University of Limerick Debating Union

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The University of Limerick Debating Union is a society devoted to the British parliamentary style of debating. A debating society has existed in UL in one form or another since the foundation of the National Institute for Higher Education in 1972.[1]

The Debating Union holds in-house debates on issues of public interest and current affairs as well as private members motions on lighter issues. Debates in previous years have focussed on such issues as the American presidential election, the environment and the future of the European Union.

All Irish universities are active in debating and the Debating Union consistently competes in inter-university events both in Ireland and abroad. The Union hosts a competition every year in March, which attracts some of the best debaters in Ireland, Britain and the world. The Union has attended both the European and World debating championships for many years.

In 2009 the Debating Union adopted a new crest to symbolise the changing and evolving identity of the Union. The symbol of the Debating Union is a raven and its motto is “Verbum sat sapienti est” (A word to the wise is sufficient).


  • The Plassey Philosophical Society
  • The Abraxion Society
  • The John Holland Theatrical Society
  • The Literary and Philosophical Society
  • The Parliamentary Debating Society

The John Holland Debating Society[edit]

The first student debate in the college took place in the East room of Plassey House a few weeks after the opening of what was then the National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick in 1972. The Plassey Philosophical Society was founded at this time by, among others, Carmel O'Sullivan, Richard Lynch and Andrew Elder.

Records from this time are vague but an early successor to the Plassey Philosophical Society was the Abraxion Society. One of the highlights of this society was when it was addressed by Mr Antoli Kaplin, the first Soviet Ambassador to Ireand in October 1974 shortly after his appointment to the country. Between then and 1985 records don't exist as apparently no society lasted longer than a couple of years often ceasing to exist and being reborn the following year.

The current society can trace its roots directly to a society which was founded in October 1985 based in the tutorial room C1056. Between 1985 and 1986 the name of the Society changed on numerous occasions as part of a running joke which saw a new name being adopted every week. The name finally settled on (John Holland Debating Society) refers to the lecture theatre on Block D Level 1 on the main building of the University of Limerick which became the regular home of the society. In recent years, the society has moved to the Jonathan Swift Theatre. At first the Society used a Schools Debating Format with teams of four competing in a league. However this soon gave way to University style debating. Private Members Time was introduced in 1986.

In the early times the society used to meet twice weekly, often during lunch-time. The first intervarsity the society entered was in Galway in 1987 with the team of Little, Green and Neville Bourke. It was also the first intervarsity won by the society. Over the next few years the society did not enter many competitions (as they were mainly invitational competitions at that time) but also recorded a victory at the Queens University Intervarsity.

The Literary and Philosophical Society[edit]

Following the announcement of the elevation of the college to University status the society sought a more prestigious name and so the John Holland Society became the "Literary and Philosophical" society in 1988 when the Society's activities also moved to a larger venue (Jean Monnet theater). This society retained the John Holland's character and combined formal debating with dramatic and comedic activity.

The Parliamentary Debating Society[edit]

The Parliamentary Debating Society was formed in 1991 to provide greater focus on competitive debate. The society initially returned to the roots of Limerick debate by utilising the John Holland Lecture Theatre.

Competition and Collaboration[edit]

The "Lit and Phil" and the "Parl Deb" operated separate societies but had some overlap in membership. While it was not uncommon for members from one to turn up at the other to heckle (in a good humoured way) rival speakers the relationship between the two societies was generally good. The Irish Times Debating Final of 1992-93 was hosted co-operatively between the societies. Where there remained substantial differences it was in the aims of the two organisations. The Lit & Phil put greater focus on weekly debates and on entertainment. They mixed house debates with more drama focused elements such as a version of "whose line is it anyway". The society met on Wednesday nights often in front of large crowds in the Jean Monnet theater. The Parl Deb met on Tuesday nights and focused mainly on a less crowd pleasing format of competitive debating. These attracted significantly smaller crowds and the society based itself in the smaller John Holland Theater. This difference in emphasis can be seen in participation in the 1993 World Debating Championships when the smaller society sent 2 teams (Derek Sheahan & John McElligott, Diarmuid Scully & Niamh Lyons) and a judge (Mark Dowling) to the championships while the larger society only sent one team (Matthew Hamilton & Hugh Gallagher).

