My Leaving: Niamh Briggs

Irish women’s rugby captain says physical education should be an exam subject

What is your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

Heading in for English, my first paper, and trying to calm myself until the paper came out.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

Ms O’Sullivan was my French teacher. She was so good, cared about all her students and was well respected amongst the student body. She was tough but very fair and had a huge interest in sport too which was great.


What was your most difficult subject?

Probably business: I just found it boring!

And your favourite?

Any of the languages. I also loved sport and played hockey and Gaelic football as well as athletics. Indeed, I chose my school because it has such a good sporting history. Brother Lennon, a teacher at the school, coached the athletics and hockey teams and he is still my mentor. I got so much support.

How many points did you get in the Leaving?


What did you go on to do after the secondary school?

I went to college in WIT and studied Exercise and Health Studies. It was in college when I started to play rugby. I’d dreamed of winning an All-Ireland for Waterford at Croke Park, but never of playing rugby for Ireland. But I’m so glad I did.

What would you change about the Leaving Cert?

The pressure it puts on students. These students are just 17 or 18 years old and they’re sitting the biggest exam of their lives. I wonder if an alternative – perhaps interviews or continuous assessment – might alleviate some of the pressure.

Is there a subject you would add to the curriculum?

Physical education (PE) is hugely important. Students sometimes drop PE or sport close to the exams because they’re under pressure to study, even though being physically active helps them to concentrate, stay focused and absorb information.

If it was an examined Leaving Cert subject it would encourage more young people – especially girls – to stay active and they’d also get significant physical and mental health benefits.

What advice would you give to your Leaving Cert self?

Relax: there's always a second option if you don't get your first choice. My first choice was PE teaching at the University of Limerick. I didn't get it and was disappointed at the time. Now I look back and think I would have hated to be a PE teacher but back then, I was so into sport and couldn't think of any obvious alternative.

Niamh Briggs, 32, is captain of the Irish women’s rugby team. She sat her Leaving Cert at St Augustines College in Dungarvan, Co Waterford in 2003.