University Philosophical Society
Crest of the University Philosophical Society
Officers of the University Philosophical Society, 330th Session
|Hon. President||Sarah Mortell|
|Hon. Secretary||Clare Ní Cheallaigh|
|Hon. Treasurer||Jamie Buckley|
|Hon. Registrar||Hugh Guidera, Sch.|
|Hon. Debates Convenor||Ludivine Rebet|
|Hon. Librarian||Cormac Henehan|
|Hon. Steward||Anna Nichols|
|Hon. School Convenor||Lucy Murray|
The University Philosophical Society, commonly known as The Phil, is a student paper-reading and debating society in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Founded in 1683, it is the oldest student, collegial and paper-reading society in the world.
The society is based within the Graduates Memorial Building of Trinity College. Throughout its long history it has welcomed many prominent guests and some of its most notable members include Ernest Walton, John Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde.
- 1 Society
- 2 History
- 3 Governance
- 4 The Bram Stoker Club
- 5 Competitive debating
- 6 Phil Speaks
- 7 Awards
- 8 Honorary patrons
- 9 Controversies
- 10 Notable members
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The Phil's members meet every Thursday during term to discuss a paper, debate a motion or hear an address. Traditionally a paper-reading society, meetings sometimes continue the format of responses to a paper rather than debate on a motion.
Its rooms are within the Graduates' Memorial Building (GMB) of Trinity College, which it has shared with the College Historical Society (the Hist) since the building's construction in 1902, where it provides facilities for its members such as a games and a conversation room. The Phil shares the use of its Bram Stoker Room with the College Theological Society (the Theo). It holds most of its meetings in the GMB's Debating Chamber with meetings having an expected audience of above two hundred being held in the larger lecture theatres of the college.
The society also hosts numerous social events, internal competitions, sporting events, blood drives and the occasional concert. It endeavours each year in providing debating workshops, developmental competitions for members and school children. Furthermore, it has a strong history in intervarsity debating competitions, at both an international and national level.
The society publishes The Philander as an annual Freshers' guide to the society.
Membership of the society is open to each Undergraduate, Postgraduate student and staff member of Trinity College. It is unique among the societies within the college, as it is the only such society to offer four year membership. This means that should a person join in their Junior Freshman year they would still be a member for their entire time of study at the college.
The history of the University Philosophical Society spans over three centuries, several guises, identifies and name changes.
Foundation in the 17th century
In 1683, natural philosopher and political writer William Molyneux (b. 1656) founded the Dublin Philosophical Society, with the assistance of his brother Sir Thomas Molyneux and future Provost St George Ashe. They intended it to be the equivalent of the Royal Society in London (with which it maintained cultural ties) as well as the Philosophical Society at the University of Oxford. The society was traditionally a paper reading society; however it also included many demonstrations of the latest science and mathematical endeavour of that era. The first meeting on 15 October 1683 was in the Provost's lodgings at Trinity College, Dublin, a location where members continued to meet.
Sometime after December 1683, Provost Robert Huntington became the society's first Senior Patron, promising protection and assistance, a role the Provost of Trinity College still holds. While at the time no particular precedent existed for Trinity College to recognise it, it can be considered the college's first such society.
On 1 November 1684 William Petty was elected as the first President of the society, and William Molyneux elected as its first Secretary. The current numbering takes this as the first session of the University Philosophical Society.
Reformation in the 19th century
In November 1842, to mark the original session date the Dublin Philosophical Society was fully reformed under its original name, traditionally meeting on Mondays, to cater for those Trinity College students too young to join other societies in Dublin.
At the time, undergraduates were not allowed to join most College societies, such as the College Historical Society. It then became the Dublin University Philosophical Society in February 1843 when it was recognized by the college, with then Provost Franc Sadleir reassuming the traditional role of Senior Patron.
In 1860, the Dublin University Philosophical Society changed its name to the University Philosophical Society. This makes the Phil the oldest, student, paper-reading, and collegial society in the world, as well as currently being the largest such society in Ireland.
The society suffered greatly, with the rest of Trinity College during the First World War. Ireland was still part of the British Empire during the outbreak of the war and so many Irish enlisted. Interestingly however there was a diverse mixture between members who predominantly described as being part of the Protestant Ascendancy and those who believed more in Irish republicanism.