Formation of the Debating Union[edit]

Financial and organisational pressures forced the merger of the Literary and Philosophical and the Parliamentary Debating Societies in the 1994-5 session. At this stage there were also significant overlaps in membership. While the two societies had elected committees and auditors at the end of the 1993-1994 academic year both worked over the summer to finalise details of the merger which took place in the first week of the new academic year. A new name the "University of Limerick Debating Union" was adopted.


The membership elects a committee at the annual general meeting. The highest position is that of Auditor. With the exception of Vice-Auditor and Speaker Development Officer,which are appointed by the Auditor, all other positions are elected by the membership. While many debating societies use a mayoral style chain to indicate the Auditor, in UL the auditor wears an academic style purple gown. Due to the semester system in UL where students spend semesters away from college on "Co-Op" work experience there is often a change in Auditor, and other committee members, mid way through the year. Vice positions were abolished in 2008 but may be re-instated in the future.

Past Auditors[edit]

2012-13 Michelle Coyle
2011-12 David Hartery (Autumn Semester) Sarah Hardiman (Autumn Semester/Spring Semester)
2010-11 Mairead de Faoite (Autumn Semester) Kieran Murphy (Spring Semester)
2009-10 Una O' Grady
2008-09 Emma Kerins
2007-08 Finn McDuffie
2006-07 Oisín Collins (Autumn Semester) Niamh Madigan (Spring Semester)
2005-06 Stuart Wallace (Early Autumn Semester) Oisín Collins (Late Autumn and full Spring Semester)
2004-05 Judith Lynch (Autumn Semester) Stuart Wallace (Spring Semester)
2003-04 Michelle Ni Ghaboid
2002-03 Sarah Carew (Spring Semester) Timmy Hennessy (Autumn Semester)
2001-02 Julian Moore
2000-01 Conor Barry (Autumn Semester) Cait NiChochlain (Spring Semester)
1999-00 Michael D. Hourigan
1998-99 Tracey Cooney (Autumn Semester) Colm Linnane (Spring Semester)
1997-98 Seamus Ryan
1996-97 Colm Flynn (Autumn Semester) Niamh MacAteer (Spring Semester)
1995-96 John McElligott (Autumn Semester) Mark Dowling (Spring Semester)
1994-95 Margaret Stronge-Smith

Parliamentary Debating Society:

1994-95 John Baird (Summer only).
1993-94 Derek Sheahan
1992-93 Diarmuid Scully

Literary & Philosophical Society:

1994-95 ?? (Summer only)
1993-94 Matthew Hamilton
1992-93 John Maguire (Michaelmas Term), Raymond Hurley (Hilary & Trinity Terms)
1991-92 Neville Bourke (Michaelmas Term), John Maguire (Hilary & Trinity Terms)
1990-91 Donal Waide
1989-90 Neville Bourke
1988-89 Alan O'Donnell

John Holland Theatrical Society

1987-88 Daniel Murphy
1986-87 Stephen MacNamara
1985-86 Ian Cullen


House debates[edit]

The Society holds public debates on both serious and light hearted topics. Some of these drew large crowds to see guest speakers, such on the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the 1995 Divorce Referendum. Among those who have spoken at the Society are Catholic values campaigner Nora Bennis, politicians Michael Noonan, Ray Burke, Jim Kemmy and Paddy Lane. Then University President Dr. Edward M. Walsh (now President Emeritus) delivered a paper to the society on the idea of a modern university - among those who replied was novelist John Connolly, who was then Education Correspondent for The Irish Times.

