Literary and Historical Society (University College Dublin)

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The Literary and Historical Society (L&H) is the oldest society in University College Dublin (UCD), which according to its constitution is the 'College Debating Union'.[1] Founded in 1855 by Cardinal John Henry Newman, it is one of the most well-known student societies in Ireland.[citation needed] The society has over 5000 enrolled members as of 2017, and has been the largest student society in UCD, Ireland and Europe.[2][3]


House debates[edit]

L&H House debates are central to UCD life. The Society gathers once a week to debate a topic of the day. This is the main activity of the society, and typically takes place on Wednesday evenings in the custom-built Garret FitzGerald Debating Chamber, in the UCD Student Centre; in a venue that is usually full to capacity. Personalities central to the topic being discussed are invited to enlighten the house with knowledge and arguments specific to the motion, as well as student members of the society.

Guest speakers and L&H accolades[edit]

The L&H also regularly invites speakers outside of debates. These speakers have included actor Roger Moore, economist Paul Krugman, linguist Noam Chomsky, Irish politician John Hume, LGBTQ+ activist Rory O'Neil aka Panti Bliss, photographer and blogger Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York, writer Bill Bryson, economist John Nash and British Writer Neil Gaiman .

The Society awards Honorary Fellowships and James Joyce Awards to individuals who have "contributed significantly to a field of human endeavour". Recipients of either of the two awards include F. W. de Klerk, Rev. Jesse Jackson,[4] Noam Chomsky and Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, actor Ralph Fiennes, actor Will Ferrell,[5] Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling,[6] former UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, celebrated novelist Bill Bryson, former England soccer captain Gary Lineker, The Beatles' producer George Martin,[7] Monty Python member Michael Palin[8] actor Martin Freeman, writer Salman Rushdie.[9] and Irish author Liz Nugent.[10]

Since the foundation of the Irish state, every President and Taoiseach has addressed the Society.

UCD Vice Presidents' Cup IV[edit]

The Vice Presidents' Cup is one of the longest running intervarsity competitions on the Irish debating circuit.[citation needed] It draws teams from across the UK and Ireland as well as European and American teams.[citation needed]

Occurring in the last week of October each year, its place on the calendar makes it the opening event of the Worlds preparation season.[citation needed]

Year Winning team Top speaker on tab Chief adjudicators Convenors
2016 Floris Holstege and Lisa Schallenberg (Leiden University) Nishith Hegde (University of Edinburgh) Michael Coleman, Kit Mercer, Emma Lucas, Owen Mooney and Juliette Barnes Joshua Kieran-Glennon
2015 Chris Edgar & Owen Mooney (Glasgow University Union) Chris Edgar (GUU) Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair, Gavin O'Leary and Edward Mancey Luke Murray and Kevin Roche
2014 Dee Courtney and Caitriona O'Brien (Trinity College Dublin Historical Society) Dee Courtney (TCD Hist) Christine Simpson, Gavin Illsley and Amanda Moorghen Sean O' Neill
2013 Michael Barton and Hugh Guidera (TCD Phil) Michael Barton (TCD Phil) Anne Valkering and Rebecca Meredith Niamh Harford
2012 Andrew Hannon and Ruth Cormican (NUIG Lit&Deb) Pete Doughton (Sheffield)/Michael Barton (TCD Hist) Mark Haughton and Maria English Michael O Dwyer
2011 Catherine Murphy and John Engle (TCD Hist) Catherine Murphy Sam Block and Stephen Boyle Cormac Duffy
2010 Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin and Colm Denny (TCD Hist) Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin (TCD Hist)/Doug Cochran (Cambridge) Gregg O'Neill and Ruth Faller
2009 Catherine Murphy and Huw Duffy (TCD Hist) Eoghan Casey (Kings Inns) Will Jones and Marguerite Carter
2008 Anne Byrne and Josephine Curry (TCD Hist) Brian O'Beirne (TCD Phil)/Brendan Bruen (Kings Inns) Declan Bruton and Noel McGrath
2007 Shane Farragher and John Moriarty (TCD Hist) Brian O'Beirne (TCD Phil) Ciaran Lawlor
2006 David Boughton and Ciaran Denny (TCD Hist) Jess Prince (Oxford)/David Kenny (TCD Hist) Derek Lande
2005 Barry Glynn and Morgan Shelley (Kings Inns) Sam Collins (ULU) Paul Brady
2004 Richard Osborne and Alexis Hearnden (Inner Temple) Richard Osborne (Inner Temple) Jeremy Brier

UCD Earlsfort Open[edit]

The Earlsfort Open is a summer debating competition held in July. Founded in 2011, it serves as a preparation competition for the European Universities Debating Championship, held annually in August.

Year Winning Team Top Speaker on Tab Chief Adjudicators Convenors
2017 Owen Mooney and Doug Jack (GUU) Michael Dunn Goekijan Dee Courtney, Floris Holstege, Gavin Tucker, Jure Hederih Aisling Tully, Sinéad McCarthy, Dara Keenan
2016 Bethany Garry and Owen Mooney (Glasgow University Union) Dee Courtney Olivia Sandberg Diez, Eoin MacLachlan, Nishith Hegde Matthew Hanrahan
2015 Matt Hazell and John Papantoniou (Cambridge Union) Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair Daisy Onubogu, Harish Natajaran and Josh Bailey Isabelle Wilson, Matthew Hanrahan and Conor Rock
2014 Robert McCarthy and Cormac Duffy (UCD L&H) Daisy Onubogu Sophie Scannell and Karin Merckens Sean O' Neill
2013 Michael O'Dwyer and Hannah Lucey (UCD L&H) Eoghan Casey Christine Simpson and Paddy Rooney Niamh Harford
2012 Sally Rooney and Adam Noonan (TCD Hist) Hugh Burns Isabelle Loewe and Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin Peadar Keegan
2011 Muireann O'Dwyer and Eoghan Casey (Comp) Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin Cormac Duffy

