My Leaving Cert: ‘I lived on Mars bars and coffee’

Dr Ciara Kelly recalls her parents going on holidays three days before her exams

Leaving and Junior Cert students at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf, Dublin talk about their first day of exams.


What’s your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

My parents went on holiday three days before my Leaving Cert. That may not be good advice today, but nobody thought twice at the time. So I lived on sandwiches, Mars bars and coffee .

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

I was often at odds with my teachers as I was a bit cheeky; what annoyed them even more was that I always did well in my exams. My Leaving Cert economics teacher, Mick Denny, was a really good teacher but the reason I liked him was because he treated us like adults.

What was your most difficult subject?

Irish. There was too much poetry and not enough conversation.

And your best?

Art. I did it outside school because my parents thought it was useless. But I also liked maths, science, economics and English

How many points did you get in your Leaving Cert?

Under the old system, points were awarded out of 30, or 32. I think I got 28 or 29.

What did you do in college?

Drama at Trinity College was my first choice, application was by interview and I didn’t get in. I was barely 17-years-old when I started commerce at UCD.

Halfway through, I realised I would rather gouge my eyes out than work in a bank or in finance, but I completed the degree anyway.

Afterwards, I thought about doing something worthwhile and that would help people, so I applied for medicine at UCD and got it.

What would you change about the Leaving Cert?

I was at a medical conference a while back, and was surrounded by about 10 or 15 people who had all been straight-A students. None of us had done particularly well in Irish. That says more about Irish and how it was taught than the language itself although, in fairness, the teaching has improved.

Is there a subject you would add to the Leaving Cert?

I don’t think academic time should be given over to religion teaching. That time could be used for more PE, nutrition and parenting education and life skills.

Finally, what advice would you give to your Leaving Cert self?

You have no idea of your potential. You could work harder. You’re getting bad advice about career choices: you could be a lawyer if you want to.

Dr Ciara Kelly is a GP and broadcaster who recently presented her own RTÉ Two show, Bodyshock. She sat her Leaving Cert at St David’s Holy Faith in Greystones, Co Wicklow.