Annual intervarsity[edit]

This competition started life as the "Mini-Worlds" in 1994, introducing a worlds-format tournament at this level when most other competitions used a knockout or straight final format at intervarsity level. The competition slowly grew but as the Worlds style format became more popular it was quickly outgrown by large competitions at Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and University College Cork and indeed the format has become the norm for Irish intervarsities. Nevertheless, the social aspect of the competition, and its usefulness as a preparatory tournament to the European Championship meant that Limerick attracted teams from the US, Germany, France, Greece, Scotland and England over the years.

Ciaran Treacy Perpetual Trophy[edit]

Ciaran was a student who entered the Campus in 1987. His interests included Basketball, Music and Debating. He was known affectionately by his nicknames "Basketball Billy" and "Trasyballs" or just "Trasy". His life came to a premature end on the 7th of October 1989 when he was killed in an automobile accident - just one day after his 21st Birthday.

To preserve his memory a Perpetual Trophy was inaugurated in his name and awarded to the winner of the society's internal individual speaker competition. The Trophy itself was donated by the Treacy family and contains a miniature of a sculpture of the mythical warrior Cúchulainn (Setanta) - tied to a standing stone with a raven on his shoulder - set on a marble base. The original sculpture, honouring the martyrs of the Easter Uprising of 1916, is called "The Death of Cúchulainn" by Oliver Shepardon and is on display in the General Post Office on O'Connell Street in Dublin. In 1996 it was decided that as with the, Irish Times Debating Competition, past winners would not be eligible to re-enter but would be encouraged to adjudicate the competition.

It replaced the Don Reddin Trophy (Lit & Phil) and the Presidents Prize (Parl Deb) as the main individual speakers competition. Details of the Don Reddin and Presidents Prize are not currently available.

Past Winners and Runners-up:

Year Winner Runner-up
2012-13 Darragh Roche Sarah Guerin
2011-12 David Hartery Kieran Murphy
2010-11 Michelle Coyle Stephen Egan
2009-10 Lorcan O'Neill David Hartery
2008-09 Aidan McDonagh Maurice Cotter
2007-08 Aoife Finnerty Diarmuid Healy
2006-07 Eamon Quinlan Oisin Collins
2005-06 Sarah Carew Michael Keary
2004-05 Shane Moloney Eoin Gubbins
2003-04 John Fitzgibbons Shane Moloney
2002-03 Paddy Buckley  ???
2001-02 Grace Lord  ???
2000-01 Claire McCarthy Grace Lord
1999-00 Keith Pigott Marcus Lynch
1998-99 Michael D. Hourigan Claire McCarthy
1997-98 Míchael Healy Rose Kavanagh
1996-97 Colm Linnane Claire McCarthy
1995-96 Colm Flynn Brian O'Farrell
1994-95 Padraic O'Halloran Colm Flynn
1993-94 Brian O'Farrell Dearbhla Considine
1992-93 Robert O'Meara Lorna Kerin
1991-92 James Hurley John Maguire
1990-91 Eoin Crowley (1)
1989-90 Colm O'Gairbhigh Diarmuid Scully
    • (1) There was no Contest held during the Academic Year 1990-91 but the Auditor Donal Waide gave the Award to Eoin Crowley in recognition of his general contribution to the Society during that year.

Team Debate[edit]

The Team competition was traditionally held in Term 1 and has also been called the "O'Mahoney's Debate". The competition has lapsed in recent years, but was reinstated by the society in the Autumn semester of 2007-08. The competition was started in 1995. Unlike the Ciaran Treacy there is no bar on past winners defending their title. It is also the most open of the competitions with all current members and life members eligible for entry. This was originally a Mace format debate, 4 teams per debate and advance notice of motions, held over 2–3 weeks on a knock out basis. However in 1998 this was reviewed and changed to a worlds style debate to give it a more intervarsity feel and allow graduate life members and adjudicators attend. The competition was rebranded in 2011 to be a Pro-am team competition as it been waning in years. No individual speaker awrds have been awarded since the rebrand to the Pro-Am.

