The English syllabus at Leaving Cert centres around two general areas:

  • Comprehension; and
  • Composition.

In the comprehension section of the syllabus students learn how language shapes experiences through style and context.

In the compositon assignments,students will develop skills to use language to shape and order experience for themselves. The aim of the syllabus is to create a respect and recognition for language used accurately. This improves students proficiency in oral and written language skills. In addition the syllabus aims to give students an appreciation for English poetry and literature.

The exam at both higher and ordinary levels requires the student to sit two papers.

English is a compulsory subject for all those sitting the Leaving Certificate.


Leaving Certificate Examination 2014 - English

Students are required to study one text on its own, from the following texts

Circle of Friends - Maeve Binchy (Ordinary Level)

It began with Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, growing up, inseparable, in the village of Knockglen. Benny—the only child, yearning to break free from her adoring parents...Eve—the orphaned offspring of a convent handyman and a rebellious blueblood, abandoned by her mother's wealthy family to be raised by nuns. Eve and Benny—they knew the sins and secrets behind every villager's lace curtains...except their own.

It widened at Dublin, at the university where Benny and Eve met beautiful Nan Mahlon and Jack Foley, a doctor's handsome son. But heartbreak and betrayal would bring the worlds of Knockglen and Dublin into explosive collision. Long-hidden lies would emerge to test the meaning of love and the strength of ties held within the fragile gold bands of a...Circle Of Friends.

THEME / ISSUE: Relationships, Women, Loyalty and Betrayal

GENRE - This is a novel of social realism written in the third person narrative voice. The novelist makes extensive use of dialogue.

CULTURAL CONTEXT - The social background of this novel is rural and urban Ireland in the mid fifties. The Catholic faith is strong.

Circle of Friends

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen - Higher & Ordinary)

Pride And Prejudice, the story of Mrs. Bennet's attempts to marry off her five daughters is one of the best-loved and most enduring classics in English literature. Excitement fizzes through the Bennet household at Longbourn in Hertfordshire when young, eligible Mr. Charles Bingley rents the fine house nearby. He may have sisters, but he also has male friends, and one of these—the haughty, and even wealthier, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy—irks the vivacious Elizabeth Bennet, the second of the Bennet girls. She annoys him. Which is how we know they must one day marry. The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and Darcy is a splendid rendition of civilized sparring. As the characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, Jane Austen's radiantly caustic wit and keen observation sparkle.

THEMES: Love, Class, Courtship, Reputation, Journeys

GENRE: Comedy of manners

CULTURAL CONTEXT: The background of this novel is England in the mid nineteenth century.  Austin’s social world is restricted to dealing mainly with the middle classes

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Empire of the Sun - JG Ballard's (Higher and Ordinary Level)

Empire of the Sun is the story of a young boy in Shanghai who witnesses the outbreak of World War II and the bombing of Nagasaki.

THEMES - Coming of age, Change and transformation, Clashes of culture, War

GENRE·  The novel, although written in the third person narrative, is semi-autobiographical and is based on Ballard's childhood.

CULTURAL CONTEXT -The story is set during the time period between the attack on Pearl Harbour to the liberation of China after the surrender of Japan in September 1945.

The story is set in Shanghai.

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Empire of the Sub

How many miles to Babylon - Jennifer Johnston (Ordinary Level)

Alec and Jerry shouldn't have been friends: Alec's life was one of privilege, while Jerry's was one of toil. But this hardly mattered to two young men whose shared love of horses brought them together and whose whole lives lay ahead of them. When war breaks out in 1914, both Jerry and Alec sign up - yet for quite different reasons.

GENRE This novel is written in the genre of social realism, which means that it does not exceed the limits of reality. The characters are identifiably accurate as historical types, being Anglo Irish gentry and Catholic in Ireland of the early 20th century.

THEMES & ISSUES - War, Isolation Friendship

CULTURAL CONTEXT Alex and Jerry live in close proximity to one another, but are far apart with respect to their backgrounds. Jerry is part of the Catholic underclass,  educated in an ordinary school and left at a young age to work, whereas Alex is an only child of a wealthy Anglo Irish couple, he was educated at home and learnt the piano. These two characters have very different cultures.

