Nobody asks how Katie Taylor did in the Leaving Cert


The failure to organise a proper homecoming for Ireland’s Olympians shows how atomised our society has become

YOUNG PEOPLE of Ireland, there are two points that need to be made today. The first is that you are living in a country that cannot organise a proper homecoming for its Olympic athletes, let alone a rudimentary plan that would aim to have them winning more medals than their sporting ancestors at the Olympics in the 1950s. The second point is that nobody asks Katie Taylor how she did in her Leaving Cert.

The two points are linked by a question that is almost always good to ask, particularly in this country: is this worth getting upset about?

Take the Leaving. The results of our school system’s final examination are out on Wednesday. Tensions are high, rivalries are bitter and perhaps, once the results are out, some people will let themselves and the schools down with their hysterical weeping, adolescent screaming and drunken scenes. There are always the few who spoil it for everybody else.

But let’s not concentrate on the parents here – their day is over.

Let’s just remember that the people who do best in life, and who have the best time, do not tend to have done terribly well in their Leaving Certificate, a crude measuring instrument that should have been scrapped years ago. For the most part the Leaving is a preparation for jobs that no longer exist, either here or in any of the countries to which you may emigrate.

In fact, it may be worth pointing out here that the people who are happiest as adults are often the people who slipped by the teachers and other school authorities (this used to mean nuns or priests) when they were in school.

These people emerge from school feeling greatly relieved, and thrive. Perhaps unsurprisingly they do not have a very high opinion of our education system.

It is too late now to point out the things that you could have and should have learned at school; you have other things on your minds. But when the excitement dies down and the bandages come off – celebrating isn’t a full-time job here yet, but give it time – it might be worth considering that it’s never too late to learn to spell. It does make a difference. Just a thought.

No matter what happens on Wednesday, we won’t be worrying too much about you. It’s the country that is causing us sleepless nights. There are not too many institutions, with the possible exception of the public libraries, that we can recommend to you without a barrage of despair and cynicism. There is no doubt that, even by the standards of Irish history, we’re in a bit of a slump at the moment. It looks like the official nation is breaking up and that Irish life is becoming even more local.

Funnily enough, you could see that in the Olympics. The Olympics used to be our sort of thing, with lots of celebrating, communicating and non-colonial flag-waving. Nowadays we’re subdued. Katie Taylor’s triumph, of which we are all so proud, seems to have happened despite the forces of Irish officialdom, rather than because of any support it provided. Her party is going to be in her hometown of Bray, rather than in Dublin.

The boxer John Joe Nevin, whom we boxing experts feel would surely have won a gold medal if he had been better organised and prepared – in other words, supported – is going to have his homecoming in Mullingar. At the time of writing there are no plans for a larger, national celebration.

These are not good signs. It feels wrong. As if all that counts is your locality and your local tribe; as if the only people you can rely on are your family and friends. That is not a country, it’s a blooming series of emotionally gated communities. And that is worth getting upset about.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, the emotional gates have come crashing down. Truly, the British are an unknowable nation – or used to be. Sport in general and the Olympics in particular have been their release.

When Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase missed gold in the double skulls (it’s a rowing event), Hunter was so beside himself with grief that Steve Redgrave (who used to be a rower) had to come and lift him out of the boat and then help him up some steps.

There have been some good laughs at the Olympics as well, which will always make a country feel better. Like the Jamaican hero Usain Bolt saying he was going to have an early night after winning the 100 metres and then posting a photo of himself having a bit of a party with three members of the Swedish female handball team at three o’clock in the morning.

And there have been some good heartwarming moments as well. Like Sebastian Coe (Lord of everything Olympic) meeting an Olympic volunteer on the Tube. Andrew Hartle is an anaesthetist who had treated victims of the July 7th bombings the day after the Olympics had been awarded to London in 2005.

“I saw the worst that day in mankind . . . now I’m seeing the best,” said Dr Hartle.

Young people of Ireland, the key point here is that this chance encounter took place on public transport, where public representatives sit and stand beside strangers. It wouldn’t happen here.

Enjoy Wednesday, whatever happens.

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