Past Winners

Year Winner Individual award
2012-13 Sean Duggan and Darragh Roche
2011-12 Stephen Egan and Declan Mills
2010-11  ???  ???
2009-10  ???  ???
2008-09  ???  ???
2007-08 Adrian O'Higgins & Maurice Cotter Oisin Collins
2006-07 n/a n/a
2005-06 n/a n/a
2004-05 Paddy Buckley & Eamonn O'Flynn  ???
2003-04 Paddy Buckley & Eamonn O'Flynn Julian Moore
2002-03 Keith Pigott & Michael D. Hourigan Paddy Buckley
2001-02 Keith Pigott & Michael D. Hourigan Kate Coughlan
2000-01 Claire McCarthy & Barry McLoughlin Fiona Clandillon
1999-00  ???  ???
1998-99 Colm Linnaine & Claire McCarthy Barry McLoughlin
1997-98 Colm Flynn & Padraic Fox Rose Kavanagh
1996-97 Colm Flynn & Barry McLoughlin Claire McCarthy
1995-96 Keith Pigott & John Mc'Elligott Thorsten Becker
1994-95 Padraig O'Halloran & Colm Leahy Barry McLoughlin

Freshers Debate[edit]

Prior to the formation of the Debating Union records of the freshers competitions are virtually non-existent. This is primarily because each of the two rival debating societies held several freshers competitions in an effort to encourage freshers to pledge themselves to their society as opposed to the rival. In 1993 alone there were at least 4 separate competitions between the two societies. Under the Debating Union there is only one freshers competition and other speaking needs of freshers are catered for in Workshops away from the pressure of the main session. The Freshers competition is open to all Maiden Speakers (First years, Erasmus, Transfers, Postgrads etc.) providing that this is the first year they have debated with a Third Level Institution.

Past Winners

Year Winner
2012-13 Sean Duggan
2011-12 Declan Mills
2010-11 Elaine Kennedy
2009-10  ???
2008-09 Cillian McCarthy and Orlaith Murphy
2008-09 Darragh Roche & Una O'Grady
2007-08  ???
2006-07  ???
2005-06  ???
2004-05  ???
2003-04  ???
2002-03 Stuart Wallace
2001-02  ???
2000-01 Lynn Fitzsimons
1999-00  ???
1998-99 Ken McDonagh
1997-98 Rose Kavanagh
1996-97 Caroline Timmons
1995-96 Thorsten Becker
1994-95 Barry Mc'Loughlin

Honorary Life Members[edit]

The society had 3 types of membership. Ordinary membership is open to all current students of the University of Limerick. All past Auditors who hold office for at least one semester are "Life Members" of the Union. In addition the society can vote to award "Honorary Life Membership" to any individual (including past auditors, ordinary members and non-members). Honorary Life Memberships are only occasionally awarded by the society to people who make contributions in public life and discourse.

  • Dr Edward Walsh

President of University from its foundation in 1972 to 1998. In recognition of a number of years of both moral and financial support, including making attendance possible at two World Championships, as well as the magnificent work he has done for the University in general. Dr Walsh was first awarded HLM in 1997 and received the Auditors Medal in 2010.

  • Dr Garret Fitzgerald RIP

Former Taoiseach. In recognition of his achievements in years of public service in Ireland. De Fitzgerald was awarded HLM and the Auditors medal in March 2011.

  • Max Keiser

Economist, Broadcaster and Author. In recognition of his achievements in promoting economic debate. Mr Keiser was awarded HLM in October 2011

  • Michael Noonan

TD and Minister for Finance. In recognition of his achievement in public service in Ireland. Minister Noonan was awarded HLM in January 2012.

  • Anthony Louden-Connolly RIP

For incredibly long and diverse participation in the debating world in the British Isles, on the occasion of his visit in late 1995.