The meetings and overall strength of the society was massively diminished during the period, with there being no Inaugural Meeting from 1913 until 1919 after the end of the war.
From 1913 (229th Session) to 1916 (231st Session) ten officers of the society resigned their positions to enlist. Minutes from the time mention that many more members of the society would go on to enlist, however their names went unrecorded.
In 1919 the names of eight past officers and members of council of the society who had been killed during the war was read aloud at the Opening Meeting.
- James Austin, President 1913-1914 (229th Session).
- AEL West, President 1915-1916 (231st Session).
- Reverend Everard Digges La Touche, Seceratary 1907-1908 (223rd Session).
- JHF Leland, Treasurer 1909-1910 (225th Session).
- Walter Osborne Varian, Treasurer 1915-1916 (231st Session).
- JS West, Registrar 1914-1915 (230th Session).
- Francis George McGibney, Member of Council 1912-1913 (228th Session).
- William Kee, Member of Council 1914-1915 (230th Session).
Of them and those other members who gave up their lives, we can only say that while the University Philosophical Society stands they shall not be forgotten, since such men, by their deaths, have conferred on their Society, and on all connected with them, an honour that does not fade.
— Society Records, extract from the first Opening meeting of the Society in 1919.
The Irish War of Independence began shortly after the beginning of 1919, public and political will to remember those lost during the war was weak. This meant that the names of many more members of the society who were also killed during the First World War went unrecorded by the society.
Dublin University Elizabethan Society
The first female students were admitted to the college in 1904, however they were unable to join any of the student societies that existed at the time. In response to this the Dublin University Elizabethan Society (more commonly known as The Eliz) was founded in 1905. The society was a female-only debating society, having sent teams to the Irish Times National Debating Championship from relatively early in the competitions history. It also hosted many debates, paper discussions, group discussions and the Eliz Garden Party (within Fellow's Square) which was considered one of the social highlights of Trinity term in the college. Each year the society welcomed esteemed guests to speak on topics regarding the history, the societal limitations of women and feminism. These included such guests as Ninette de Valois, dancer and founder of the The Royal Ballet, who visited in late 1964 to celebrate the society's 60th year.
From the mid-1960s there had been great debate within both the University Philosophical Society and the Dublin University Elizabethan Society regarding a merger of both societies into one. There was strong individual opposition within both societies however, with the resignation of then President of the Phil Gordon Ledbetter over the proposal in 1967 and a vote in 1968 by the Eliz rejected the merger. However in 1982 the Dublin University Elizabethan Society merged with the University Philosophical Society, which vastly increased female membership and increased debating within the society.
Today as a symbolic gesture, the highest ranking female officer of the Phil is accorded the honorary title of Auditrix of the Elizabethan Society.
Current Auditrix of the Elizabethan Society
|Hon. President||Sarah Mortell|
Inclusion of Women
In February 1954 the society voted to allow women to attend its meetings (which included paper-reading and debates). A year later the society allowed women full membership, however this decision was vetoed and then overruled by the Board of the college.
In 1965 Joanna Walmsley presented the first paper by a woman to the society entitled "Tolstoy - Realist or Moralist?" to the society, with women only being allowed to reply to papers from 1963.
The society voted to admit women to full membership in late Michaelmas term of 1967 (23 November). Full membership allowed women to attend meetings and the full use of the society's Conversation Room. This had come after some quite heated debate within the society and with college authorities. On 30 November 1967 Elizabeth Hall became the first female member of the society. This meant women were allowed to attend meetings fifteen years before and full membership almost two years before the Hist did the same.
Today the University Philosophical Society is the largest student society within the college and Ireland. Its meetings include weekly paper readings and debates. Additionally it invites many internationally esteemed guests each year, regularly interviews with public figures, which have included Al Pacino, Desmond Tutu, Angela Merkel and Stephen Fry.
Among the notable events held was the demonstration of an early telephone by Stephen Yeates in 1865.
