He sat his Leaving Cert as one of his premature twins fought for his life in a neonatal intensive care unit.
But yesterday, Michael Normoyle, 18, was able to bring his thriving miracle boys, Joey and Charlie, back to school with his partner Gemma Kelleher, 18, to collect his results, even though their focus was more on night-feeds and nappies than on CAO points.
Michael, from Farranree in Cork, one of the 61,000 students who sat the Leaving Cert this year, said the results won’t define the class of 2022.
“I passed everything, and I’m delighted, but the results won’t define me. I have bigger priorities now,” he said.
All 61,000 exam candidates who got their results had their marks adjusted upwards — the average boost was 5.6% — to ensure the overall grades were no lower than 2021.
But it will lead to intense competition again this year for college offers in next Thursday’s first-round offers from the CAO.
“The sooner we get back to what might be called a normal Leaving Cert, the better,” Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, the president of University of Galway, said.
But for most students, the focus last night was on celebrating, like Christian Brothers College (CBC) students, Fearghal Desmond and Leonardo Mottareale, who both achieved a total of eight H1s.
Three more CBC students got seven H1s grades, with 13 CBC students achieving the maximum 625 points.
Michael and Gemma, who is from Togher, are teenage sweethearts, together since they were 14. Gemma was studying at the Cork College of Commerce when she discovered she was pregnant with twins.
But at the 12-week scan came the devastating news that one of the twins might not survive the pregnancy.
“That was very, very tough. I kinda lost any motivation around school and exams. I felt it might cost me my Leaving Cert. I didn’t think I’d be able to sit the exams,” Michael said.
The couple travelled to the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin for specialist treatment to maximise the babies’ chances of survival and attended regular medical appointments.
“We were going in for the scans hoping to hear two heartbeats. It really was a hoping game — all the way through,” Michael said.
Gemma went into labour at Cork University Maternity Hospital and gave birth on April 5 to two tiny little boys 11 weeks before their due date. Charlie weighed just 1lb 12oz. Joey weighed 3lb 2oz.
Michael said: “We didn’t know if they were going to be OK. I didn’t think they’d make it.
“They were put into what looked like plastic bags, and they were given oxygen straight onto their faces, and the medical team focused on Charlie, he was struggling the most.”
The babies spent weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit and Michael returned to school. By mid-May, Joey was strong enough to be discharged but Michael sat his Leaving Cert exams while Charlie was still in the neonatal unit, visiting him daily after every exam and in between working at his part-time job at the local SuperValu.
Michael praised his teachers at Terence McSwiney Community College for their support, Gemma for being so strong, his parents, Roslyn and John, his six sisters, and Gemma’s mother, Hazel, for their help.
“I remember saying to myself early in the year that I wouldn’t get down or sad if I didn’t get the Leaving Cert results I wanted,” he said.
“I promised myself that I wasn’t going to be over the moon if they went one way, or that I would throw myself under a bus if they went another way.
“The twins are flying it now. We have a lot of follow-up appointments, but so far, everything’s been good. They’re two bunters,” he said.
Michael started an apprenticeship with O’Sullivan Brothers a week after his exams, Gemma is hoping to go back to work early next year, and the couple is sharing parenting duties between their parents’ homes, in the hope of finding their own home soon.
Michael’s principal, Phil O’Flynn, said from his first day at the school, Michael has been a credit to his family, popular with peers and universally loved by staff.
“He is the boy you could rely on, always respectful to staff and always trying his best,” she said.
“When he told us he and his partner were expecting twin boys, we were determined to do everything we could to ensure that he would complete his leaving certificate and take one of the progression routes previously discussed with him,” she said.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, Michael was lucky to be in the village of Knocknaheeny.
“His parents supported him beautifully through the difficult days of the premature birth and showed incredible wisdom in their guidance of him.
“His classmates were there at every turn and the teachers ensured that projects were completed on time, often outside regular school hours.
“The icing on the cake was local company O’Sullivan Brothers offering Michael an apprenticeship and the future was again bright.”
She said Michael is testimony to the phrase “it’s not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you that matters”.
And she said the school is looking forward to welcoming Charlie and Joey as students in a few years.