L&H Strauss Ball[edit]

Each year, the Society hosts UCD's only white tie ball, the Strauss Ball. After waltzes with each person on the card,[clarification needed] the orchestra moves aside for the DJ. The Society also hosts various nightclub events throughout the year. The event is run and organised by the social secretaries and strauss ball convenors.[citation needed]

Competitive debating[edit]

The L&H enjoys success as one of the stronger Irish debating institutions. The Society has won a number of international debating competitions and has enjoyed dominance in The Irish Times and Mace debating competitions as well as international and national intervarsities. The Society has attended the World Universities Debating Championship, and progressed further and has sent teams as far afield as Asia, Australia, Africa and North America. In 1987 & 2006, UCD hosted the World Universities Debating Championship.[11]

The Society also promotes and organises competitive debating in schools across Ireland through the Schools' Mace, the Leinster Schools Debating Competition and the UCD Junior Schools Debating Competition, which reach secondary schools throughout the country.



The L&H was founded in 1855, a year after the foundation of the Catholic University of Ireland, the precursor to UCD. Both the university and the debating society were founded by Father John Henry Newman (future Cardinal Newman). One of the Society's most famous members from this era was James Joyce, who presented his paper "Drama and Life" before a crowd of assembled members in 1900.[12] Conor Cruise O'Brien served as Vice President of the Society during his time in UCD.[13]

Most of the College's societies, including the UCD Student Union itself can trace their roots to the L&H.

Earlsfort years[edit]

Before the university moved to Belfield, the debates were held on Saturday nights in the Physics Theatre, in Earlsfort Terrace. Here, the popularity and renown of the L&H flourished and the Society first became known on a national scale.[citation needed] Quite often, events occurring at the Society's debates made front page news in the national press.

At various occasions, college authorities and external bodies attempted to shut the Society down, including in 1961, when the L&H was suspended by UCD authorities.[14] No such attempts have been successful.

On the Belfield campus[edit]

In 1972, the Society again relocated, this time to UCD's Belfield campus, where the majority of students now studied. Since this time the Society has grown in size and popularity due to the novice but dangerous initiation tasks that committee members carry out. Notably, in 1957 an unnamed committee member came close to being expelled after an event that the college refuses to disclose.[citation needed]

Centennial and sesquicentennial histories[edit]

A 150th Anniversary book, edited by Frank Callanan SC, has been published to update James Meenan’s centenary history of the society, published in 1955. The book, together with the reprinted centenary history, details the complete story of Ireland's most famous debating society and comprises a range of articles by various personalities from the L&H's past on the last 50 years of the Society, including Maeve Binchy, Owen Dudley Edwards, Vincent Browne, Kevin Myers, Adrian Hardiman and Michael McDowell .


Auditor and committee[edit]

The L&H is run by a committee each with specific responsibilities.[15] The committee is chosen by the Auditor, who is elected on a yearly basis by the enrolled membership of the Society. The Auditor is the head of the committee and responsible for the general running of the Society. Each Session begins in or around the beginning of the month of March, on the date of the AGM. The new Auditor for the coming year is appointed at this meeting, either as the result of an election from the enrolled membership or, in cases where a single candidate is unopposed, by nomination. Notable former auditors of the Society include former President of Ireland and Chief Justice Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, Professor Anthony Clare, comedians Dara Ó Briain and Jarlath Regan, notable suffragist and writer Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and Irish Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman. Notably, James Joyce ran for election to the post of auditor twice, and was defeated on both occasions.

The 153rd session of the Society recorded record membership for any University society in Europe. The membership exceeded 5,000 members, surpassing by several hundred the previous record, also set by the L&H in its 150th session. The 159th session of the society yet again broke this record, making it the university's largest ever society.[16]

President and vice presidents[edit]

These roles are largely ceremonial. The President of the L&H is always the President of the university. There are a number of vice-presidents, mostly made up of former members.


The Society has received an increased amount of funding in recent years, due to corporate sponsorship and college contributions.[citation needed]The Society receives far less funding from College authorities than its yearly calendar of events demands, and as such seeks corporate sponsorship to cover the costs of each Session. The current title sponsor of the Society is Arthur Cox solicitors, and the Society has in recent years received associate sponsorship from Deloitte and Phantom FM.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Constitution of the Literary and Historical Society (PDF)
  2. ^ "L&H displace LawSoc as biggest UCD society". The College Tribune. 27 September 2011. Archived from the original on 3 April 2012.
  3. ^ "L&H Membership". University Observer.
  4. ^ "Use of Shannon puts Ireland in line of fire, says Jesse Jackson" The Irish Times 11 November 2004
  5. ^ "Joyce award for Ferrell who will catch up on his reading" The Irish Times 1 January 2008
  6. ^ "Author has starstruck students under her spell" The Irish Times November 02, 2008
  7. ^ "Martinmania: students celebrate The Beatles' producer" The Irish Times 27 September 2008
  8. ^ "Back to his roots Students honour Palin" The Irish Independent 27 March 2008
  9. ^ "Salmon Rushdie honoured at UCD" The Irish Times 9 October 2008
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 6 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "University of Toronto wins world debating finals". The Irish Times. 1 January 2006.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Callanan, Frank (21 December 2008). "Conor Cruise O'Brien". Irish Independent. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  14. ^ - Trinity New - Thursday June 1 1961 - Tense Struggle in UCD, The L. and H. will Fight
  15. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 November 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "L&H Society - UCD's biggest and best student society". UCD Literary & Historical Society. Archived from the original on 22 June 2007 – via Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]