tom Gill, Johnny Whelan, Dave Lillis, J Noone, Mick Silke, Adrian Glynn, Joe Fox, Terry McCarthy, S McDonnell and Charlie Fox.


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