Luke O’Neill on the Leaving: ‘I jumped in the sea in my uniform with joy when it ended’

My Leaving: Immunologist and Trinity professor recalls his exam highs and lows

Prof Luke O’Neill: “I almost did medicine – changed my mind in the CAO change-of-mind form.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Prof Luke O’Neill: “I almost did medicine – changed my mind in the CAO change-of-mind form.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Luke O’Neill, an immunologist and professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, has become one of the most familiar faces in Ireland throughout the pandemic. He is also an author and a musician. He sat the Leaving Certificate at Presentation College Bray, Co Wicklow in 1981.

Your most vivid exam memory?

After the last exam, I went down Bray seafront with a classmate, Hugh Roche. We jumped into the sea in our uniforms from the joy of it all ending!

Your strongest subject?

Biology… no surprises there! I loved it as a subject.

Weakest subject?

Maths.

Most inspiring teacher and why?

Fran Mooney, Biology teacher. He did such a great job at making it interesting. We all thought he was a cool guy too – looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

How many points did you get?

Pre-points! I got enough grades to get into Natural Sciences in Trinity.

Did you consider doing anything other than what you did, in college?

I almost did medicine – changed my mind in the CAO change-of-mind form. Our year had a new career option in technology. It was actually the first time computer programming was part of the Leaving, so I was the first year to be examined in that.

Is the exam fair?

It’s fair in that it only takes into account how students perform on the day, which of course is a high-pressure situation.

What advice would you give your Leaving Cert self?

Try not to worry too much – see it as an adventure, as best you can!