An exam test when bereavement strikes…

An exam test when bereavement strikes… Education Minister, Joe McHugh

A relative of mine lost her father – to whom she was especially close – just as she was about to face her Leaving Cert exam.

There was no option at the time but to proceed with the exam, despite her grief. She got through with distinction. Possibly, having to do the Leaving Cert gave her, at least momentarily, a focus away from a loss she felt deeply.

But there was another factor, too. “The Dominican nuns were absolutely fantastic.” She felt wholly supported by her teachers at the Dominican convent, who provided comfort, space to grieve, and a helpful environment at a distressing time. (This was years before schools had recourse to psychology counsellors.)


In another case that I know, a young schoolgirl chose to do an end-of-term exam directly after losing a parent – but probably would not have chosen to sit a major exam, where there was much more at stake.

This person, like many others, welcomes the decision by Education Minister Joe McHugh to allow students who have had a close family bereavement to sit alternative papers later on, in July, rather than adhering to the June timetable.

The move was prompted by a plea from Rhona Butler, who did an interview on the Ryan Tubridy Show speaking about the ordeal of having to sit the exam directly after losing her mother.

I heard that interview, and it was indeed moving. But I also admired the young woman for going through with the procedure, while experiencing such grief.

The option to allow more time, in the midst of a bereavement, is an enlightened one. Yet for some individuals, it can be better therapy to have to cope with what is already laid out in the scheduled programme. Much may depend, too, on how the student is otherwise supported, by her teachers and, perhaps, pastors.

Life does throw all sorts of ordeals at you, at all sorts of unexpected moments. Winston Churchill always told himself, when descending into the depths of despair: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”


Exams sometimes come under the criticism of being, in any case, unfair. They are only a snapshot of how you can summon the correct knowledge at a given moment – a moment when you may be unwell or under exceptional personal pressures – rather than a measured assessment of your broader accomplishments. But so much in life is like that – you get tested, sometimes, just when you are least feeling like it.

The Education Minister’s initiative is humane, but the hope must be that it will be seldom invoked and young people don’t suffer the pain of losing a close family member in their tender years.


Time to apologise to James Dillon?

In this week when we are remembering the Irishmen who fought with the Allies at D-Day on the Normandy beaches, perhaps it is time to revisit the case of James Dillon TD, who, in 1942, was expelled from Fine Gael for saying that Ireland should align herself with the American forces in the fight against Hitler.

Would this be a good opportunity for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to apologise for his party’s treatment of Mr Dillon?

James Dillon was a fervent Catholic, who believed – with good reason – that Germany had been taken over by the forces of evil. He spoke for his conscience as a Christian in opposing that evil.


Stout stunt has run its course

President Trump is a teetotaller – he quit drinking because his brother was an alcoholic – so we are spared the ritual of a visiting head of state pictured downing a pint of Guinness. I don’t want to sound like a fanatical Methodist preacher for whom all liquor is the devil’s libation, but this PR stunt by the brewers of stout has surely run its course.

It’s also been, on several occasions, a somewhat fake photo-opportunity, since several celebrity visitors didn’t find the black stuff at all to their taste, and only pretended to imbibe it!