The Phil is governed by a Council elected by the members of the society each year. There are eight officers: President, Secretary, Treasurer, Registrar, Debates Convenor, Librarian, Steward, and Schools Convenor. All officers are directly elected. In addition to the officers are a fourteen Members of Council.The Members of Council serve as deputies to the officers, aid in the execution of their responsibilities and any other such work necessary for the efficient running of the society. Six are directly elected each year. One of these six is then selected by the Council to serve as Vice President of the society. The Senior Member of Council is also elected in the same manner as the officers of the society and is delegated the responsibility of co-ordinating the other Members of Council. The newly elected Council may then add up to seven further Members of Council via co-option.
Members of Council, 330th Session
|Senior Member of Council||Fionn McGorry|
|Pro-Secretary||Eoin O'Gorman, Matthew Nuding|
|Pro-Treasurer||Shannon Buckley Barnes|
|Pro-Debates Convenor||Stepan Lavrouk, Rachael O'Byrne, Conan Quinn|
|Pro Librarian||Teresa Basquel Fahy, Aisling Crabbe|
|Pro-Steward||Eimear Gorey, Orla Delaney|
|Pro-Schools Convenor||Cian Henry, Sarah Upton|
The Bram Stoker Club
In addition to its usual events, the society added a sub-group, the Bram Stoker Club (more commonly known as Bram), to its organization in 2011. Named after one of the Phil's most illustrious presidents (Bram Stoker), the club holds weekly afternoon paper-readings on a range of topics. These paper-readings have served to carry on the long tradition of the society, which had fallen slightly out of fashion in recent years.
In January 2013, the Club was incorporated into the official laws of the University Philosophical Society by majority vote. This was then officially recognised by the Dublin University Central Societies Committee in March of the same year.
During the 4th Session, the club welcomed three living descendants of its namesake Bram Stoker. Noel Dobbs, Robin MacCaw and Dacre Stoker met with members of the club and society at large. Each presented papers on the history of Bram Stoker and legacy of Dracula within their family. Also in attendance was distant relative and Senator David Norris. Finally the Stoker family presented the club with portrait of Bram Stoker by Dublin artist Damian Byrne, and a plaque specifying the connection between the society and their ancestor.
|2010-2011||1st||Clíodhna Ní Ghuidhir and John Engle|
|2011-2012||2nd||Leah Morgan, Brian Higgins, Sch. and Jamie Donnelly|
|2012-2013||3rd||Sarah Grace, Gavin Tucker, Sch., Fionn McGorry and Keith Murphy|
|2013-2014||4th||Fionn McGorry, Cormac Henehan, Turlough Heffernan, Sch.|
|2014-2015||5th||Liam Hunt, Huda Awan, Patrick Lavelle.|
The society endeavors each year to enable its membership to engage in competitive debating both externally and internally to the college. This includes holding workshops, regular weekly competitive debates, as well as traveling to other colleges throughout Ireland and abroad to compete in similar competitions.
External Debating Competitions
The society has a strong presence and list of accomplishment on the competitive debating circuit. Having first won the Irish Times National Debating Championship in 1961 the society has gone on to win and place in several other well known debating competitions. These include the John Smith Memorial Mace, World Universities Debating Championship, Irish National Law Debates, Cork IV and the UCD Vice Presidents' Cup IV.
