Leaving Cert: Dublin teenager one of 13 to secure highest marks

Muhammad Mahmoud (17), whose parents are from Sudan, hopes to study medicine

A Dublin teenager who was born in Saudi Arabia is one of 13 students to secure the highest marks in the country.

Muhammad Mahmoud (17), from Ballycullen in Dublin 24, scored eight grade one at higher level and hopes to study medicine at UCD.

“I was delighted when I saw the results. My mum was with me and she was over the moon. I worked pretty hard, so I’m very happy,” he said.

The 17-year-old student, whose parents are both doctors, completed fifth and sixth year at Ashfield College in Dundrum.


While his teachers played a key role in his success, he had a special word of thanks for his mother.

“The teachers here at Ashfield were great support, it’s a great school. But I had great support from mum. She motivated me a lot and told me to keep working hard... It was a bit annoying at first, but I stuck with it and tried to be disciplined,” he said.

He said he cut down on socialising with his friends in sixth year, but still found time to hang out and go to the gym,

“I met up with my friends, but didn’t go crazy or anything. I kept it to a minimum. I went to the gym a few times a week. If you focus completely on study, you end up hating your life. I tried not to go overboard,” he said.

Muhammad, whose parents are originally from Sudan, was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to Ireland when he was three years of age. He is the eldest of three boys.

His mother, Dr Ayda Elkhalifa, is a doctor at Tallaght Hospital, while his father works as a doctor abroad.

“Because both my parents worked as doctors, it influenced me a lot. I’ve grown up surrounded by medicine, and it’s what I want to do.”

His eight grade one subjects were English, maths , geography, French, applied maths, physics, chemistry and biology.

Ashfield College principal, John Winters, said Muhammad's achievement was "a completely deserved result".

“From the moment that Muhammad joined us in fifth year he applied himself to the task of achieving excellent results, was engaged in class and with his peers,” he said.

“We have many exceptional Leaving Certificate results here today but Muhammad’s is a stand-out.”


Another of the top achievers is from a community secondary school in Leixlip, Co Kildare.

Ben Kelly, who attended Confey College, said it was “a bit surreal” and “hard to take in” when he opened his results and found he had 8 Árd 1s.

“I always had it in the back of my head as a possibility if a bit of luck went my way, but I wasn’t fully expecting it,” he said.

He worked “extremely hard” for the top results and made a lot of sacrifices, he said, including giving up football. He could not have done it without the support of his parents, Sharon and Ken Synnott.

Ben has applied for a course at Trinity College Dublin; nanoscience, physics and chemistry of advanced materials.

“It’s an emerging area and an exciting area to be in at the moment as well; it’s very involved in modern technology and new modern technological advancements are really at the centre of all that,” he said.


Jack Synnott, who studied at St Oliver’s Community College, Drogheda, Co Louth and lives in Terminfeckin, admitted he was “over the moon” with his eight Árd 1 results. His parents, Grainne and Michael Synnott, were also delighted for him.

Competitive by nature and self-motivated, Jack was particularly pleased to have done better than his two older sisters and older brother, in the exams. He was also keen to better his own academic record, of all As in the Junior Certificate.

“It was really a challenge for myself to see how well I could do and how much work I could put in,” he said.

In common with other high achievers this year, Jack said he worked hard for his results and was both proud and relieved it was all over. Despite the hard work, he managed to continue his involvement with the local theatre group.

“That was a real help throughout sixth year because it was a place you could go where you didn’t have all that pressure put in on you,” he said.

“It was a real kind of escape for me.”

His ambition is to study law and politics at Trinity College Dublin with a goal of working in political analysis or as a political correspondent. Asked if he might go into politics he said no.

“I don’t think I’d have a thick enough skin for politics, but I’m interested in it from an academic standpoint,” he said.


Limerick student, Laura Stack (18)was so surprised when her mother, Esther told her that she had got 8 H1s that she thought she was joking. It was only when she went into meet Hazelwood College Principal Brendan Burke that she realised she had done so well.

“Mr Burke rang here this morning and told my mother but when she told me that I had got 8 H1s, I thought she was winding me up - it was a real surprise when I went into the school and actually got the results because even after the exams, I had no idea how I had done,” said Laura.

“There was no paper I thought was easy afterwards - I thought the most challenging were the biology and chemistry paper, particularly chemistry which was very tricky so that’s was why I wasn’t very confident going into this morning and certainly didn’t expect to get 8 H1s.”

Laura from Springfield in Dromcollogher is the fourth of six children to father, John, a farmer and mother, Esther, a primary school teacher, and she hopes now to go to Trinity to study Business Management and Information Systems.

But it isn’t just academically that Laura excels, she managed to combine her studies with a sporting career which saw her make both the Limerick minor and senior camogie panels as well as win an All-Ireland Club Camogie Championship with nearby Milford in North Cork.

Hazelwood College Principal Brendan Burke said some 100 pupils sat either the Leaving Cert or Applied Leaving Cert at the 600 pupil co-ed school operated by Limerick and Clare Education Training Board and the results were excellent across the board.

“We have had some outstanding results in the past and we are proud of all our students but Laura’s performance was exceptional -she’ s a very pleasant student to teach - she’s an all rounder involved in all aspects of school life and I have no doubt she will be a great ambassador for the school.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times