Irish Times Debate

The Irish Times National Debating Championship is a debating competition for students in higher education in Ireland. It has been run since 1960, sponsored by The Irish Times. While most participants represent institutions in the Republic of Ireland, institutions in Northern Ireland are also eligible.


The Union of Students in Ireland approached The Irish Times in 1960 to secure sponsorship for an Irish equivalent of the Observer Mace,[1] a debating competition started in Britain in 1954. The "Debating Union of Ireland" was formed for a time,[1] but later The Irish Times would appoint a student convenor each year, often a previous year's winner.[1] Until the 1970s, the best teams and individual went on to compete in the final of the Observer Mace.[2] (The Mace no longer has an individual competition.)

In 1979, Gary Holbrook of Metropolitan State College of Denver was on sabbatical at Trinity College Dublin and was impressed with the debate.[3] In 1980, he persuaded Coors Brewers to sponsor a debate tour of U.S. colleges for the winning team and individual speakers.[3] The Irish were struck there by the very different approach of American debaters.[4] Holbrook subsequently organised "Friends of the Irish Debate",[5] sponsored by The Irish Times and Aer Lingus, to make the tour annual.[1] The tour is now organised by the U.S. National Parliamentary Debate Association.

In 2010, a special celebration marked the debate's 50th anniversary.[6]


The competition is generally considered the most prestigious in Ireland, due in part to the additional media attention provided by its sponsor, but also the status of some of the former winners, and the US tour which forms part of the prize. Running between November and February, it operates on a knockout basis, with the initial entrants (usually between 150-170 teams) being whittled down over successive rounds, culminating in a Grand Final with four teams and four individuals competing for team honours (The Demosthenes Trophy) and an individual prize (The Christina Murphy Memorial Trophy).

The format of the competition is now unique in third-level debating, combining team and individual roles. The first round consists solely of team entrants, from which both teams and individuals progress, thus creating subsequent rounds featuring both. Individuals may be selected from a team at any stage of the competition, including to win the competition at the final stage. The winning individual cannot be selected from the winning team, though this restriction was not observed in the 1972 competition, where Donal Deeny took both prizes.[2] In that year, the judges nominated Kathleen Boyle to progress to the Observer Mace individual competition.[2]

The only other competition to adopt the same format is the All-Ireland Schools' Debating Competition.[7]