External Debating Competition Success
|2014||Irish Mace||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & Adam Noonan||Win|
|2014||Irish National Law Debates||Hugh Guidera & Michael Barton||Win|
|2014||John Smith Memorial Mace||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & Adam Noonan||Finalists|
|2013||World Universities Debating Championship||John Calvin Engle III & Adam Noonan||Elimination Round|
|2013||Irish Times National Debating Championship||John Calvin Engle III & Liam Brophy (Bram Stoker Club)||Finalists|
|2013||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Eoin O'Liathain & Brian O'Beirne||2nd|
|2013||Irish National Law Debates||John Calvin Engle III & Glen Rogers||Finalists|
|2013||UCD Vice Presidents' Cup IV||Hugh Guidera & Michael Barton||Win|
|2013||Cork Inter-varsity||Hugh Guidera & Liam Hunt||Finalists|
|2013||SOAS Inter-varsity||Michael Barton||Best Speaker|
|2012||World Universities Debating Championship||David Byrne & Ricky McCormack||Elimination Round|
|2012||Oxford Inter-varsity||John Calvin Engle III & Adam Noonan||Finalists|
|2012||Cork Inter-varsity||John Calvin Engle III & Adam Noonan||Win|
|2011||Irish National Law Debates||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & John Calvin Engle III||Win|
|2011||Irish Mace||Ricky McCormack & Fiachra Fallon Verbruggen||Finalists|
|2011||Cork Inter-varsity||David Byrne & Ricky McCormack||Finalists|
|2011||Cork Inter-varsity||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & Fletch Williams||Finalists|
|2010||Irish National Law Debates||Ruth Faller & Catherine Murphy||Win|
|2010||UCD Vice Presidents Cup IV||David Byrne & John Calvin Engle III||Finalists|
|2010||Limerick Debate Open||Jonathan Wyse and David Byrne||Finalists|
|2009||World Universities Debating Championship||Kiera Healy & Ruth Faller||9th|
|2008||UCD Vice Presidents Cup IV||Brian O'Beirne||Best Speaker|
|2007||UCD Vice Presidents Cup IV||Brian O'Beirne||Best Speaker|
|2000||John Smith Memorial Mace||Bob Cuffe & Fergal Davis||Win|
|1999||Irish Mace||Niall Boland & Colm O'Mongain||Win|
|1997||John Smith Memorial Mace||Matthew Magee & Alex Massie||Win|
|1986||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Declan McCavana & David Keane||Win|
|1982||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Michael Byrne & Gerry Foley||Win|
|1961||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Hallam Johnston & Jack Daniels||Win|
Internal Debating Competitions
The society runs several internal debating competitions each year. The Eamon O'Coine Memorial Maiden Speaker's Competition, for first-time speakers in college; the satirically-titled Margaret Thatcher Memorial Debating Competition (or Maggies); a series of regular weekly debates, the Elizabethan Society Memorial Pro-Am Competition (or "Lizzies").
Eamon O'Coine Memorial Maiden Speaker's Competition Champions
|326th||Rosalind ní Shúilleabháin|
Margaret Thatcher Memorial Competition Champions
|325th||Aengus O Corrain|
Elizabethan Society Memorial Pro-Am Competition Champions
|329th||Eimear Gorey & Jamie Donnelly|
|328th||Lorcan Clarke & Jamie Buckley|
|327th||Orlfhaith Sheehy & Charlie Ward|
|326th||Rosalind Ni Shuilleabhain & Lydia Rahill|
The Phil Speaks Debating and Public Speaking Initiative, more commonly known as Phil Speaks is a campaign aimed at promoting, as well as developing skills in public speaking and oratory. Formed by the society in 2004 the initiative combines in-school oratory workshops, with Pro–Am (Professional-Amateur) learning competitions to encourage these skills in students of all secondary schools throughout Ireland.
At the end of the contest, the society hosts the Phil Speaks Competitive Weekend modelled on the format of a University Intervarsity Competition held within the Graduates Memorial Building, with the grand final taking place in the Debating Chamber.
The society also awards the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage and the Bram Stoker Medal to various esteemed guests each year.
Central Societies Committee of Trinity College, Dublin
The society has a strong record of being the recipient of several awards by the internal Central Societies Committee of Trinity College.
In recent years these include:
|2013||Individual of the Year, awarded to President Lorcan Clarke (328th Session).|
|2013||Best Online Web Presence.|
|2012||Best Large Society.|
|2011||Individual of the Year, awarded to President Declan Meehan (326th Session).|
|2010||Best Event, for the Oscar Wilde Festival (jointly awarded to DU Players).|
Board of Irish College Societies
The Board of Irish College Societies (BICS) is a national organisation, constituted in 1995, dedicated to providing a national forum for the societies in Ireland's Universities, Colleges and Institutes of Education. The Board is responsible for the promotion of interest in the activities of Irish college societies and of contact and co-operation between them.
The University Philosophical Society has formidable history of achievement:
|2013||Best individual (Large Society), awarded to 328th Session President Lorcan Clarke.|
|2009||Best Event (Large Society), awarded for The Trials of Oscar Wilde.|
Through its years in college, the Society has recorded the presence of many notable guests, the most distinguished of whom are named honorary patrons of the society. Included amongst these are multiple Nobel Prize laureates, both before and after their receipt of the Prize, such as William Butler Yeats, Heads of State and of Government, notable actors and musicians, as well as well-known intellectuals. Guests have also included all Taoisigh since Charles Haughey.
