Leaving Cert English Personal Essay: Irishness #625Lab

“The shoes of Irishness fit me well.” 

Write a personal essay in which you explore your sense of what it means to be Irish. (2001)

This is a good essay from a current Leaving Cert student. It's published under our #625Lab section that reviews the strengths and weaknesses of students' essays. Note the corrections and comments: these will point you to common mistakes to avoid and help you increase your grade.

If you are looking for model H1 personal essays, here you go:
Personal Essay Sample Answer: Uncertainty (Sexuality)
Personal Essay Sample Answer: Uncertainty (Social Issues)
Personal Essay Sample Answer: Everyday Treadmill and Gilded Promises of Life
Personal Essay Sample Answer: Not all problems are physical
Personal Essay Sample Answer: A place you consider beautiful

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Problem one: word count of over 2000 words. That's way too long.

Just below green hills, in front of a glistening blue sea, caught between a field full of sheep and a shed packed with cows, in a village where everyone is either related or about to marry into the family, sits my home. (This elaborate description sets a high standard for the rest of the essay. It would also look good in a descriptive essay.) A picture perfect Irish stereotype. (Varying sentence lengths and structures like this is excellent.) Stereotypes, whilst some bear a sentiment of truth, barely skim the surface of what it means to be truly Irish. The Irish and our culture have a myriad of complexities that can’t simply be summed up by speaking about "the beautiful scenery" or "drinking, singing and having the craic" as some of the answers in my Irish oral would lead you to believe. Being Irish is an intrinsic part of me, something I can’t and wouldn’t ever want to change. The Irish are an entirely unique race onto themselves. But what does it mean to be Irish? And why do the shoes of Irishness fit me so well? (I've had to touch up lots of punctuation mistakes that invariably come with long sentences, but the tone here is excellent.)

Donegal. Image credit: Stuart Medcalf
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.

The wounds still run deep, many children scarred by their experiences of the Black and Tans, are still alive today. The political debacle currently playing out in the media stands testament to the youthfulness of our Republic. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, bitter civil war enemies, refuse to form a government due to those powerful tensions. A defunct oath, to a now dead King continues to stall progression. Apparently, even after ninety five years, Irish Politicians are still wearing their battle scars and neither side is willing to accept defeat and admit they were wrong. As much as this particular aspect of our history has been bemoaned in the past number of weeks, it all plays a massive role in defining who we are and why we are this way. It is something that influences our daily lives, customs, celebrations and even the unique way we speak, which is neither English nor Irish, but an amalgamation of both, producing a wild, distinctive dialect. (Why is this a separate paragraph? What is its main idea? It's not really any different to the one that came before it - and that's always bad. The author should have framed this paragraph as being about the reasons for the lack of political progress since 1916. Instead, it's just a bunch of random observations and judgements.)

The shoes of Irishness fit me well
Monaghan. Image credit: Bethan Hill
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.)

Some families, i.e. mine, have a policy of induction. I will never forget the absolute fear coursing through my thirteen year old veins when, cruelly, my older cousins informed me, that to stay at the party and be invited to all other gatherings, I would have to perform: "We’ve all done it, even Mark". Naively, I dragged myself up to the top of the room and picked a corner to stare into it, because that was part of the deal too, "everyone has to see you." Of course, I was never going to be thrown out of a family party, but my innocence and that breathless song trapped me for life. These party pieces are uniquely Irish and no family gathering is complete without them. There is no party like an Irish party. Weddings can often carry on until 5am and funerals literally last days. (That's true, but it doesn't support the idea that no party is like an Irish party. Lots of cultures are like this. The author could lose marks for Coherence of Delivery here.)

The shoes of Irishness fit me well Personal essay
Galway. Image credit: Bethan Hill
The Irish wake, is one of the best ways to deal with the loss of a loved one. The whole family gathers and grieves together. The best part of the wake is that it truly is a celebration of the person’s life: stories are told, their favourite songs sung, you laugh until your stomach aches and cry until your eyes sting, but it is so wonderfully cathartic to, metaphorically, bring the person back to life, surrounded by family, before it is time to say goodbye for once and for all. The video that recently went viral sums this tradition up. Ger "farmer" Foley passed away in the village of Killorglin, after a long battle with CF. On the night of his funeral, a friend decided to dedicate his version of "Mr Brightside" to the young man. The pub lit up with a huge out pouring of emotion for their friend. Crucially, there were no tears. The song was a celebration of his life, a celebration of the contribution he made to a local festival, a celebration of his life and how he lived it. That’s what a funeral should be and that’s what an Irish funeral is. It’s a unique part of our culture that can’t be appreciated fully until you are grieving through it. The video was shared hundreds of times across social media, often accompanied by the quote: "Being Irish you know that a good funeral is better than a bad wedding." The international reaction was one of shock and admiration. It seemed to confirm that the Irish, even in death, are always enjoying themselves. (This is an improvement on the previous paragraph as it illustrates that there indeed isn't a party like an Irish party.)

Leaving Cert Higher Level English Personal Essay
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.)

Leaving Cert Higher Level English Personal Essay
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...")

The Irish hospitality is something we are famed for and perhaps why family pubs are so popular with tourists. The Irish will go out of their way to be as welcoming as possible to guests. I am reminded again of another of my Granddad’s anecdotes. His house was overflowing one Christmas, as all his sons had decided this was the year they would introduce their girlfriends to the family. Twenty one people were booked in to stay at the Murphy Inn that night, spread between four rooms. Kevin, the eldest son, had recently moved to Cork and had become well-known after the impression he left on the football pitch. According to my aunt’s account, he made a very good impression on the local parish priest there. Some girl from the parish was stuck in Kerry for the night and the priest directed her back to "Kevin Murphy's house." Just like that, she was invited to stay for the night, even though none of the twenty one people had ever laid eyes on her before. That is only one of hundreds of examples of Grandad’s excessive hospitality. He was also known to invite a travelling gypsy to move in whilst Nanny was in hospital one week or to open up the back garden to twenty Kilkenny nurses looking for a place to camp during the "Rose of Tralee" festival.

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).

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