Cormac MacConnell: When life tightens its tentacles

The Leaving Certificate examination inspires Cormac's tear-jerker of the worst possible kind.

Like most of you, if the truth be told, I possess a dark sadistic streak.

I keep it smothered under layers of


for ten months of the year but, the Lord forgive me, I release it at every available opportunity from this time onwards.

I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m not. And that is the impure truth.

My malevolence emerges in the form of a song I wrote about 20 years ago.

It is triggered by the annual advent of the Leaving Certificate examinations to which our beautiful young generations are subjected to every summer, as life first tightens its tentacles around, them and their families.

I cannot play any instrument.

I am a poor singer too, normally the worst in the pub singing sessions where I am most likely to become sadistic.

But that does not matter at all.

My song, you see, is called

The Leaving

, and is a tear-jerker of the worst possible kind. To add to its impact, when called upon to sing, I always insist on silencing the musicians present. And I point my silvery beard towards the ceiling, to resemble some obscure saint in an old stained glass window.

The first verse, especially for the Mammies present, suffering more than their sons and daughters, is truly cruel. Here it is:

“From a city bus, at noon one summer afternoon,

Through a classroom windowpane, I saw them all,

Young heads over papers bent, as the pens a-racing went,

On an honours paperchase in that exam hall.

They looked so very young, that it seemed very wrong,

To have them captured there, out of the sun,

For those that teach the youth don’t teach them all the truth,

When the Leaving is over, the leaving is just begun.”


“For they are doing the Leaving, and still are grieving,

Not quite believing their childhood‘s gone,

Though they may fail or pass, time comes for every class,

When the Leaving is over, the Leaving is just begun.”

Normally, God forgive me again, I see tears on cheeks at the end of that verse. That is bad enough, but the second verse is even more cruel. It deals with the annual flight of thousands of our newly qualified nurses to foreign shores to escape the shortcomings of our crumbling health service:

“In the Shannon Airport hall, I saw a beauty tall,

And the lad that loved her well stood by her side,

She was bound for Boston town to wear her nurse’s gown,

She’d got her papers cleared, no need to hide,

But he’d been turned away, no job nor place to stay,

No skill the Yankees need, prospect unknown,

I watched them kiss goodbye, I saw her start to cry,

Then she walked that exit line all on her own.

“For they are doing the Leaving, and still are grieving,

Not quite believing their childhood‘s gone,

Though they may fail or pass, time comes for every class,

When the Leaving is over, the leaving is just begun”.

And maybe my most sadistic verse of all is the last one, reserved for the more senior drinkers in the pub who have survived the previous travails and tests, and carried on with their good and gentle lives:

“In the ward of oldest men, a quarter after ten,

The oldest man lay there, five score and two,

Gaunt face and silver hair, not moving, just lying there,

Watching statues on the wall, nothing left to do,

They knew he was unwell when he rang the locker bell,

But the little nun who came knew what to do,

‘John put your hand in mine, your soul is set for flyin’

The door is open wide, just walk on through.

“For he was doing his Leaving and still was grieving,

Not quite believing his course has run,

At last he’s got his pass, and he’s in the honours class,

And the Leaving is over, all the exams are done”.

Stick any air on top of these lyrics, no matter how poor a singer you are, and see the effect for yourself!

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