Super seven: meet the Leaving Cert diarists

This year’s exam squad comes from Coláiste Chill Mhantáin in Wicklow town

This year’s exam squad comes from Coláiste Chill Mhantáin in Wicklow town. Video: Daniel O'Connor


Ten years ago, the fields at Burkeen, Co Wicklow, were just marked by a back road from Rathdrum to Wicklow town. Now it’s the site of hundreds of homes that mushroomed in the dying days of the boom, chiefly for young adults working in Dublin. As you leave the main road to enter Burkeen the first building to catch the eye is the modish monolith, Coláiste Chill Mhantáin.

Opened in 2011, this state-of-the-art building has capacity for 1,000 students and looks like a research facility. No musty back corridors or draughty sash windows here: this is all glass and light and clean architectural lines.

Most pupils at this growing school come from Wicklow town and surrounding estates.

Coláiste Chill Mhaintáin is an amalgamation of co-ed Abbey Community School and all-boys De La Salle College. Building a new community from two older schools poses two key challenges, says principal Padraig Donoghue.

“We were determined students should not feel lost in such a big building with so many students, especially those that had initially chosen to go to smaller schools. We’ve worked very hard to maintain a “small school” feel, by making sure students are dealing with the same teachers each day and providing pastoral and counselling support.”

To counter cuts to guidance provision nationally, Donoghue and his management team have been creative with resources, using a team approach to counselling that employs year heads, mentoring, chaplaincy, peer support and guidance counselling.

The school has streamlined internal communications not unlike something you’d find in a multinational. “We publish a ‘daily document’ to inform all staff of what’s going on in the school,” Donoghue says. “The history teacher knows that a student in the class is playing a match or that somebody’s granny passed away. This warm flow of information is very important in developing the students’ sense of self.”

The feeling of newness in Coláiste Chill Mhaintáin is palpable, not just because of the building but because of the surrounding estates, roads and roundabouts, the “mixed-use” development created late in the boom.

The school is a huge blank space inside but student artwork is creeping over the expanses of bright plasterwork in halls and corridors. But it’s not just about creating a new identity. The school amalgamation brings a ready-made history.

“We continue to celebrate the traditions of De La Salle and Abbey Community School,” says Donoghue, who was deputy principal at the latter. “We’re also building on the strengths here. GAA is a big deal in Wicklow so we put a lot of emphasis on that. We are also putting energy into girls’ soccer. We have just started an equestrian club, with the help of parents, which will also contribute to the schools’ sense of itself and connection to the surrounding environment.”

Diversity and inclusiveness are central, says Donoghue. “We have 24 nationalities and celebrate all the cultural traditions. We have well-developed resources to accommodate students of different needs. We recently opened an autism unit.”

Coláiste Chill Mhantáin offers the Leaving Cert Applied programme (10 per cent of students take it) and the Leaving Cert Vocational Programme. There’s a range of subjects.

In forging an identity, the school’s greatest strength may well be its difference from what has gone before. “So far, this is working: our academic results show that,” says Donoghue. “However, the success comes in small increments. We have to keep working on it.”

Rory O’Carroll

Age: 18 About me: I love to read and write. Any book I can get my hands on I will devour. Fantasy is my favourite genre, by far. I hate maths with a burning passion. Numbers terrify me. Study style: I talk to myself! Literally everything I study for I have to speak – Macbeth quotes, Irish essays, chemistry definitions; everything. Ambition: To work alongside animals. I’d love to do veterinary but the points are pretty daunting. In the short term, I plan to curl up in a ball and sleep for the summer. Exam playlist: Sia, Chandelier; Lana del Rey, Gods and Monsters and Florence and the Machine, Dog Days are Over.

Seán O’Callaghan

Age: 18 About me: I like hiking, reading and hurling. I play with St Pat’s GAA club and I’m on the Wicklow under 21s team. I love the Irish language. I want to study it in Galway, experience the Gaeltacht and do a bit of hiking. There are good landscapes in the west for it. Study style: Pretty efficient. I read over key parts of the courses and take notes. I retain information better that way. Ambition: To revive the Irish language and reform the education system. The Leaving Cert is merely a memory test and promotes individualism and restricts creativity. Exam playlist: Immortal Technique, The Cause Of Death; Rage Against The Machine, Wake Up; The Wolfe Tones, Sean South From Garryowen.

Orla Yeates

Age: 18 About me: I like exercise, animals, friends, family, soap operas and three cans of tuna in one go. I’m shy but have a sense of humour. I would see myself as a caring person and I try to help people as much as I can. Study style: I take teachers’ notes and then make them simpler in my own words. I rewrite them many times. Before exams I usually panic. My mam helps me a lot. Ambition: To become a care assistant or a midwife. Exam playlist: Lana Del Rey, Summertime Sadness and Blue Jeans; Iggy Azalea, Fancy.

Clinton Byrne

Age: 18 About me: I love art, French and Irish. I went to a French language college last summer. I love acting and recently had a part in a musical. I am addicted to chocolate and Chinese food (not together!) Ambition: Go to New York or LA and work in theatre. Study style: I prefer long study sessions. I am a perfectionist. I normally recite lists and sentences to my parents and they correct me. Exam playlist: I cannot listen to music while studying.

Manav T Manoj

Age: 17 About me: I am average at everything. I love exercise, I believe that health is happiness. I don’t like sitting around with a drink and talking or walks on the beach. I like to do things. Study style: My concentration power is worse than a goldfish. I’m distracted by the stupidest things, I stare at the wall and daydream. I barely get anything done without pressure. Ambition: I’d like to be a doctor. I am caring so being a doctor would (hopefully) be perfect. If I don’t get it this year I’d be prepared to repeat or to work in a similar area. Exam playlist: Tomorrow, Sean Kingston; Three Little Birds, Bob Marley.

Lauren Vickers

Age: 18 About me: I love art, fashion design and music. I’ve done graffiti courses and have done spray painting on canvas, designed my own hoodie and spray-painted a wall at Rathnew GAA pitch (legally I promise). Music motivates me in work and influences me in designs for clothes. I love it. I do a lot of community work. Study style: I find the best way to study is to either write out short-hand notes while repeating the information or highlighting key words and repeating them. Ambition: I have a place on a course in fashion design and when I’ve finished that, I’d love to move to Japan. Exam playlist: Hear me Now, Framing Hanley; Death of Me, Asking Alexandria and Days are Numbered, Black Veil Brides.

Mark Ryan

Age: 17 About me: Outside school it’s all about sport. I play soccer with Rathnew Senior thirds, and a lot of golf over in Glenmalure. I’m pretty outgoing. I guess I like living life to the full. Study style: Pretty organised. I’m doing the Leaving Cert Applied so you have to be. I write when I’m studying. Nothing goes in if I just read. I’ve got two thirds of my marks already because of the continuous assessment. I’m kind of looking forward to the maths exam. Ambition: To join the army and travel the world. I’ve been accepted and start in July. I’m nervous but it’s pretty exciting too. Exam playlist: Piano Man, Billy Joel; Walk the Line, Johnny Cash; Red Lights, Tiesto.