My Leaving: Sara Baume

‘I still feel disgruntled over the effort I devoted to subjects which I had no interest in’


What is your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

I remember the faux-wood surface of my designated desk, and how the light played across it, and the sound of children laughing in the distance, and how the school toilets were much cleaner than usual. But I barely remember a thing about what I actually put down on paper.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

I had some really super teachers all throughout secondary school, perhaps the most influential was actually for Junior Cert, an English teacher called Miss Bailey. She positively fizzed with enthusiasm for reading and writing; her sheer love of the subject was infectious. That kind of conviction is a rare and precious thing.

What was your most difficult subject?

Maths, unsurprisingly.

How many points did you get in the Leaving?

535, and yet, I wasn’t offered my first choice for college, core studies in the National College of Art and Design, because my portfolio failed the assessment.

What did you go on to do after secondary school?

I went first to Ballyfermot College of Further Education and did a year-long PLC course in art, design and mixed media. Then I applied to NCAD again, and again, failed to get in.

So I took up a place in IADT Dún Laoghaire instead, which turned out to be a brilliant decision; I spent four illuminating years in their fine art department and graduated with a first class honours.

What would you change about the Leaving Cert?

I would allow students to specialise much earlier; I still feel a certain amount of disgruntlement about all of the effort I devoted to subjects which were of no essential interest to me.

Is there a subject you would add to the curriculum?

I’ve heard psychology, and I think that’s a great idea. But I’d also like to see more emphasis on practical skills. Driving, for example! It took me 10 years to get a proper licence.

And I would have loved to have studied woodwork and metalwork; it was what I went on to pursue in college, after all, but because I attended a convent, there was no such option.

What advice would you give to your Leaving Cert self?

Calm down; it doesn’t really matter. Or perhaps, more poetically, I’d quote Goethe: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, but the golden tree of actual life springs ever green.”

* Sara Baume is an award-winning novelist who sat her Leaving Cert in 2002 at St Mary’s High School, Midleton, Co Cork. Her latest novel is ‘A Line Made By Walking’ (Tramp Press)