- Niall Ferguson, British Historian, Harvard professor.
- Joseph Nye, international relations theorist, former Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
- George Ritzer, sociologist, Professor at the University of Maryland.
- Edward Saïd, Palestinian-American literary theorist, former University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
- A.C. Grayling, British philosopher. founder and first Master of New College of the Humanities, London.
- John Mearsheimer, international relations theorist, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.
- Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University.
- Edmund Phelps, Economist, Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University, Nobel Laureate.
- Richard Dawkins, Ethologist, Evolutionary Biologist, Author. (Inaugural Meeting Speaker, 328th Session).
- Arthur T. Benjamin, American mathematician, Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College.
- Brian Greene, American theoretical physicist, Professor at Columbia University.
- Daniel Gilbert, social psychologist and Professor at Harvard University.
- Joseph Stiglitz, American economist and a professor at Columbia University.
- Jane Goodall, primatologist and environmental activist.
- Steven Pinker, psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and science author.
- Paul Krugman, American economist and Professor at Princeton University.
- Helen Mirren, actress, Academy Award Winner.
- The Edge, guitarist, keyboardist, and main backing vocalist of rock band U2.
- Johnny Marr, guitarist of the bands The Smiths and Modest Mouse.
- Tom Stoppard, playwright and writer, Academy Award winner.
- Gabriel Byrne, Irish actor, director and producer.
- Al Pacino, American actor and director, Academy Award winner.
- Joanna Lumley, British actress and political activist.
- Oliver Stone, film director, Academy Award winner.
- Tommy Tiernan, Irish comedian.
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Irish actor and model.
- David Cronenburg, Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter.
- Jeffrey Archer, actor, playwright and former politician.
- Jon Voight, American actor and political commentator, Academy Award winner.
- Spike Milligan, Irish comedian, writer, poet and playwright.
- Naomi Campbell, supermodel.
- Jack White, musician, lead vocalist of the White Stripes.
- Pete Doherty, singer and songwriter, lead singer of the band The Libertines.
- Dolores O'Riordan, lead singer of the band The Cranberries.
- John C. McGinley, American actor and author.
- Chris Blackwell, music producer.
- John C. Reilly, American actor and comedian.
- Courtney Love, American singer song writer and actress.
- Sir Christopher Lee, renowned and prolific British actor.
- Stephen Fry, British actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter and film director.
- Michael Gambon, Irish film and theatre actor.
- Eric Whitacre, Grammy-winning composer and conductor.
- Hugh Laurie, Golden Globe-winning actor, musician, comedian and author.
- Whoopi Goldberg, comedienne, actress, singer-songwriter, political activist, Academy Award winner.
- Conan O'Brien, Television host, comedian, writer, producer and performer.
- Seann William Scott, American actor and comedian.
- Bobby McFerrin, American musician and vocalist.
- John Hurt, British actor.
- Dominic West, British actor.
- Jenna Marbles, American entertainer and YouTube personality.
- Nile Rodgers, American musician, producer, composer and guitarist.
- Mitsuko Uchida, classical pianist.
- Kele Okereke, musician and lead singer of Bloc Party.
- Julian Fellowes, actor, novelist, and screenwriter.
Broadcasting and Journalism
- Germaine Greer, feminist journalist.
- Bill O'Reilly, Fox News presenter.
- Claudia Rosett, investigative journalist.
- Greg Palast, British journalist and author.
- John Simpson, BBC News correspondent.
- Rush Limbaugh, American conservative news pundit.
- Martin Wolf, Economics journalist, Associate Editor and Chief economics commentator at the Financial Times.
- Ira Glass, American public radio personality.
- Tommy Hilfiger, American fashion designer and businessman.
- Tim Draper, American venture capitalist.
- Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia.
- Matt Mullenweg, founder of Wordpress.
- Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.
- Christopher Bailey, chief creative director of Burberry.
- Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter.
- JP McManus, entrepreneur.
- Niklas Zennstrom, founder of Skype.
- Chad Hurley, founder of YouTube.
- Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the IMF.
- Mark Shuttleworth, entrepreneur and space tourist.
- Michael Birch, computer programmer, entrepreneur and founder of social networking website Bebo.
