Joe Duffy on his Leaving Cert: ‘Nobody mentioned third level. It was never discussed’

Liveline presenter was the first in his family to complete second-level education

Broadcaster Joe Duffy, a student at St John’s College De La Salle in Ballyfermot, Dublin, sat his Leaving Cert in 1973.

What is your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

It was results day. I can still see the corridor with the marble floor where I opened the results. The great news was that I passed. I was thrilled. My mother was thrilled. For many of us, it was the first Leaving Cert in the household. It was our Everest. Nobody even mentioned third level. It was never put forward as an option or even discussed.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

Mr Long, he was my teacher at De La Salle primary school in Ballyfermot in fifth and sixth class. Mr Long – who was quite short, as it happened – had silver hair and dressed immaculately in a suit and waistcoat.

He had to manage a class of 52 children, yet he instilled in us a great sense of curiosity. He used to construct his own quizzes and crosswords for us to do every Friday. Whoever completed the crossword first would win a threepenny bit. I always remember he said to me: “Mr Duffy, you are the most curious boy in this class”. Now, that had two meanings. I like to think he meant inquisitive.


What was your most difficult subject and why?

Physics – it still is. My sons are involved in that area, but I was never able to get to grips with it.

And your favourite subject?


Can you recall what grades you got in the Leaving?

It was lacklustre – three Cs, a couple of Ds and an A in pass maths. I wanted to do honours maths, but it wasn’t an option.

What one thing would you change about the exam?

The media hype; the minister on the radio and TV on the first day of the exams, the big focus it gets. It doesn’t happen anywhere else. It just adds to the pressure on students.

What did you do after the exams?

You needed four honours to be able to apply for a grant back then, even though you only needed, maybe, two honours for arts. Looking back, it was blatant discrimination. So, I got a job as a runner in Arks advertising. I worked for three years and did a couple of Leaving Cert subjects at night – business and French. I got enough grades then to do social work at Trinity, which I started in 1976.

What advice would you give your Leaving Cert self?

Don’t worry as much as you do, there is no need. Stay calm – and if you can’t, talk to others.