Remember the Senior Certificate Examination? Of course you don’t – it was years ‘n’ years ‘n’ years ago – the precursor, more or less, of the present GCSE Examination. Well, once years ‘n’ years ‘n’ years ago, I sat the Senior Certificate Examination in a range of subjects – Latin, French, History, English and about half a dozen others. But the one that sticks in my mind is Irish.
That was because, in the last class before we began sitting this intimidating range of exams, our Irish teacher – let’s call him O’Hare – liked to predict Irish marks in the Senior Certificate examination. And it wasn’t a quiet, whispered prediction, one-to-one, tete-á-tete so to say. He stood at the front and pointed to each of us in turn and then gave the projected mark in a clear, ringing voice. So he went round the classroom: “Dobbins, you’ll get about 50% – you’ve not killed yourself working but you’ve done enough; McCann, you’ll get a Distinction – you’ve really applied yourself and I can safely predict a Distinction, one well-earned too”. And so he went from pupil to pupil predicting. He left me until last.
“Collins.[Pause] Collins, you’ll fail Irish. Not only will you fail Irish, but I hope you fail Irish. Not only do I hope you’ll fail Irish, I hope you’ll fail all your subjects in the Senior Certificate. Because a lazier, more useless waster never sat in a desk in a class of mine”. He went on along those lines for several minutes, as I recall. Not pleasant. But then it hadn’t been very pleasant when he was strapping me or thumping me about the head throughout the year either. So his going-away bad-wishes sort of fitted into the pattern.
I was seventeen then. For the next 30-40 years I loathed the Irish language and more or less everybody connected with it. Then eventually I began to see that I was allowing my bad experience (and my very bad teacher) to come between me and a beautiful language that had a unique value for anyone who was Irish. So I started attending conversational Irish classes from time to time; then a couple of friends with a similar interest started attending with me, which helped with motivation. The upshot was that last Spring, over fifty years after I’d had my going-away bad-wishes for the Senior Certificate Irish exam from my teacher, I sat my GCSE exam in Irish. On Thursday of last week a letter plopped on my doormat. And while I’m normally the most reticent of men, I must at this point be frank and answer the question that’s balanced on the tip of your rosy little tongue: “What mark did you get?” Answer [kicks the wall modestly]: A*. Picture me in my hallway leaping up and down for the next five minutes, pumping the air as I shout the name O’Hare and mix it with a selection of words that would make a flag-protester blush.
Which goes to show one of two things: (i) Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold – in this case very cold; or (ii) I am a pathetic grudge-holder who should sign himself into the nearest mental institution as soon as possible.