Leaving Cert English paper 2: Heaney ‘sends the country home happy’

More choice and fewer questions give students ‘vast desert’ of time in well-received exam

The predicted poets appeared and students had more choice and time than ever before in one of the most well-received English papers in years, teachers have said.

Julian Girdham, an English teacher at St Columba's College, near Rathfarnham in south county Dublin, said that students had three hours and 20 minutes to complete just two questions, whereas normally they do three questions in the same time-frame.

"The peculiar decision meant a vast desert of time for candidates," Mr Girdham, who blogs on English at JulianGirdham.com, said.

“There was no pressure on completion, but candidates who chose to sit the exam should have made the most of the opportunity.”


Studyclix.ie expert teacher Lorraine Tuffy, an English teacher at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, said the level of choice ensured candidates had time to plan coherent and efficient responses.

“The annual fervent prediction of poets was nullified somewhat by the addition of a fifth poet on the paper,” said Ms Tuffy.

"Candidates will, nonetheless, have been relieved to see a host of familiar names on the last page of their booklet with all three of the prescribed Irish poets [Eavan Boland, Paul Durcan and Seamus Heaney] making an appearance."

‘A little tricky’

Mr Girdham said the question on Boland was “a little tricky” but that the expected appearance of Heaney would have “sent the country home happy” and the Durcan question was “a doddle [with students asked about] tone and mood expressing emotions”.

Candidates who answered poetry also had to take on the unseen poem. “Louise Greig’s How to Construct an Albatross had an arresting title and was an interesting one,” said Mr Girdham.

“I think that this may have disconcerted quite a few candidates; it’s certainly testing, but it was a good choice.”

Paul McCormack, an English teacher at the Institute of Education in Dublin, said that the single text questions on King Lear were "beautiful and subtle questions that challenged candidates to think carefully and use their argumentative writing skills effectively".

The comparative texts, where students are asked to compare and contrast the themes and ideas of two or three different texts, were designed to reward original thinking and mitigate against rote learning, he added.

Overall, said Mr McCormack, this was not a paper that rewarded rote learning. “Instead, it was designed to reward the prepared, thoughtful candidate, who has an independent mind, and can present a point of view in a logical, substantive and coherent fashion,” he said. “After a challenging and difficult year for students, this paper offered unprecedented choice and welcome shelter from the storm.”


Commenting on the ordinary level paper, Ms Tuffy said that, for the most part, questions were comfortably accessible ensuring a fair assessment of the candidates’ knowledge of studied texts.

"Just as at higher level, the ordinary level English candidate was spoiled for choice in the comparative study section of the paper with an option to explore either social setting, relationships or a studied theme in their comparative texts. The unseen poem was the playful The Language of Cat by Rachel Rooney. Heaney and Eavan Boland appeared to the delight of many with both Boland's This Moment and Heaney's A Constable Calls firm favourites among this year's candidates."

Try this at home:

Leaving Cert English, higher level

- Eavan Boland:

Discuss how successfully, in your opinion, Eavan Boland employs a range of narrative elements in her poetry to communicate a variety of thematic concerns. Develop your response with reference to the poems by Eavan Boland on your Leaving Certificate English course.