Having one child sit the Leaving Cert is a challenge but when you have quintuplets, it's a whole other ball game!
Ireland's only quintuplets - Conor, Cian, Rory, Amy and Dearbháil Cassidy - have had a year to remember, as have their parents, Veronica and Kevin. In August the quintuplets celebrated their 18th birthdays at the Rotunda Hospital, where they were born on August 16, 2001. The birth of the 'Famous Five' that year was national news - (rightly so as quintuplets are a one in every 55 million births natural phenomenon) - and saw the babies feature as tiny guests on The Late Late Show.
Bridgetown couple Veronica and Kevin were originally told that she was carrying just one child. At the following scan, consultants told them it could be twins or perhaps triplets. Then, at the 11-week scan, they confirmed it was quintuplets. Born on August 16, at just over 25 week's gestation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), they weighed between 1lb 6oz to 1lb 11oz at birth.
The children remained in hospital until December of that year. Now fully grown, they each have their own distinct personalities.
Being under one roof for eight weeks has been a breeze, mostly, as they all get on famously, Rory told this newspaper. 'We do get along and this has brought us a little bit closer together as, literally, we can't do anything else but spend time in each other's company. Like all siblings we have our moments; it's not going to be harmonious all of the time.'
Up until March 12, they attended Bridgetown Vocational College, where Kevin works as caretaker.
When the school was closed, they were happy with how their studies were progressing.
Rory said: 'The mocks were pretty good. They gave us a good idea of where we stood and we were using them to progress on to the Leaving Cert in June. Then that day in March came along and everything was torn apart very quickly. If someone would have told us that this was the way it would end up at the start of the year I would have laughed.'
Describing the months of April and early May as 'messy' as there was no certainty as to the Leaving Cert start date, Rory said: 'We were led one way and then led the other and now we are in a new situation. It has not been an easy couple of months but it has been interesting. We have learned a lot.'
As for studying under one roof trying to attend Zoom class meetings and do online study, it posed big challenges.
'Luckily our broadband is fibre so it's good. We had our own areas where we were able to study, either in our rooms or at the kitchen table. We had three laptops, so two had to work on the phone. It wasn't ideal; we kinda worked at it the best we could.'
As for maintaining discipline and getting up early to study, there were varying results.
'I'll probably be shot for saying this but Cian had the most difficulty getting up in the morning.'
He said all five worked away on their studies, managing to ramp up their work as the days ticked down through March towards the Leaving Cert.
'I do really think we worked well, given the situation we found ourselves in. We worked until something changed then we adapted and worked until it changed again.'
For Rory, who is a keen athlete, running gave him head space and some of the siblings enjoyed long walks within the 2km radius.
Veronica kept them fed and their spirits up, while Kevin continued maintenance work at the school.
To pass the time, they enjoy family quizzes on Zoom.
'We have talked more and, like everyone, we have a bit more time to do things so we have benefited from that.'
When it was announced by Minister for Education Joe McHugh that the Leaving Cert had been cancelled in favour of calculated grades, there were five collective exhalations of relief in the Cassidy household. The mental toll of the past few weeks had been relieved, but there was also disappointment.
'There was an element of relief, but there was also an element of disappointment that our secondary school years were gone in the click of a finger and we won't get them back again.'
Having gone to school together since they were little children, first to Kilmore NS and later to Bridgetown Vocational College, the siblings will soon be going off to different universities, all going to plan.
Being in each other's company is all they have ever experienced.
'It's all we've ever known. For us it's normal even if it doesn't sound like normalcy. I think we'll definitely miss the school. We were six years there and we got used to going in every day. It becomes a routine, so [it's hard] especially how it ended. We left on March 12 and thought we'd be back in there in a week. We will miss the school, the teachers and our friends.'
Rory hopes to study Journalism in DCU or English and History in Maynooth. Amy is also hoping to expand her knowledge of the media with a Media & TV Production course. Conor aims to study Irish and Business at Maynooth and to go on to become a primary school teacher. Dearbháil wants to study Veterinary Nursing, while Cian is considering a career working with horses.
Rory and his siblings have accepted the minister's decision but would be happier if there was an option to sit the exams this summer or early autumn, so that they have a second pathway into third level this year.
Rory said: 'I have a concern as they are talking about a school profiling system possibly being used to factor in results from previous years in the school. I don't think that would be fair as it's your own work that should be assessed.'
As for two of the Famous Five being interested in pursuing careers in media, Rory admits that being in the glare of the media spotlight most of their lives may have factored into their interest in the career.
For now they are enjoying their time together, grateful for one another's company during these long summer days.
'Going to the Rotunda in August was a real eye-opener. It was really striking. They took us to the intensive care unit where we would have been and we walked around and saw mothers and babies and learned all about how we were born.'
After meeting the midwives and doctors who helped with their high-risk delivery, Conor, Cian, Rory, Amy and Dearbháil, were presented with a giant birthday cake and balloons to mark the occasion. When asked if the cake was finished, Rory laughed, saying: 'Well there are seven of us. Of course we did!'
We do get along and this has brought is a little bit closer together as literally we can't do anything else but spend time in each other's company.