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Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€)
Being Irish is a thought playing on everyone’s mind recently. It’s been called into question who we are and what we stand for now in comparison to the ideals of the rebel leaders in the GPO 100 years ago. In the political scheme of things, the general consensus seems to be that we have let them down. The homelessness crisis is deteriorating daily, our health system is woeful and we currently do not even have a government to blame it all on. It’s a far cry from the "romantic Ireland" they envisioned and fought for. Having said that, national pride is at an all time high. The 1916 centenary celebrations have made history buffs of us all as we celebrate this milestone event of our past. Whilst not everyone is in agreement that the Rising was the best way to gain our freedom, it has to be admired as the catalyst for a small nation to break free from seven hundred years of oppression exacted upon us by one of the biggest empires in the world. It beat all the odds. We should not have survived the war of independence and the subsequent civil war, in theory, should have brought the country to its knees, but we were too stubborn to give up, too determined to have our independence and too proud to give up on our country. Our history is the symbol of who we are as a people and we wear these shoes with pride.
Many of our customs have evolved from deeply spiritual and sacred practices from hundreds of years ago. It is a fantastic tribute to our culture that these old traditions are not dying out, but constantly being brought back to life by the younger generations. The session in the pub, the sing song on the way home, the stereotypical "craic agus ceol’" can only be found in Ireland and are appreciated by every generation and nationality who are fortunate enough to experience them first hand. (Hmm, in the introduction the author seemed a little dismissive of the auld craic agus ceol and now all of a sudden it's a good thing? It would be better to stay consistent throughout the essay.) Every family has that one member who can always be counted on to regale all in attendance with their go to song, usually "Rattling Bog", or the Gran Aunt who sits by the fire, just waiting to recite "Oh to have a little house…". Some will need a few drinks up their sleeves, before they launch into a murderous rendition of Ellis Isle, but others, from years of childhood cajoling, know they have a talent and are all too eager to remind everyone of that. The trick is finding the balance between the good, the bad, and the American cousin. (This paragraph is clearly about culture, so it's a huge improvement on the formless previous paragraph.)
|Galway. Image credit: Bethan Hill|
|Cork. Image credit: Bethan Hill|
As morbid as it sounds, a family funeral is one event designed to enchant the expats to get them to come home. Irish shoes are well worn because of our travelling gene. There is an adventurous streak in us that draws us to foreign countries, that’s why the Irish can be found in all corners of the globe, both exotic and not so exotic. (This is excellent: a transition and a clear explanation that this paragraph is going to be about the international aspect of Irish life.) London is basically a second Ireland, as is New York. I always find it ironic, for a rural people, we tend to emigrate to some of the biggest cities in the world, but then yearn to return home to the fresh air and green fields. In the past, this emigration was involuntary. Famine, recession and recession again, forced the Irish to spread their wings and depart for isles "of hope, of freedom, of fears". These emigrants knew they would never come back to our shores or see their families again. They weren’t blessed with the technology we have nowadays or the relatively cheap flights home at certain times of the year. When they left, they left for good. Strong Irish communities sprung up in areas like Queens in New York or Kilburn in London. So far away from home, and often alone, they needed a strong support network who knew where they came from and what they were going through. The Irish were drawn to each other and often lived, worked and socialised together. The clubs and societies they established form the same support network for today’s emigrants as they did hundreds of years ago. (Yes, that's true, this all happened to Irish people, but this doesn't fit in a personal essay on what it means to be Irish. It's not personal! Neither was the video, but at least it was something that the author saw herself and reflected on. Here she is just fantasising about Irish people in Queens. However, this could fit well into a speech or some other kind of analytical piece.)
