Leaving Cert diary: ‘My hand was going dead after three hours’

Seán Flanagan is delighted and exhausted after two days of writing like a maniac

I wrote like a maniac for three hours and 20 minutes. There were times when I had to stop because my hand was going dead.

I’m going to have to ice it up later at this rate.

It all felt like a bit of a blur on the first day. I had been dreading putting pen to paper and answering that first question. But this was the day it felt like it was all really happening.

English paper two is one of those really high-stakes exams: you hope and pray that the poets you’ve prepared for come up, or that the questions on the book you’ve studied to death will suit you.

Despite all that, I felt strangely relaxed going into the exam. I’d done the work and covered all my bases. There wasn’t more I could do at that stage.

After scanning the paper, I could have jumped up and started cheering out loud, high-fiving everyone around me. I’m not sure the exam staff would have appreciated that – so I just got stuck in.

I was delighted: all four of the poets I’d studied for came up. Lots of people assumed Yeats would appear because of 1916.

I wasn't so sure – so I'd focused on other poets: Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Durcan, TS Eliot.

In the end, I opted for Durcan. His work really appeals to me; he has a clear and concise style, dark humour and is brutally honest.

The question on my single text,Wuthering Heights, was a dream: anything with Heathcliff as the subject was what I'd hoped for. I've read the book so many times now that it flowed very easily.

It’s funny: if you asked me two years ago would I enjoy reading and rereading books and poetry over and over again, I’d have laughed.

But after two years, I really appreciate what goes into good writing and all the columns that prop up a good story.

On a high

I wasn’t the only one who was happy. By 5.20pm yesterday – when we were asked to put down our pens – we all filed silently out of the exam hall. But outside, everyone seemed to be on a high.

I never thought I’d see so many people excited over poetry.

Right now, I feel a mixture of exhaustion and relief. I’ll have a coffee and pat myself on the back and have a good night’s sleep. In the meantime, I’ll have to hit the books again. Maths is my next exam: so it will be equations and formulae for the next few hours.

Two exams done, eight to go. I just hope my writing hand holds up to another week or so of constant scribbling.