- Justin Cooke, former CMO of Topshop and founder of innovate7.
- Harper Reed, computer programmer and CTO of Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.
- Susan Denham, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ireland.
- William Butler Yeats, poet, Nobel Laureate.
- Salman Rushdie, novelist and essayist, Booker Prize Winner.
- Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and writer, Nobel Laureate.
- John Banville, author, Booker Prize Winner.
- John Boyne, Irish novelist.
- John Ralston Saul, Canadian author and essayist.
- Neil Strauss, author and journalist.
- Paul Howard, author and journalist.
- Roddy Doyle, Irish novelist, dramatist and screenwriter.
- Bill Bryson, American author.
Politics and Government
- John Kenneth Galbraith, economist, former US Ambassador to India.
- John Hume, former leader of the SDLP in Northern Ireland, Nobel Laureate.
- Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former President of France.
- David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Nobel Laureate.
- Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
- Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.
- FW De Klerk, former President of South Africa, Nobel Laureate.
- Charles Haughey, former Taoiseach of Ireland.
- Desmond Tutu, Archbishop, Nobel Laureate.
- John McCain, US Senator, 2008 Republican Presidential Candidate.
- Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director-General, Nobel Laureate.
- Lindsey Graham, US Senator.
- Mark Malloch Brown, former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General.
- Bob Geldof, organizer of Live Aid and Live 8.
- John Bruton, former Taoiseach of Ireland, former EU Ambassador to the United States.
- James Zogby, political organizer, member of the DNC.
- Albert Reynolds, former Taoiseach of Ireland.
- Garret FitzGerald, former Taoiseach of Ireland.
- John Ritch, World Nuclear Association Director-General.
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, US Supreme Court Justice.
- Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach of Ireland.
- Christopher Dodd, US Senator.
- Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi, former RNC Chairman.
- John Podesta, Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration.
- John Negroponte, former US Deputy Secretary of State.
- Peter Sutherland, former Attorney General of Ireland.
- George Galloway, British politician, author and broadcaster.
- Trent Lott, former US Senator.
- François Bourguignon, former Chief Economist of the World Bank.
- Tim Collins OBE, former Colonel 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment.
- Fredrik Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden.
- Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives and 60th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. (Inaugural Meeting speaker, 327th Session).
- Mary McAleese, eighth President of Ireland.
- Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. (Inaugural Meeting speaker, 329th Session).
- Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United football club.
- Eddie Jordan, founder and owner of Jordan Grand Prix.
- Rafael Benítez, manager of Liverpool football club for their Champions League win in 2005.
- Pádraig Harrington, Irish professional golfer.
- Dana White, American businessman, entrepreneur, and President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
- Steve Redgrave, British rower and five time consecutive Olympic Games gold medal winner.
Many guests which the Phil has invited over the years have courted controversy. Contributors to its debates included Oswald Mosley during his residence in Ireland. In 1988, the Society invited then–Holocaust denier David Irving to speak. A large protest by students, staff, Jewish groups, socialists, and anti-Nazi activists resulted in the meeting being relocated to a hotel conference room and held in the small hours of the morning. The traditional vote of thanks to Mr Irving for his paper was defeated, which is rare in the society's history.
The address of Austrian politician Jörg Haider to the society in late 2002 led to a protest by self-described anti-fascist activists, which continued through the debate, with noise being made outside the chamber and interjections in the society's proceedings within. An invitation to British National Party (BNP) official Tony Wentworth was revoked after threats of physical action by leftist groups.
Another guest to generate controversy was Islamist Anjem Choudary, who hailed the 9/11 terrorists as martyrs. Former Taoiseach John Bruton threatened to withdraw from a Phil debate later that year over this invitation, which was not withdrawn. Mr Bruton is now an Honorary Patron of the Society, and Anjem Choudary has been invited to speak at the Phil's lectern several times.
In 2011, the Phil encountered controversy when it invited BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak at a Thursday night debate on immigration. After raging protests, talks with college officials and physical threats made to the members and council the invitation was reluctantly withdrawn by the President of the 327th session, Eoin O'Liathain. In a press statement the Phil said that "it is unfortunate that circumstances have arisen under which the planned debate can no longer go ahead without compromising the safety of staff and students". Despite these challenges the session would go on to be voted Best Society in Trinity College that year.