  • Brian O'Farrell

For distinguished service to the Society, notably for being the first UL debater to reach the Irish Times Final.

  • Michael Ryan

For immense assistance to UL's development in societies, notably in debating and in particular the achievement of the highest Irish participation at Melbourne Worlds.

  • Niamh Lyons

In recognition of being a member of the first UL team to "break" at the Worlds and of the first UL team in the semi-final of the Irish Times Competition.

  • Padraig O'Halloran

In recognition of his achievement of winning the Irish Times Team Debate (National Championships) in 1997 (teammate Seamus Doran). Padraig was also individual runner up in the competition in 1995.

  • Séamus Doran

In recognition of his achievement of winning the Irish Times Team Debate (National Championships) in 1997 (teammate Padraig O'Halloran).

  • Michael Keary

In recognition of his years of work for the society.

  • Maurice Cotter

In recognition of his years of work for the society and his various speaking accomplishments as a UL speaker and alumnus.

Auditors Medal[edit]

In 2010 the society initiated an award called the Auditors Medal. This Award, accompanies by Honorary Life Membership is awarded by the society to people who make outstanding contributions in public life and discourse.

  • 2012 Judge Susan Gageby Denham, Chief Justice of Ireland
  • 2011 Dr Garret Fitzgerald, Former Taoiseach
  • 2010 Dr Edward Walsh, Founding president of the University of Limerick.


