In the interests of full disclosure, this writer also wrote a Leaving Cert diary - albeit with the Irish Independent, rather than the Irish Times.
If anyone is unfamiliar with the Leaving Cert Diary, each year, the Times and the Indo get a student who is doing the Leaving to write a daily column of around 500 words on their experience of doing the exams.
The general idea is to talk about the experience of doing the Leaving, while at the same time accentuating the misconceptions of adults: that the exams aren't really that important at all, and that our various hobbies i.e. watching major soccer tournaments and playing GAA, are actually far more important.
('You can repeat the Leaving, but you can't repeat the Minor Championship' is a staple of these columns). In general, columnists are encouraged to keep it lighthearted, before they are borne down by the stresses and banalities of adult life.
Many of O'Shea's Leaving Cert columns from 2009 are still on the Times' website, so here are some of the highlights.
Here's Aidan introducing himself to the readers of the Paper of Record:
MY NAME is Aidan O’Shea and I will be your Leaving Cert diarist for the weeks ahead.
I must be out of my mind to take this on, as I have quite a busy schedule. Still, I thought it might be fun to put my thoughts on paper – I have no time to talk to anyone else.
From an academic point of view, things didn’t look that promising for me last September. I was on four sports teams; the under-age school football team, the Mayo under-21s football team, the Mayo seniors and my own club in Breaffy in Castlebar.
I was on the basketball team, too, but fortunately we got knocked out of the league by the Bish school in Galway. I also broke my thumb and couldn’t write for six weeks. You wouldn’t put money on me for the Leaving, now, would you?
Since then I’ve pulled it together a bit. I’ve been getting grinds in English, economics, maths and accounting and I took two weeks off from training to study.
He also threw in some themed zingers:
I’ll be back at training on the 9th because I have French the next day and honestly, je m’en fiche.That means I don’t care – can I have marks for that?
O'Shea also addressed his politics ahead of a General Election:
There’s not much talk of politics in our house, but I will be voting. The local Independent Frank Durkan sponsored our sports hall, but a couple of my friend’s parents are running as well.
Then there’s John O’Mahony, the team manager. He’s a TD and Fine Gael’s spokesman on sport. I’ve plenty to choose from without tuning into the national airwaves, which is just as well.
Plus, he also offered an insight into his favourite TV:
I haven’t had much time for TV or anything else in the last few weeks but I have been recording Model Agent. That’s a quality programme. However, I’m a bit disappointed that my girl didn’t win.
And rounded off on a sporting theme:
One thing in my favour is my diet. I couldn’t have a healthier diet if I tried – we’re not allowed to put on weight. Got to try keep in shape for the upcoming championship, which will commence the Saturday after my last exam.
Of course booze is not allowed at all, so I’ll have to get creative with my post-exam celebrations. I’ll be back tomorrow as the clock ticks down towards English paper 1. I’m not feeling that nervous – when you’ve played in front of 84,000 people in Croker, what harm can a little book of questions do?
O'Shea, like all great journalists, found himself at the front of one of the great scandals of twentieth-century Ireland: the handing out of the wrong English paper in 2009. The State Examinations Commission were forced to postpone English Paper 2 and reschedule it for a Saturday, after a group of students in County Louth were given Paper 2 in error during their Paper 1 sitting.
Of the many existential angsts faced by all Irish teenagers, few are greater than the bizarre level of worry that goes into which poets turn up on the studied poetry section of English Paper 2. Thankfully, in 2009, everything went to plan for our hero, and he even squeezed in a Gaelic football reference too:
WELL, NOW, wasn’t that a lot of fuss about nothing? You’d have to look pretty close to spot the difference between those two papers. How did two separate teams of examiners come up with two such peas in a pod? Was there a bit of tweeting going on, I wonder? We may never care. The point is, I got to answer on Bishop and I was happy.
Macbeth was easy, Duncan’s murder and Scotland and all that.
I felt a little like a tragic hero myself last night after we were beaten by Louth at the football. By a miserable four points, too.
Inspired by his exam success, O'Shea started dropping literary allusions like nobody's business:
Or perhaps, in honour of my favourite poem on the Leaving Cert, I should go fishing. Old Liz Bishop didn’t let me down. She showed up on the disgraced paper and then came back for the encore. I’m not a literary man, but if I take one poem with me it will be The Fish.
The image of that battered brown fish with all the hooks in his lip, living to fight another day, is a powerful one. From now on it’s all maths and economics and the clinical side of my brain, so before I leave my artistic side behind, I’ll have one last look at my poetry book. Then I’ll let it go.
(The final line of Bishop's poem is 'And I let the fish go').
From the sunny disposition of the beginning, a few days in we find our hero beginning to feel the strain of the examination period, and become distracted by the tantalising return to football that's on the horizon...
WHEN I sat down to write an account of how Irish went, I couldn’t remember what was on the paper.
I left the exam hall at 11.30am and by lunchtime the information was gone.
The panic welled up, making it even hard to get a grasp of what had just happened to me and I got a sense of the fragility of my brain.
Is that it? Has my head purged itself of everything I ever learned?
...before turning his attention to the business at hand...
French tomorrow is not an important factor in my points quest for business in DCU, so I’ll probably be more relaxed for that exam than any other, even though my French is preposterous. Uafásach.
I will dabble in a little French vocab this evening, just a light splash, like eau de Cologne. I’ll need some postcard lingo of the wish-you-were-here variety, just to give me something to do while I wait for French to be over.
...before ending with a superb Simpson reference:
There’s the little business of economics and accounting to deal with in the run-up, but I think luck’s on my side for those subjects. I won’t need a rabbit’s foot to balance the books because, after tomorrow, everything’s coming up O’Shea.
Superb. If you're an Irish Times subscriber, you can access the rest of O'Shea's columns at irishtimes.com.