Top student had covered biology course in just 12 weeks

Gorey’s Mark Berney feeling ‘weird’ after earning nine A1s

Mark Berney (19) at Gorey Community College, Co Wexford, holding a copy of his Leaving Cert results with 9 A1s. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Mark Berney (19) at Gorey Community College, Co Wexford, holding a copy of his Leaving Cert results with 9 A1s. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire


The only Leaving Cert student in the country to receive nine A1s managed to cover the entire higher-level biology syllabus on his own just weeks before he sat the exam.

Mark Berney, who attended Gorey Community School in Co Wexford, said he didn’t expect to do so well in his exams. He thought he would get around 550 points as had done in the mocks.

Mark added that his achievement hasn’t sunk in yet. “It still feels a bit weird,” he said.

Most Leaving Cert students sit seven exams, but Mr Berney sat nine, studying Italian and biology as extra-curricular subjects. Although he had never done biology before he decided to give it a try after his class finished the chemistry and physics courses in February. “I’m just really interested in science,” he said, adding that he covered the entire syllabus on his own in about 12 weeks and got an A1.

Despite his excellent results Mr Berney said he had a nightmare last night in which he failed the exam and had to repeat not only the Leaving Cert but all of secondary school.

Now he will go on to do science in Trinity and says he is “perfectly happy” to study in Ireland where he can stay close to his family and friends.

He’s not particularly looking forward to the next few weeks of time off and said he’d prefer to be studying. “I’d rather go up to Dublin tomorrow if I had the choice.”

It’s early days yet but Mr Berney said he hopes to have a career in chemistry, working as a researcher.

Of the nine students who received a total of eight A1 grades, four came from schools in Co Cork. Niamh Buttimer, one of the four, collected her results at Mount Mercy School in Cork city. She said she was “so happy” and now expects to study pharmacy at UCC. The other high-achieving Cork students came from Colaiste Spioraid Naomh, Bishopstown; St Francis Capuchin College, Rochestown; and Loreto Convent, Fermoy.

In Galway city, Maura Morrison, who attended Dominican College on Taylor’s Hill, picked up eight A1s and is on her way to Cambridge where she will study medicine.

Mark Glynn walked away today from Kilrush Community School, Co Clare with eight A1s and an “unexpected” – though welcome – A2 in English. He described himself as “shocked” and he now hopes to get an offer for medicine or Engineering at UCD.

In Dundalk, Co Louth, Ellen Rose Matthews also scooped eight A1s. The St Vincent’s Secondary School student was among a year of high achievers with a quarter of the students there racking up 500 points or more. Principal Deirdre Matthews—Ellen Rose’s mother—said she was “excited for my daughter but also for all the students”.

Two other students – at Detchse Schule, St Killian’s in Clonskeagh, Dublin; and at Presentation Secondary School, Miltown, Killarney, Co Kerry – also received a total of eight A1s each.

Meanwhile, in Cavan town, there appeared to be smiles all round as scores of students gathered at Brefine College to collect their Leaving Cert results.

Nadine Lyons (18) was among the first to arrive, and said she was delighted with the news waiting there for her.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Nadine, who wants to study Irish and English in DCU or St Patrick’s College. “I can’t believe I got an A1 in art. I’m so happy with biology because I was adamant I failed it.”

Chloe Reilly (17) said she was delighted with her five B’s and two C’s. “I want to do Law and Irish in DCU, so I think I have enough points.”

Cousins Shannon Morgan (18) and Cian Donohoe (19) went to collect their results together. “We went to preschool, primary and secondary together so we had to collect our results together today,” said Shannon.

Cian said he was happy with his results. “They’re really good, I’m happiest with maths because I want to study computer engineering at Cavan Institute”

Shannon said she did “better than she thought” and hopes to join her cousin Cian at Cavan Institute to study childcare. “I was very happy with the home economics result because I thought I did far worse”

Johnny Cusack (17) said he was delighted with the bonus points he received from sitting higher level maths.

“Those 25 points will definitely come in handy. I hope to do science in DIT but we’ll see what happens when the offer come out.”