By year

Year Team
Speaker 1
Speaker 2
1960[8] King's Inns Aidan Browne Charles Lysaght TCD Hist Neville Keery
1961[8] TCD Phil Hallam Johnston Jack Daniels UCD L&H Peter Donnelly
1962[8] QUB John Murtagh Michael Egan TCD Hist Ian Blake
1963[8] UCD L&H Patrick Cosgrave Anthony Clare RCSI Desmond King[2]
1964[8] UCD L&H Patrick Cosgrave Anthony Clare King's Inns Terry McMahon
1965[8] TCD Hist David McConnell Cian Ó hÉigeartaigh QUB Literific Eamonn McCann
1966[8] TCD Hist David McConnell Cian Ó hÉigeartaigh UCD L&H Esmond Smyth
1967[8] UCC Philosoph Donnchadh Ó Corráin Anthony J. Adolph King's Inns Kevin O'Higgins
1968[8] UCD L&H Roddy Buckley Dermot Gleeson UCD L&H Henry Kelly
1969[8] QUB Brendan Keenan Derek Davis UCC Philosoph Anthony J. Adolph
1970[8] UCD L&H Neal Clarke Donal O'Riain UCD L&H Adrian Hardiman
1971[8] TCD Hist Donnell Deeny Gregory Murphy DIT Bolton Street Marian Finucane
1972[8] TCD Hist Donnell Deeny Frank Bannister TCD Hist
(St Mary's, Belfast)
Donnell Deeny
(Kathleen Boyle)[2]
1973[8] QUB Billy McRory Jimmy Hughes UCD L&H Adrian Hardiman
1974[8] TCD Hist David O'Sullivan James Connolly NUU Alex Lowry
1975[8] NUU Michael Hughes Kevin Cahill King's Inns Brian Curtin
1976[8] UCD L&H Paul Gill Gerry Danaher Maynooth Deirdre Murphy
1977[8] Maynooth Patrick Hennessy Gerry Maher UCD L&H Patrick Healy
1978[8] UCD Law Soc Conor Gearty Donal O'Donnell King's Inns Turlough O'Donnell
1979[8] UCD Law Soc Conor Gearty John O'Donnell UCD L&H Maurice Biggar
1980[8] UCD L&H Maurice Biggar Eugene McCague King's Inns Brian Havel
1981[8] UCD L&H Charlie Meehan Gerry Stembridge TCD Hist Sean Moran
1982[8] TCD Phil Michael Byrne Gerry Foley UCC Philosoph Liam Plant
1983[8] UCG Lit & Deb Eoin O'Maoileoin Damian Crawford TCD Hist Bill Maguire
1984[8] TCD Hist Eoin McCullough Brian Murray UCD L&H Pat Whyms
1985[8] UCC Philosoph David Holland Brian Hassett TCD Hist Gideon Taylor
1986[8] TCD Phil Declan McCavana David Keane UCG Lit & Deb Brendan Wilkins
1987[8] TCD Hist Aidan Kane Paul Gavin UCG Lit & Deb Conor Bowman
1988[8] UCC Philosoph Adrian Hunt Tim Murphy UCC Philosoph Robert Plant
1989[8] King's Inns Maeve Collins Pat Twomey UCD Law Soc Julian Clare
1990[8] UCC Philosoph Brendan Lenihan Don O'Sullivan Cadet School Tom Clonan
1991[8] King's Inns Tim O'Leary Pat Treacy UCD L&H Barra Faughnan
1992[2] UCD L&H Johanna Farrelly Pat O'Keeffe UCD Law Soc Cian Ferriter
1993[9] TCD Hist Brendan Foley Gavin Titley UCC Philosoph Kieran Healy
1994[10] UCD L&H Dara Ó Briain Marcus Dowling King's Inns Bernard Dunleavy
1995[11] UCC Philosoph Alan Roberts Diarmuid Conway UCC Philosoph Gerry Hyde
1996[12] King's Inns Helen Boyle Paul McDermott TCD Hist Douglas Clarke
1997[13] UL Debating Union Seamus Doran Padraic O'Halloran SADSI Matthew McCabe
1998[14] UCC Philosoph Muireann Ní Chinnéide Elizabeth Barrett TCD Hist Paul Gleeson
1999[15] UCD L&H Caoilfhionn Gallagher Bernadette Quigley King's Inns Rossa Fanning
2000[16] King's Inns Michael Deasy Rónán Mullen SADSI Louise Rouse
2001[17] TCD Hist Bríd McGrath Yvonne Campbell TCD Hist Aoife Titley
2002[18] TCD Hist Louie Mooney Brendan Kelly UCC Philosoph Conor Buckley
2003[19] UCD L&H Leo Mulrooney Colm Coyne TCD Hist Alison McIntyre
2004[20] DCU Ian Kehoe Michael Moriarty King's Inns Paul Brady
2005[21] King's Inns David Whelan Sam Collins UCD L&H Frank Kennedy
2006[22] King's Inns Barry Glynn Mark Murphy UCC Philosoph Diarmuid Early
2007[23] TCD Hist David Boughton Ciaran Denny King's Inns David Quinn
2008[24] TCD Hist Christopher Kissane David Kenny UCD L&H Stephen Boyle
2009[25] TCD Hist John Gallagher Andrea Mulligan UCD L&H Jeremy Kinsella
2010[26] TCD Hist Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin Niall Sherry Griffith College Dublin Sean O'Quigley
2011 King's Inns Lorcan Price Áine Hartigan TCD Law Mark Thuillier
2012 RCSI Eoin Kelleher Elizabeth Ahern-Flynn UCD Med Soc Michael Conroy
2013[27] Bram Stoker Club Liam Brophy John Engle Hist Kate Brady
2014 SADSI Dearbhla O'Gorman Kieran O'Sullivan UCD Med Soc William Courtney
2015 TCD Phil Rónán O'Connor Hugh Guidera UCD L&H Eoin MacLachlan
2016 SADSI Ross O'Mahony Aaron Vickery UCD L&H Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

By society

Society University Team wins Individual wins
College Historical Society (Hist) Trinity College, Dublin 14 11
Literary and Historical Society (L&H) University College Dublin 11 13
Law Students' Debating Society of Ireland King's Inns 8 9
UCC Philosophical Society (Philosoph) University College Cork 6 7
Literary and Scientific Society (Literific) Queen's University Belfast 3 1
University Philosophical Society (Phil) Trinity College, Dublin 4 0
Law Society University College Dublin 2 2
Literary and Debating Society (Lit & Deb) National University of Ireland, Galway 1 2
RCSI Debating Society Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 1 1
New University of Ulster 1 1
St. Patrick's College, Maynooth 1 1
Dublin City University 1 0
Law Society Trinity College Dublin 1 0
Bram Stoker Club Trinity College, Dublin 1 0
University of Limerick 1 0
Solicitors' Apprentices Debating Society of Ireland 1 2
Griffith College Dublin 0 1
Cadet School 0 1
Dublin Institute of Technology 0 1
Medicine Society University College Dublin 0 2

