Irish, also known as Gaeilge, is a language that many secondary school students would have taken. Therefore, this article serves as a guide. When I was in secondary school, a lot of students like myself, planned not to count Irish as part of the six CAO subjects that are calculated towards CAO points. However, Irish is a structured subject for the Leaving Cert in the sense that students know what will come up. For example, both Higher and Ordinary Level students know that there will be reading comprehensions and written composition in Paper One, as there have been in the previous years. Therefore, they can prepare in advance.
Higher Level students would learn the structure of a debate or speech, and phrases associated with it, if they plan on doing that option. Students from other levels would learn the letter structure and phrases that can be used. Evidently, the exam is so structured to the point where students can readily prepare for the exam, knowing what to expect. Sometimes, even the topics themselves can be quite predictable and the type of proses or poems that will come up.
Since it is so feasible to prepare for the Leaving Cert Irish exam because of the way it is structured, I decided to do that, and Irish ended up being counted as one of my best six subjects for CAO points in the end. Nevertheless, unexpected things can go wrong in the Leaving Cert for a particular subject that a student intended to count. Nerves may even get the best of a student on the day of the exam. Therefore, it is not best to rule out Irish as a subject and just doing it for the sake of university requirements because if studied well, students can get a H1/01, H2/O2 or even a H3/O3 in Irish without speaking it fluently.
Read this guide to the Gaeilge Leaving Cert exam to find out how the exam is structured, so you also can prepare for the exam.
What are the Leaving Cert Irish Syllabus Guidelines?
Curriculum.ie has set out a document in Irish outlining the Leaving Cert Irish curriculum, certified by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. This guide will translate and simplify the 65-page document describing the Irish curriculum that Irish teachers teach according to its guidelines and what secondary school Irish textbooks are created to follow. Irish is learned from primary school into secondary school and the Leaving Cert Irish syllabus takes off from Junior Cert Irish and students are encouraged to share their views on a range of topics, which is mainly applied to Paper One.
Firstly, the Leaving Cert Irish curriculum aims to provide for the development of students’ Irish in critical, creative, cultural, emotional, intellectual, political, and social areas for them to use in their working life and during their past times. The Gaeilge curriculum aims to prepare the Irish linguistic skills of students for further education and training, employment and as citizens. The official syllabus separates the Higher Level curriculum from the Ordinary Level curriculum. Notably, Foundation Level students just follow the Ordinary Level curriculum but use Foundation Level past papers.
Also, there are a lot of similarities between the curriculums for the different levels. Both curriculums aim to allow the students to speak Irish according to their ability which they can use in the country; to improve the written, spoken, reading and hearing of the Irish language, for students to explore the Irish culture and opportunities available through Gaeilge, and for students to develop a positive mindset towards Irish which can lead to developing positive mindsets towards learning other languages and cultures.
Moreover, students should get a historical context of Irish culture and understand the cultural aspect according to the syllabus. Students should also have language awareness and be able to note the differences and similarities between Irish and English. The purpose of the listening exam is for understanding the spoken language. The reading comprehensions are to align Irish with students’ experiences and interests. The prose and poetry are to explore Irish literature. There is also an emphasis on spoken and written Irish.
The syllabus is divided into: the student and their environment, school and work, the Irish language around us, the life of young people, the media, and other topics that interest students. These are then sub-divided into other topics like the student themselves, their locality, school, the education system, friendship, music, sport, past times, Irish, the media, working life, travel and languages, the weather, specific people, religion, ethics, culture, problems with young people, industry, the environment, national and international affairs, the state system, money, fashion, food, health, holidays, and other topics that interest students.
The proses on the course for the different levels are Oisín i dTír na n-Óg, An Gnáthrud/Seal i Neipeal, Dís, Hurlamaboc and Cáca Milis/An Lasair Choille. The poems on the course are An Spailpín Fánach, Géibheann, An tEarrach Thiar, Mo Ghrá-sa (idir lúibíní) and Colscaradh.
Luckily, there is not much difference between the Higher Level syllabus and the Ordinary/Foundation Level syllabus, which is good for students that decide to drop from Higher Level to Ordinary Level on the day of the exam. The exclusive addition to the Higher Level course is the extra literature which is a choice between the extra prose or the extra poem. In Paper Two, the extra poems or proses is used to answer the additional literature question. The prose options are An Triail, A Thig Ná Tit Orm (chapters 1-8), Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (page 1-72), Gafa (page 7 – 64) and Canary Wharf. The poem options are Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (lines 1-68; 177-188), Fill Arís, A Chlann, Colmáin and Éiceolaí.
How is Leaving Cert Irish Assessed?
Firstly, there is the option of taking Irish at Higher Level, Ordinary Level and Foundation Level. The Gaeilge exam for Leaving Cert is clearly connected with the syllabus. In fact, you can see the different topics under the curriculum above and easily identify the part of the exam in which they appear. The exam is assessed in three components - the oral, the written and the aural/cluastuiscint. The written part is then divided into Paper One and Paper Two.
At both levels, the oral is 240 marks/40%, the listening is 60 marks/10%, the composition on Paper One is 100 marks/17% so Paper One is 27%. Paper Two at both levels is 33% with the reading comprehensions being 100 marks/17% but the prose and poetry are 30 marks each for Higher Level (5% each) and 50 marks each for Ordinary Level (8.3% each).
Finally, the additional literature for Higher Level is 40 marks/6.67%. For the oral, the different parts are the welcome, reading the poetry, the sraith pictiúr and the conversation. These are explained in detail in the article describing the Irish Leaving Cert oral experience with advice specific to these areas.
How to Prepare for Leaving Cert Irish?
As Leaving Cert Gaeilge continues from Junior Cert Irish, it is a good idea to brush up on your Junior Cert knowledge. Students argue that there is no way to prepare for the aural exam. However, doing past papers greatly benefits listening comprehension. You can find more advice on the aural prep here. Also, go through the list of topics mentioned above from the syllabus and make sure that you know phrases on these topics and can answer written compositions on these topics. Surround yourself with Irish before the exam by watching Irish shows and listening to Irish music, so that you are in the zone for the exam.
If you want to spice up your exam, include Irish proverbs to advance your level of Irish which are available to find through many online resources. When you add them in, make sure that they are suitable for the area you are putting them in. For example, ‘aithnítear cara i gcruatán’ means that ‘a friend is known in times of hardship’ and can be used in the oral when talking about friendship or even in an essay where friendship is mentioned. It is helpful to learn some general proverbs that can be used for different topics.
If you learn a lot of phrases for different topics, not all the phrases might be useful, so do not force a phrase or sentence in your exam just because you learnt it off. When it comes to the poems and proses on the course, study them really well and be able to answer the thematic, character and style-related questions that are asked about them.
Lastly, the verbs are vital to perfect in anticipation of the exam because the whole Irish paper is littered with verbs. They will come up in every aspect in the different tenses. The reading comprehension requires Higher Level students to identify a verb in a given tense. Therefore, regardless of the level of Irish, knowing the Irish verbs is a priority and there is an article you can read to find out more, such as the basic rules regarding regular verbs.
Learning Gaeilge with Superprof
Superprof has millions of tutors and counting. Many of these tutors like myself have done the Irish Leaving Cert and can tell you about the experience. If you are looking for advice on how to improve in Irish, many tutors are willing to give such advice. There are many grinds opportunities available to you through Superprof for the different components of the exams that are assessed. Even for something as simple as perfecting your reading of the poetry, you will find a tutor to help you through Superprof. Your Gaeilge tips are just a click away!