The dreaded examiner’s red pen!

Students across Ireland, and further afield, are in the depths of studying and/or exams. We feel their pain. We too have been through the torturous hours of study followed by those terrifying few seconds at the beginning of an exam when your brain goes blank!

It will do all students good to remember that the great and the good of yesterday and today have had to sit exams at some stage in their lives. Some did well, some not so well.

Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary, soldier and politician, was living in London studying to become a civil servant before he played his part in Irish history. Collins emigrated from Clonakilty, Co. Cork, to London at the age of 16. He lived with his sister, Hannah, in West Kensington while studying for his Civil Service exams. Students today turn to publications like Cliff Notes and online forums such as StuDocu to help them prepare for their exams. Luckily, over one hundred years ago, Collins was able to avail of a handy publication called ‘Civil Service Hints’ to help him get exam ready.

Collins passed his initial exams and was appointed a Clerk in the Post Office Savings Bank at Blythe House in London. But he hoped to go where the prospects were good and the pay was even better. Collins had set his sights on a post in the Customs and Excise Service.

Apart from having to study and qualify in accountancy, taxation, economics and commercial law Collins also had to brush up on his essay writing and knowledge of the British Empire. Therefore he enrolled in night classes in King’s College London. In the papers of Michael Collins held in UCD Archives, there are numerous exam papers, essays, notes etc written by Collins. They give us a clear window and insight into what he was learning at that time.

As can be seen from the corrected essays above, no matter who you, the red pen fears no one! But Collins did not only bury his head in the books relevant to his career, he also began to learn Irish. Not long after arriving in London, he joined the Sinn Féin Club in Chancery Lane. It was there he started to attend Gaelic League classes to learn Irish and he gradually began to grasp the nuances of the language with it’s beautiful and unique alphabet. Collins passed his final Irish exam in 1912 with flying colours, being awarded 84.5%!

Irish certificate

Michael Collins Irish certificate from Conradh na Gaeilge in London, 1912 (UCDA P123/25)

With Collins’ ever deepening involvement in the Irish community in London, his grá for an Ireland free from British rule grew. This meant that a decision had to be made. Did he either focus on his career or his calling to be part of those who could bring about an Irish Republic? In April 1910 he resigned his position in the Post Office and gave up his studies in Kings’ College. Instead he took up a much less taxing position as clerk in charge of messengers in the stockbrokers Horne & Company. This left him with more time to pursue his activities in the struggle for an Irish Republic.

And the rest is history as they say..

So when you are burning the midnight oil to get those last few hours of study in, remember that even Michael Collinsan Irish patriot, true and fearless‘ endured and survived the examiner’s red pen!!

Best of luck!

Best of luck!

  • This post was researched and written by Meadhbh Murphy, Archivist, UCD Archives.

Leave a Reply