'Top student' tells of delight
Published 13/08/2014 | 06:30
Ireland's top-scoring school leaver, the son of a former attorney general, is optimistic the country's fortunes can turn around by the time he leaves college.
Conor Gallagher, 18, from Ballsbridge, in Dublin, achieved nine higher level A1s in his leaving certificate.
But the student at the 4,500 euro (£3,600) a year fee-paying St Michael's College on Ailesbury Road was modest about his remarkable results.
"It was a mixture of delight and shock really," he said.
"I couldn't really have expected that, to be honest. I was hoping to do well but nothing could have prepared me for that."
He is the youngest of three children to father Paul Gallagher, originally from Co Kerry and one of the country's top barristers, and mother Blathna Ruane, from Dublin, who is also a barrister.
Mr Gallagher was appointed attorney general, the government's chief legal adviser, by former Fianna Fail Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2007. He was in the top post for four years after being reappointed by Mr Ahern's sucessor Brian Cowen.
Conor plans to join his two older brothers - who also attended the exclusive St Michael's and both achieved maximum points - at University College Dublin, where they will all be studying law.
But he says he chose the business and law degree - one brother is studying the same course, the other is studying law and history - as he wasn't sure what he wanted to do in life.
"It was a bit of a last minute decision, I've always been very unsure of where I wanted to go," he said.
"I'll see how it goes and see if any particular area interests me.
"I know I wanted to go to college in Ireland, I wanted to stay close to my family, to my friends at this stage and I think UCD is a very good college and will give me a good grounding.
"Then whatever happens after that - obviously it's very tough at the moment, people being forced into leaving (Ireland) and some choosing to leave as well - I don't know, I'll see where my life takes me after this."
After getting his results from St Michael's shortly after 10am this morning, he telephoned his mother and father to share the news.
"They were just stunned and then when it sunk in they said they were delighted and proud," he said, adding that he couldn't quite believe it himself.
"It's a bit bizarre."
Conor said he kept his studying "ticking over every night" but always found time to play football and rugby, which he said helped him ease the pressure.
While he has no idea of a career yet, he said he was hoping Ireland will offer him some opportunities in the years to come.
"It's difficult to say, anything could change, but I'd be optimistic enough," he said.
"I'd be hopeful that things will improve, I think things are looking like picking up at the moment, we'll see what happens in a few years time."
Adding that he had no plans yet to celebrate, he said: "I'll probably do something."
Several high profile figures from politics, sport and the arts attended St Michael's, including artist Robert Ballagh, former Labour leader Ruairi Quinn, actor Allen Leech and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett.
Father Ted actor Dermot Morgan taught at the school for a time.
Conor was the highest ranking of 13 school leavers to receive straight A1s in their results, the other 12 scoring top marks in eight higher level papers.
Five were from schools in Dublin, three studying in Cork and the others from Donegal, Galway, Roscrea and Sligo.
The number of Leaving Certificate students getting top marks for maths has fallen despite more students taking the honours paper.
After success last year following changes to how the subject is being taught, official data on A1 grades has shown a fall from 700 last year to 558 this year.
Despite the dip, 14,326 pupils sat the higher level maths - 27% of the total and an increase on last year's record levels as they sought the extra 25 points on offer.
Some 3.9% of students scored A1, 6.3% A2 and 8.1% B1.
A similar pattern was seen in Irish, with the number of students at higher level increasing by 1,469 to 18,134 while those hitting the top mark dropped from 5.9% to 5.3%.
Some 56,990 students sat the Leaving Cert this year, an increase of 2.4% on last year.
Other subjects becoming more popular are physics, which saw an 11% rise in numbers sitting the exam, and Spanish, up 9%.
As school leavers around the country nervously awaited their results, Education minister Jan O'Sullivan said every student should be proud of their achievement.
"Students now have the opportunity to choose which path they want to take next," she said.
"There are a wide range of opportunities available in higher education, further education and in many other fields.
"It is an exciting time for young people and I would urge them to consider their options carefully and give 100% to whatever path they choose to follow next."
Ms O'Sullivan added that some students who have not received the grades they had hoped for still have excellent opportunities open to them, including Level 5 and Level 6 further education courses.
"They provide high-quality training for specific careers or can be an alternative route to higher education for those who wish to go to college or university," she said.
The State Examinations Commission said the statistics showed overall the results were broadly similar to the patterns seen in previous years.
The exam board also noted the slight but continued increase in the number of students studying non-curricular European Union languages - up 15 to 1,485 people taking the tests.
Croatian was offered for the first time this year, with 23 candidates taking the paper.
The most popular, as in previous years, was Polish with 750 sitting the exam followed by 269 sitting Lithuanian; Romanian with 134; and Latvian with 100.
The exam chiefs also pointed concerned students and parents to a helpline operated by the National Parents Council (Post-Primary) from early this morning (August 13) on 1800 265 165.
Skills minister Damien English said an upward trend in students taking science subjects including chemistry and physics was a welcome development.
"Regardless of the path that students choose to follow in the future, I hope they celebrate their achievements today with the same maturity they have shown in pursuing their studies over the past few years", he added.