The Literary and Debating Society (often referred to as the ‚ÄúLit & Deb‚ÄĚ) is the oldest and most prestigious society at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Founded in 1846, it is currently in its 172nd session (year). At the inaugural meeting of the society John J. Gibson outlined to the assembled masses that the purpose of the society was to ‚Äúelicit the latent sparks of genius in a few individuals, and send forth men of enlightened views and cultivated tastes‚ÄĚ, with those men issuing ‚Äúforth from this hall, who, vying with the great spirits of the past, shall illumine the future.‚ÄĚ Lit & Deb has, since then, been a force for the provocation and entertainment of the student body, its weekly debates, guest speakers, comedy and literary events offer and enriched university experience outside of the confines of the lecture theatre and academia.
Freedom of Speech:
Core to the principals of Lit & Deb is the principal of freedom of speech. Everything from politics and human rights to literature and medical ethics are fair game for discussion inside the walls of the Literary and Debating Society. Unfortunately, it is this commitment to freedom of speech that means the Society is never very far from controversy. In fact, the university has banned the society from campus on two separate occasions. For many years, the discussion of controversial topics could only take place in the chambers of the society, due to the mainly conservative university authorities.
Following a brief period of exile from the university when a meeting once led to riots and duelling, the society returned to continue hosting debates on issues of topical and perennial importance. Although duels are less common, the intensity and passion of debate in the chambers of the modern society is no less.
An Inclusive Forum:
Of equal importance to the society is the inclusiveness of its forum. 15,000 registered students and staff members automatically become members of the Lit & Deb and gain speaking privileges on entering the university. Thus we are the only true forum for students on campus. Private Members Time takes place before the main business of the society. Any member of the student or staff body may propose any motion they wish. Provided the motion is seconded, and then opposed, an impromptu debate will follow. We host meetings in this format every Thursday night during term.
Records Held by the Society:
Lit & Deb have many records to their name. With the election of Clare Fitzgerald in 1942, the society was the first student society in the world to elect a female auditor.
Also, the first paper to be delivered by a woman in the university was also delivered under the auspices of the Literary and Debating Society. In the 1980s Lit & Deb broke the World record for the longest continuous debate. Having lost it later that decade, the society broke the record again in 1995, a record they still hold to this day, after speaking for 28 days, 24 hours a day, (or the entire month February) on the motion ‚ÄúThat This House Has All the Time in the World.‚ÄĚ
The society has a strong involvement in external university debating also, with several winners of the Irish Times Debating Competition and even the World University Debating Championship among its alumni. Lit & Deb annually represents the Galway at national and international competitions in other universities including; Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Istanbul, Vancouver, Tallinn and Bangkok. The society also contributes to the debating calendar by hosting an annual debating intervarsity, The Irish National Law Debates (INLD) whereby over 150 speakers and judges descend on NUIG campus from the four corners of Ireland and further afield. Last year, the intervarsity was judged to be of sufficient standard and merit that we attracted none other than the winner of the European University‚Äôs Debating Championships 2008 as our chief adjudicator.
The Modern Society:
The modern society is as committed to the evocation on the ‚Äúlatent sparks of genius‚ÄĚ in the student populace today as it was in 1846, but the topics of discussion have changed. The Lit & Deb‚Äôs members have, in their history, pondered the benefits of colonialism at the zenith of British power, discussed the technological advances of the Victorian era and examined the implications of fascism in Western Europe.
Ms. Nancy Cartwright opened our 160th anniversary celebrations with a huge comedy event. It was attended by record numbers, where she received a ‚Äúc√©ad m√≠le f√°ilte‚ÄĚ, a hundred thousand Irish welcomes.
In opening the 161st Session, Anjem Choudary, a Lawyer and controversial pundit, proposed one of the most controversial motions in recent years, that the 9/11 attacks on the USA were justifiable. The same year, Professor Noam Chomsky from MIT engaged in a video conference discussion on the topic of ‚ÄúThe Rule of Law‚ÄĚ with a panel of commentators which included journalist Nell McCafferty.
Four days before the last American Presidential Election, Washington came to Galway with our own presidential debate on the merits of Barack Obama and John McCain. With guest speaker Bruce Morrison of the Morrison Visa Scheme and an audience of over 800, It was the first of many highlights in the 162nd Session.
This event was surpassed only four months later when the Society had the honour of Archbishop Desmond Tutu accepting our highest accolade, the Literary and Debating Society‚Äôs President‚Äôs Medal on a shared stage with Sir Bob Geldof. This event was attended by 1200 guests as well as ambassadors from around the world (below).
A number of other high profile Irish speakers that have spoken at Lit & Deb debates include Martin Sheen, Kevin Myers, Michael McDowell, Paul Howard, Gerard Stembridge, Douglas Murray, Roddy Doyle, Fintan O‚ÄôToole, Playwright Tom Murphy, Jeremy Irons and Patrick McCabe.
In 2010/ 2011 the society welcomed President Mary McAlleese, Warren Ellis and Max Brooks to the Society and held debates about Glamour models, Football and Music Piracy. The 167th session of the society was launched with a talk by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons and included debates on Big Pharma, torture and the place of feminism in Islam.
The society is dedicated to creating a community of open minded individuals through the holding of weekly debating workshops, hangouts and formal floor debates, giving a voice to students of the University in any matter which inspires them to speak in the Kirwan Theatre.
The Literary and Debating society meets every Thursday in the Kirwan Theatre on the concourse at 7pm.
We also hold Public Speaking Workshops every Tuesday of term in the Kirwan Theatre at 7pm and Wednesday Hangouts where we meet informally and chat about current issues.
For a full calendar of events see our website www.literaryanddebating.com
The Literary and Debating Society,
√Āras na Mac L√©inn,