|Cork. Image credit: Bethan Hill|
They left purely to earn money and survive, just as my Granddad did in the 1950’s. (Well, she should have lead with that!) From one point of view, you could say he was lucky that he only lived in London for the winter months, but on the other side, these must have been the toughest months of his year. During the winter the farm did not make enough money to sustain the family, so he went to work in an English sugar factory, leaving my grandmother behind to care for the farm and eleven children. He focuses on the entertaining and positive side of his emigration, and if we ever asked him about it, he would always tell the tale of burying the money in the back garden just before he left, in case of an emergency, but forgetting to tell Nanny about it! Then he’d show us his ticket for the ferry and we would begin to see just how difficult life must have been. He shared a bed, not a house, an apartment or even a room, but a bed with another Irish man who was also working in the sugar factory. When Granddad returned home from his shift, his cohabitant would be just leaving to start his, leaving a warm bed behind him for Granddad to hop into. The hard work needed to survive life in Ireland has made us a hardy bunch and may be to thank for the helping hand we are willing to extend to almost anybody. We appreciate the hardship everyone has endured and endeavour to lessen theirs, even if it means extending our own. (This is a captivating passage in its own right, but the author should have framed her conclusions in a more personal way: "I believe the hard work need to survive...")
|Donegal. Image credit: Stuart Medcalf|
The hospitality and generosity of one man, sums up that of the whole nation. We are generous and trusting to a fault. Even at a concert, we don’t want to seem rude by letting them leave without a thank you so we chant Ole, Ole, Ole.
The shoes of Irishness fit me well because I am so overwhelmingly proud of our culture, our heritage and our history. I am filled with pride when I speak about my country and even though I am eager to experience other cultures and live in other countries, Ireland will always be home. Ireland is where I learned that everyone can sing, even if you can’t. Ireland is where I was taught the value of hard work. Nobody takes anything too seriously in Ireland because everything is eventually "grand". Ireland is just one large village and although it feels stifling now, I know this is one of its secret charms. Ireland is where my family and my heart will always be.
The shoes of Irishness fit me well because I am Irish and that is all I’ve ever wanted to be.
Leaving Cert English Papers are marked using "PCLM"
Clarity of purpose:
- This is a really moving essay and a pleasant read. However, the author's message isn't all that clear. She loves being Irish, but the reasons are a jumbled up puzzle of anecdotes and judgements. Some of her paragraphs start with a clearly stated idea, e.g. "The Irish hospitality is something we are famed for and perhaps why family pubs are so popular with tourists." That salvages the essay to a huge degree. It would have been so easy for this bright and passionate author to do this with every paragraph, but instead many are kind of formless.
- What about purpose? She definitely examined Irishness, but in a kind of journalistic way. As if she was giving a talk about Ireland. It doesn't feel like a personal essay for the most part.
Coherence of Delivery
- The author tries to make transitions, but it's not always clear what ideas she is transitioning between.
Efficiency of Language
- A lot of overgrown messy sentences that were cleaned up in this edition of the essay.
- The author's language is very descriptive - that's great.
- Her paragraphs don't really have a beginning, middle and an end, except this one: "Some families, i.e. mine, have a policy of induction..."
Accuracy of Mechanics
It's all been tidied up here, but remember that this counts for 10%! (The other 3 weigh 30% each).
Problem one: word count of over 2000 words. That's way too long.
‘The shoes of Irishness fit me well’
This was the title of Leaving Cert English essay question I picked on the exam paper back in 2001. It was a topical subject at the time as we had just voted and rejected the Nice Treaty. I am happy to say that I wrote about how much I loved Irish culture and how I was proud and happy to be Irish. However, at seventeen, I was keenly aware that I hadn’t experienced many other cultures or countries. I wisely stated that I could not know for sure until I went out into the world, away from the small rural village and town I grew up in. Now years later, I have returned to Wexford, not the exact same spot but close to the same town I went to school in. So looks like the question is finally answered 13 years later. But it is not quite as simple as ‘Irishness suits me’
So following my Leaving Certificate, I headed off to the ‘Big Smoke’. Initially, I found it hard, in ways it was a different culture to rural Ireland, it was busier, the people were slightly different, however, I made friends who became my Dublin family. I lived my time in Dublin with the security of Wexford being just down the road for the next decade of my life.
