Donie O’Sullivan on the Leaving Cert: ‘The Irish oral fell on my birthday. I hoped the examiner would go easy on me. She didn’t’

My Leaving: CNN journalist would like to see greater focus on critical analysis instead of having to memorise ‘hundreds of sheets of paper’

Donie O’Sullivan is a journalist with CNN in New York. He sat his Leaving Cert in Coláiste na Sceilge, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, in 2009

What is your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

I was never particularly good at Irish. I remember I had my Irish oral exam on the same day as my 18th birthday and telling the examiner, more than once, “Is é inniu mo bhreithlá,” in the hope that she would go easy on me. She didn’t.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?


I had a history teacher in third year who was also a local Fine Gael councillor. He would speak passionately about Michael Collins, but explain to us his biases and encouraged us to challenge him. It was the first time I realised the role the past plays in the present and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since,

What was your most difficult subject?

I was always bad at Irish. I’m one of those students who left school after 14 years of studying the language and still found it difficult to string together a cúpla focal.

And your favourite?

I loved English and history.

How many points did you get in the Leaving Cert?

I got 495 points. Although it was more than enough points for the course I wanted to do in college, I do remember being disappointed with some of my results.

What did you do after secondary school?

I went on to do history and politics in UCD. Yes, Arts at UCD. After that I did a postgrad in political science in Queen’s in Belfast. I always wanted to be a journalist and was very actively involved in the College Tribune newspaper in UCD — it was great fun and we were a real pain in the head for the students’ union and the college administration.

What would you change about the Leaving Cert?

It’s said every year, but so much of the exam is a memory test. It would be nice to see more of a focus on critical analysis and continuous assessment rather than trying to memorise hundreds of sheets of paper.

What advice would you give to your Leaving Cert self?

Do what makes you happy. If you’re going to college, do a course you want to do, not one that people are telling you that you should do because you’re expected to get a certain number of points. If you don’t get the points you need, or not sure what you want to do right now, that’s okay. There are so many routes into the courses and careers you are interested in, it’s not all about Leaving Cert points.