  • World Universities Debating Championships
    • Two Limerick teams have reached the knock out stages of the World Championships, both progressing to the Octo-Finals. Diarmuid Scully & Niamh Lyons did so at the Oxford Union in 1992 and Keith Pigott & Michael D. Hourigan at University of Toronto in 2002.
    • Five Limerick judges have judged the knock out rounds. Mike Ryan (Octo-final University of Melbourne 1993) Colm O'Cinneide (Semi-final Ateneo de Manila University 1999) and Colm Flynn (Deputy-Chief Adjudicator, Public Speaking Final and Grand Final Judge at Stellenbosch University 2003, Comedy Final, ESL Final, Masters Final and Main Qtr Final Judge at University of Toronto in 2002, EFL Final and Main Qtr Final Judge at University College Cork in 2009. Only judge to adjudicate the final of all competitions at Worlds). Oisin Collins judged Octo Finals at Istanbul in 2010. Nicholas Kearsey also judged the Comedy Final at Deree College, Athens in 1998.
    • Colm O'Cinneide (better known as from UCC/Edinburgh but then a lecturer in Limerick and registered as a Limerick judge) was also a member of the Irish Masters team that won the World Masters competition at Ateneo de Manila University in 1999. Colm Flynn was part of the Irish Masters team at the University of Sydney in 2000.
    • Colm Flynn was elected Chair of Worlds Council at the 2001 University of Glasgow and 2002 University of Toronto tournaments. He was also elected Registrar of council at the 2000 tournament in University of Sydney. He was the recipient of the Order of Distinction award at the 2006 World Debating Championships held in University College Dublin. In 2008 he was made the first emeritus life member of the World Debating Council.
  • European Universities Debating Championship
    • One Limerick team (Ken McDonagh and David Keary) reached the semi-final of the 1999 tournament at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands and the other team (Michael D. Hourigan and Caroline Timmons) reached the quarter-final.
    • At 2002 Europeans in Haifa again one Limerick team (Tadhg O'Shea and Julian Moore) reached the semi finals while another (Gavin Ward and Eoin O'Culain) reached the quarter-finals.
    • Mark Dowling (2001) and Colm Flynn (1999 and 2005) have served as Grand Final Judges at the Championships. Colm Flynn also chaired the adjudication panel for the ESL final in 2005.
    • The Debating Union submitted a bid at the 2001 Championships in Portorož, Slovenia to host the 2002 event but the Europeans Council chose University of Haifa, Israel to host.
  • Irish Times (Irish National Championships)
    • Séamus Doran and Pádraic Ó Halloran were the first team representing the University to win the Irish Times Debate at Trinity College, Dublin in 1997.
    • Pádraic Ó Halloran was also individual runner up in 1995 as was Brian O'Farrell in 1994.
    • John McElligott, Keith Pigott and Michael Hourigan have also represented the society in the final.
    • Cathal Kelly was the first Limerick speaker to reach the semi-final round, as an individual speaker (circa 1989).
    • The society hosted the Irish Times Final in 1993 and 2009.
    • David Hugh Hartery and Stephen Egan reached the semi-finals of Irish Times in 2011.
  • Other notable competitive achievements:
    • Keith Pigott was the best speaker in the Oxford IV final of 2000 where he was part of a Deb U team with Michael Hourigan.
    • Keith Pigott & Paddy Buckley won the Cork Invitational IV in 2005
    • Maurice Cotter has been best speaker in the final at the Galway Irish National Law Debates in 2012, the Earlsfort Open in 2011 and the UL Open in 2011 and best speaker on tab at the Irish National Law Debates in 2011.
    • David Hugh Hartery was best speaker at the Maynooth Open 2012, the Cork Invitational 2011 and the Glasgow Ancients 2011 (where he was also part of the winning team).
    • David Hugh Hartery and Michelle Coyle reached the quarter-finals of the Trinity College IV in 2012, while Stephen Egan and Lorna Bogue reached the semi-finals.
    • Michelle Coyle and Darragh Roche reached the semi-finals of the UCD Vice President's Cup 2012, breaking joint third.
    • Stephen Egan and David Hugh Hartery reached the semi-finals of the Irish Mace in 2012.
    • Michelle Coyle and Lorna Bogue reached the final of the Irish Mace in 2013.
  • Other External Adjudication Achievements
    • Colm Flynn has acted as chief adjudicator at a number of external IVs including Oxford 2002 and Cork 2001 and Deputy Chief Adjudicator at Cambridge 2002 and WUPID (World Universities Peace Invitational Debate in Malaysia) 2007 & 2011. Mark Dowling was Chief Adjudicator of the National Law Debates in Galway in 2001. Emma Kerins was Deputy Chief Adjudicator of Aberystwyth 2009.
    • Seamus Doran was convenor of the Irish Times in 1999
    • David Hugh Hartery was co-convenor of the Irish Mace in 2012/13, along with UCC's John Beechinor.
  • Other Society Achievements
    • Former auditor David Hugh Hartery won UL's Mike Sadlier Award for Outstanding Contribution to Societies in 2012.
    • Both David Hugh Hartery and Darragh Roche have served as Chair of UL's Clubs and Societies' Council.
    • Former auditor Finn McDuffie served as Students' Union Communications Officer and editor of UL's newspaper, An Focal, in 2010/11. Former treasurer Darragh Roche also served as editor of An Focal for a time.
    • The society hosted Irish National Maidens in 2008.
    • The society won UL society of the year in 1996 and 2002
    • Keith Pigott & Mike Hourigan jointly won the best society individual award in 2001 for their achievements as a debating team that year
    • The society won UL 1996 Society event of the year for its "Irish Divorce Referendum Debate" which was broadcast by NBC in the United States.

Notable alumni[edit]

Diarmuid Scully followed his term as Parliamentary Debating Society Auditor with a term as President of University of Limerick Students Union. He became a Limerick City Councillor for Ward 3 in 1999, representing the Fine Gael party. He sought his party's backing for the 2005 term as Mayor. An internal dispute arose which led to Councillor Scully becoming Mayor in July 2005 with the support of other non-Fine Gael councillors. (Councillor Scully's website)

Laura Ryan is a television news journalist for TV3 in Ireland.

Former Auditor John Maguire is a journalist and film critic for The Sunday Business Post newspaper.



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External links[edit]