More to passing life’s exams than results

The Pure Truth column with Cormac MacConnell
More to passing life’s exams than results

There are many mysterious ways in which one can pass all the examinations life presents us with along the road.

Hello again. I have a yarn which you should make compulsory reading for any anxious teenagers under the family roof waiting for Leaving Cert results.

It should help them relax as they pass through the most stressful time of their young lives to date, in this strange, new, and surreal, baffling us all with its challenges and stresses, lockdowns and restrictions.

This yarn I can guarantee is 100% true.

It is the outcome of what happened down the road of life for one lad who would certainly have failed the Leaving, over 60 years ago, if there had not been intervention from Above.

That lad was me, the secondary school was Saint Michael’s College in Enniskillen, on the other side of the Border. So the State exam there was called the Senior Certificate rather than the Leaving as we know it today.

And I certainly would have dismally failed it, because I could never handle the mandatory maths elements of the trial.

I still can barely count, as some of ye hardy regular readers may know by now.

So, as I occupied a desk by the banks of the Erne, struggling with geometry and trigonometry problems, my doom was certain, come the release of the results at the end of August.

I wrote several essays about my pain and suffering on that front during the early part of the school year.

They were not called essays then. They were called compositions.

I always got a good high mark for them from the regular English teacher called Colm Gillespie, a native of Derry.

A few times he actually asked me to read them out to the class, and sure I loved that recognition, because the next class would be a maths class, and I’d be humiliated again.

I remember it all so well, as the Erne beside the college whispered its way towards the Atlantic Ocean and the wider world.

Anyway, a couple of months before I’d have to sit the dread exam, didn’t it happen that Colm Gillespie (God bless him!) met Senator Paddy O’Hare of the Fermanagh Herald newspaper, a few hundred yards from the college down Belmore Street, and learned that the good Nationalist senator was on the lookout for a cub reporter ASAP.

Mr Gillespie warmly recommended young Cormac for the job.

One of the happiest truths of my life is that I was instantly recruited, and walked out of the college forever a few weeks before the rest of my class attacked the first papers of their dreaded examination.

(Amongst them, incidentally was Peter Quinn, the celebrated business tycoon often in the headlines in later decades and also a committed GAA Uachtarán in his prime).

I joined the Herald staff on the princely salary of two pounds sterling weekly and Senator O’Hare tutored and trained me as diligently as if I’d been a member of his own family.

As far as I can recall, my weekly wage rapidly rose to five pounds sterling, and I happily worked there for five or six years, before eventually securing a job with the Roscommon Herald in Boyle for an amazing fifteen pounds weekly.

I’ve never been as wealthy since! Another sliver of the pure truth.

In the decades since then, in all four provinces and in Dublin with the late lamented Irish Press group, the lad who would certainly have failed the Leaving Cert equivalent up North never worked a day in his life.

Yes, it’s been enjoyably therapeutic and stimulating rather than work.

I raised a family as a wordsmith, had many excitements and golden moments, made a host of good friends, and nowadays, as a grandfather, I write away for the pleasure of it, as much as I want to, when I want to, including, as ye know, a certain column in the [i]Irish Examiner, which I hope some of you enjoy nearly as much as I do!

So my message for the young folk awaiting their Leaving results in this new world of ours is that there are many mysterious ways in which one can pass all the examinations life presents us with along the road.

Good luck to all of them, all the way.

That’s it for now.

See ye next week, hopefully, and stay safe and serene in the meantime.

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