- Robert Stawell Ball, Royal Astronomer of Ireland and Lowndean Professor of Astronomy and Geometry at the University of Cambridge. President, 1860–61.
- Valentine Ball, geologist. Treasurer, 1863–64.
- J.B. Bury, historian, classicist, Byzantinist and philologist.
- George Coffey, scholar of Irish history and cultural revivalist. President, 1880–81.
- William Macneile Dixon, British academic and author, Regius Professor of English Language and Literature, Glasgow. President, 1889–90, Librarian, 1888–89.
- Mervyn A. Ellison, astronomer and authority on solar flares. President, 1931–32, Treasurer, 1930–31.
- William Hugh Ferrar, classical scholar. Treasurer, 1855–56.
- John Pentland Mahaffy, classicist and polymath scholar. President, 1858–59.
- Vincent Arthur Smith, Indologist, historian and member of the Imperial Civil Service. President, 1868–69.
- W. J. M. Starkie, Greek scholar.
- William Stokes, doctor and professor of surgery.
- John Lighton Synge, mathematician and physicist. Treasurer, 1917–18.
- Ernest Walton, physicist and Nobel Laureate.
- Trevor West, mathematician and Senator. Treasurer, 1959–60, Registrar, 1958–59.
- Bertram Windle, British anatomist, archaeologist, scientist and writer. Librarian, 1877–78.
Broadcasting and Journalism
- Daire Brehan, Irish broadcaster, barrister and actress. Secretary, 1976–77.
- Sarah Carey, columnist and broadcaster. Registrar, 1991–92.
- Marc Coleman, economics editor of Newstalk and columnist for the Sunday Independent. Secretary, 1992–93.
- Ken Early, journalist and sports broadcaster. Steward, 1998–99.
- Alex Massie, prominent Scottish journalist. Steward, 1996–97.
- James Campbell, 1st Baron Glenavy, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Attorney-General for Ireland, Solicitor-General for Ireland, Member of Parliament and later first Chairman of the Free State Senate.
- Richard Cherry, Attorney-General for Ireland and Liberal MP. Secretary, 1879–80.
- Gerald Fitzgibbon, Solicitor-General for Ireland, 1877–78 and Lord Justice of Appeal. Secretary, 1857–58.
- Jonathan Pim (1858-1949), Solicitor-General for Ireland, Attorney-General for Ireland and Lord Justice of Ireland in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. President, 1883–84, Secretary, 1882–83, Librarian, 1881–82.
- Udo Udoma, former Justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court, former Chief Justice of Uganda. President, 1942–43, Secretary, 1941–42, Librarian, 1940–41.
- Edmund John Armstrong, poet. President, 1864–65.
- Samuel Beckett, dramatist and poet, Nobel Laureate.
- Kate Cruise O'Brien, author.
- Edward Dowden, poet and critic. President, 1862–63, Secretary, 1861–62.
- Standish James O'Grady, author, journalist and historian. Secretary, 1866–67.
- Bram Stoker, novelist and short story writer. President, 1868–69, Secretary, 1867–68.
- Oscar Wilde, author, playwright and poet.
- Charles Austin Thomas Robert John Joseph ffrench, 6th Baron ffrench, 1868–1955. Deputy Lieutenant of County Galway.
- Charles Edward MacDermot, The Mac Dermot, Prince of Coolavin, 1904–47. Registrar, 1883–84. His son and successor, Charles John MacDermot (Prince of Coolavin, 1947–79), was also a member.
- Martin Morris, 2nd Baron Killanin, Conservative peer. Secretary, 1888–89.
Politics and Government
- Gerald Brunskill, Unionist MP. Treasurer, 1887–88, Registrar, 1886–87.
- Nessa Childers MEP, Member of European Parliament. Registrar, 1977–78, SMC 1976–77.
- Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister of State for European Affairs. Secretary, 1993–94.
- Cecil Harmsworth, 1st Baron Harmsworth, Liberal MP, businessman and brother of press barons Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere. Registrar, 1889–90.
- Caesar Litton Falkiner, Unionist MP. President, 1885–86, Treasurer, 1884–85, Librarian, 1883–84.
- David Norris, Senator and gay rights campaigner.
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