Gordon D’Arcy on the Leaving Cert: ‘Let’s say I outperformed expectations’

Former Irish rugby player says his English teacher helped instil a passion for the written word

Gordon D’Arcy is a former Ireland international rugby player. He sat his Leaving Cert at Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare, in 1998.

What is your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

Two things jump out for me: the first was how much coffee I drank, and then how I was able to recite close to 50 poems walking into my English exam for paper two. Sadly, I cannot remember one poem – or drink Nescafé Gold Blend.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?


My English teacher Gerry Lynch. Let’s say we had an interesting relationship. I had a reputation as a bit of a messer for most of my time in secondary school, and at some stage in fifth year the penny dropped that I would need to actually study.

I began to look for help from a couple of teachers. Once he believed I was on the level, he not only helped me to pass my exam with flying colours, but to enjoy what I was doing along the way. I have maintained that passion for the written word ever since.

What was your most difficult subject?

Maths, French and Irish. I had no ear for languages, so much so that when I’m doing phonetic sounds with our kids, it draws a smile from my wife when I’m corrected by our five- and seven-year-olds. My dad pushed me to do honours maths and it was just tough; he pushed me to slog it out and there was an odd sense of achievement with my low grade – but I had passed.

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And your favourite?

I’m going to be completely honest and say sport was where 90 per cent of my mind was, 90 per cent of the time. So, aside from that, I did enjoy art but when you think you’ve done something deadly and then Gearóid Hayes [classmate and artist] finishes his piece and it suddenly feels less impressive.

Can you recall what points you got?

Well, the reason I remember my grades is because I was super upset after opening them, as I added them up wrong and got a much lower score than I was expecting. Really frustrated with all that effort – and then my mum totted them up and I got a very nice surprise. Let’s say I outperformed expectations.

What did you go on to do after the secondary school?

Initially I went to do quantity surveying in Bolton Street and was playing professional rugby. I wasn’t doing either particularly well, so after a chat with my folks I decided to focus on rugby and then at 28 I went back to do economics in UCD and a business master’s in the IMI (Irish Management Institute).

What advice would you give to your Leaving Cert self?

It is so much easier to do a little a lot, rather than trying to do a lot quickly. I smile thinking about the amount of effort that went into avoiding school work when I was younger. I’m sure most people around my age were afforded the same fatherly advice: “If you put as much effort into your school work as avoiding it you’ll be fine.” It turns out he was not wrong.

What would you change about the Leaving Cert?

The way we work and the way we learn has changed dramatically, and I’m not sure the Leaving Cert reflects that as well as it could. We constantly see people that are widely successful without doing well in the Leaving Cert – that is the system failing them. The exam is a very crude “one size fits all” approach. In theory it is dispassionate and fair; in reality less so. I would love to see a way to focus in some fashion on a person’s strengths, no matter how unconventional, and find a way to incorporate that into their early learning and assessment.