On my travels over the next few years including a few months in Canada, a few months in Asia, New Zealand and then two years in China I have demonstrated my love of Ireland. Proudly, singing Irish songs (including a few controversial rebel songs in dorms in UBC, Vancouver with our new German friend who had tonnes of them on his laptop), subjecting hurling on anyone willing to sit still over the years (poor Czech Lucie and English Nicky), singing the National Anthem in the jungle in Thailand. I delighted in explaining how to pronounce my Irish name. Except for that time, I was referred to as ‘Onion’ for 4 days! I loved telling people that we had our own language as well as the Queen’s English in Ireland. I showed people pictures of Ireland; I had a coffee table book of Irish scenery in my Beijing apartment. In China, I became involved in Irish Network China, Beijing GAA etc., basically all the Irish stuff I could get involved in I did. I am happy, grateful and proud to be Irish for the culture, the scenery and for everything else it means.
However, in China I was immersed in a completely contrasting culture to my own. Here, a lot of great realisations dawned on me and I felt I could finally answer that Leaving Certificate Essay question with a degree of certainty. The difficulty I had in communicating (I couldn’t speak mandarin) left me with a lot of time to reflect and observe rather than being a motor mouth too busy talking to take anything in.
Picture flashback from the first few months in Beijing, I am alone in an apartment. No friends, freezing cold (winter in Beijing in pretty bleak) no job yet and struggling to learn the Mandarin. I looked out the window of our short term apartment on the 27th floor at the thick smog, so bad I couldn’t even see the apartment block across the road, I realised I didn’t miss Ireland exactly, I didn’t miss Dublin. I missed Wexford, I missed fresh air, quiet beaches, quiet country roads, I missed the locals (where everyone knows your name!), Irish food, Wexford hurling and basically I missed my family. The beach, quiet country walks, food and pride in Wexford hurling, simply sums up my childhood. Its familiar and secure.
The classic example is how much I missed Irish Food. During my time in Beijing, I explored so many different types of food. Beijing is a culinary delight. Foods from all over China and the world are available there. Yet I started making my mother’s stews, Shepard’s pies etc. when I was in China! It was comfort thing. In Dublin, if I cooked it was the latest Jamie Oliver pasta dish or a Thai curry– far from which I was reared. You couldn’t serve up my Dad pasta or rice – it’s not proper dinner if there are no potatoes!! This was a sign I was homesick, I was seeking the familiar in my mother’s cooking.
Homesickness wasn’t really about missing Ireland and Irish culture, it was more that I missed what was familiar to me, what made me feel secure and confident. I spoke to my Chinese friends about missing home. Luckily, they understood as they had all lived in Ireland and the UK away from the Chinese culture they knew so well and their families. Through, talking to them I understood, how displacing it is to be away from your family, the familiar like the food, your own country and what ‘norms’ you grew up with. China is polluted and so highly populated that it can make their lives difficult. I assumed that maybe my Chinese friends would love to go back to Ireland for the fresh air, the space and the milder weather. However, their family and culture they grew up with, the foods they find comforting and even the crowds of people, which is the norm for them, are in China. All of them were happy to be back, happy to stay and rear their families there. Furthermore, other friends from other countries, all missed their family, friends and often like me, familiar foods. Some people, like my friends, and I, miss what the ‘norms’ they grew up with, the security and familiarly of their own culture. It doesn’t necessarily mean one culture suits you better than another culture, it just means that sometimes you prefer the ‘devil you know’.
It looks like after 13 years; I can answer that Leaving certificate question with a bit more certainty. The shoes of Irishness fit me well because they are the most familiar, snug pair I have. They broken in and well worn. It’s the pair that I hope I will guide my daughter to wear with pride.