How many miles to Babylon

Macbeth - William Shakespeare (Higher & Ordinary Level)

In MacbethWilliam Shakespeare's tragedy about power, ambition, deceit, and murder, the Three Witches foretell Macbeth's rise to King of Scotland but also prophesy that future kings will descend from Banquo, a fellow army captain. Prodded by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, he murders King Duncan, becomes king, and sends mercenaries to kill Banquo and his sons. His attempts to defy the prophesy fail, however;Macduff kills Macbeth, and Duncan's son Malcolm becomes king.

THEMES: The Fall of Man, Fortune, Fate, and Free will, Kingship and Natural Order, Disruption of Nature, Gender Roles, Reason Versus Passion

GENRE: Drama; Tragedy

CULTURAL CONTEXT: The play is set in 17th century Scotland. The King is a monarch with divine rights. His murder is seen to be a sacrilege in this culture at this time.

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Translations - Brian Friel (Higher and Ordinary)

The action takes place in late August 1833 at a hedge-school in the townland of Baile Beag, an Irish-speaking community in County Donegal. In a nearby field camps a recently arrived detachment of the Royal Engineers, making the first Ordnance Survey. For the purposes of cartography, the local Gaelic place names have to be recorded and rendered into English. In examining the effects of this operation on the lives of a small group, Brian Friel skillfully reveals the far-reaching personal and cultural effects of an action which is at first sight purely administrative.

THEMES: The Power of Language, Emmigration

GENRE:  Social realism target="_blank" rel="nofollow"Drama



Sive - John B Keane (Ordinary Level)

This is a story of greed, sex and bitterness, of a scheming matchmaker and a resentful woman forcing a beautiful young girl to marry an old man for money. Sive is a young and beautiful orphan who lives with her uncle Mike, his wife Mena and his mother Nanna. A local matchmaker, Thomasheen Sean Rua, wants Sive to marry an old man called Sean Dota. Thomasheen convinces Mike and Mena to organise the marriage. They will receive a sum of two hundred pounds as soon as she marries him. However, Sive is in love with a young man, Liam Scuab. But Liam is not suitable and is refused permission to marry Sive. Sive is distraught but is forced to do the will of her uncle and his bitter wife. Faced with an unthinkable future she takes the only choice left to her. Set against the harsh poverty and difficult times of 1950s Ireland, "Sive" caused considerable controversy on its debut in February 1959. Since then it has become an established part of Ireland's theatrical canon.

THEME: Love, Marriage, Money and Poverty

GENRE: The dialogue in the play is filled with conflict and realism.

CULTURAL CONTEXT: This play is set in Ireland in the fifties. It is a time of harsh poverty and people are measured in terms of the land and the crops they possess. 

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Never let me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro - (Higher and Ordinary)

From the acclaimed author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, a moving new novel that subtly reimagines our world and time in a haunting story of friendship and love.

As a child, Kathy–now thirty-one years old–lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance–and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.

THEMES: The fear of disorganisation and abandonment; The psychical aftermath of childhood; and The relationship between the institutional and the personal

GENRE: The genre of this novel and is science fiction

Never let me go

Home before night - Hugh Leonard (Ordinary)

Hugh Leonard's delightful autobiographical evocation of his Dublin childhood in the thirties and forties is like an Irish Cider with Rosie- crammed with people and conversations, risch in poetry, full of love, laughter and rare pleasures

THEMES: Memories, Relationships, Poverty

GENRE: This book is an autobiography. It is written in both the first and third person narrative voice

CULTURAL CONTEXT: The cultural context of this story is Dublin in the 30's and 40's. This was a time of poverty.


Home before night


The comparative modes for examination in 2014
Higher Level (i) Cultural Context
(ii) General Vision and Viewpoint
(iii) Theme or Issue
Ordinary Level (i) Relationships
(ii) Social setting
(iii) Theme

Shakespearean Drama

At Higher Level a play by Shakespeare must be one of the texts chosen.

Higher Level - eight poets are prescribed Elizabeth Bishop
Emily Dickinson
Seamus Heaney
Thomas Kinsella
Sylvia Plath
Philip Larkin
Derek Mahon
WB Yeats
Ordinary Level - 36 poems are prescribed