Notable participants

Many winners have had successful careers in law.[6] Former winners in the legal field include Supreme Court judges Adrian Hardiman and Donal O'Donnell; Circuit Court judges Esmond Smyth, Kevin O'Higgins,[8] and Brian Curtin; Senior Counsels Dermot Gleeson,[8] Aidan Browne,[8] and Gregory Murphy;[8] and professor Conor Gearty. James Connolly, winner in 1974, was Vice Chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland and recently chair of public inquiries in Dublin.

David O'Sullivan, winner in 1974, became secretary general to the President of the European Commission. Maeve Collins, winner in 1989, is the Irish Ambassador to Vietnam. Neville Keery, 1960 winner, was a member of the 12th Seanad, and later Head of Libraries of the European Commission.[28]

Other well-known former winners include broadcasters Anthony Clare, Henry Kelly, Derek Davis, Cian Ó hÉigeartaigh,[8] and Marian Finucane; comedian Dara Ó Briain; and writers Eamonn McCann, Gerry Stembridge, Kevin Cahill. The losing finalists in 1966 included future Presidents Mary Robinson and Michael D. Higgins.[29] Future Tánaiste Mary Harney[1] and Minister Mary Hanafin[6] also appeared as finalists.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Murphy, Christina (31 January 1992). "Conquerors of the "bear pit"". The Irish Times. p. 9. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Murphy, Christina (14 February 1992). "Finding the missing debaters". The Irish Times. p. 28. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  3. 1 2 "Debate winners invited to US". The Irish Times. 10 March 1980. p. 13. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  4. Murphy, Christina (18 December 1980). "'Dazzling with Blarney'". The Irish Times. p. 10. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  5. "Fourth estate under scrutiny". The Irish Times. 31 January 1992. p. 9. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  6. 1 2 3 Holmquist, Kate (19 February 2010). "Where the sharpest pit their wits". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  7. O'Neill, Liam. "Convenor". Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 "Where are they now?". The Irish Times. 31 January 1992. p. 9. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  9. "TCD wins student debate". The Irish Times. 6 February 1993. p. 4.
  10. "L & H wins final of debate competition". The Irish Times. 28 February 1994. p. 6.
  11. Connolly, John (28 February 1995). "Victory by the Lee". The Irish Times. p. 4, E&L.
  12. "Presenting future stars?". The Irish Times. 20 February 1996.
  13. "Limerick University makes its debut win in debate final". The Irish Times. 12 February 1997.
  14. "Team from UCC wins 'Irish Times' debate". The Irish Times. 20 February 1998. p. 10.
  15. "Dublin dominates `Irish Times' debate". The Irish Times. 2 February 1999.
  16. Taney, Paul (26 February 2000). "Kings' Inns, Solicitors of Ireland take honours". The Irish Times.
  17. Donnellan, Eithne (24 February 2001). "SF a long way from coalition - McGuinness". The Irish Times.
  18. Stafford, Janet (26 February 2002). "No debate about class of winners". The Irish Times.
  19. McNally, Frank (22 February 2003). "UCD team win Irish Times debating trophy". The Irish Times.
  20. McGarry, Patsy (2 February 2004). "Hosts Dublin City University win 'Irish Times' debating final". The Irish Times.
  21. McConnell, Daniel (3 March 2005). "King's Inns the victors in 'Irish Times' debate". The Irish Times.
  22. Siggins, Lorna (23 February 2006). "King's Inns team wins 'Irish Times' debate competition". The Irish Times.
  23. "Hist wins Irish Times debate". Trinity College Dublin. 1 February 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-06.
  24. "Trinity students win team award". The Irish Times. 1 March 2008.
  25. Hayes, Kathryn (23 February 2009). "TCD Historical Soc takes team award". The Irish Times.
  26. McCann, Fiona (20 February 2010). "'Irish Times' Debate: Fianna Fáil's role in Ireland under discussion". The Irish Times.
  27. Moriarty, Gerry (February 23, 2013). "TCD Bram Stoker Club wins 'Irish Times' Debate in Queen's". The Irish Times.
  28. Keery, Neville (1 December 1997). "The Challenge of Openness as European Union Information goes Electronic". First Monday. Chicago: UIC. 2 (12). Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  29. McTiernan, Anthea (31 January 1992). "Momentous occasion for future president". The Irish Times. p. 9. Retrieved 2009-04-18.

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