Literary and Historical Society (University College Dublin)

The Literary and Historical Society (L&H) is the oldest debating 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 prestigious and well-known student societies in Ireland. The society has over 6000 enrolled members and as of 2016, is the largest student society in UCD.[2][3]


House debates

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

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 and writer Salman Rushdie.[9]

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

UCD Vice Presidents' Cup IV

The Vice Presidents' Cup is one of the longest running intervarsity competitions on the Irish debating circuit. It draws teams from across the Islands of the North Atlantic (IONA) circuit, alongside European and American teams. It is uniquely acclaimed for a remarkably high level of competitors and adjudicators, and continues to increase its numbers and quality annually.

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

Year Winning team Top speaker on tab Chief adjudicators Convenors
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
2011 Catherine Murphy and John Engle (TCD Hist) Catherine Murphy Sam Block and Stephen Boyle
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

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
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' Neil
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
2011 Muireann O'Dwyer and Eoghan Casey (Comp) Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin

L&H Strauss Ball

Each year, the Society hosts UCD's only white tie ball, the Strauss Ball. After waltzes with each person on the card, 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. The event has become more and more creative and original in recent years .

Competitive debating

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.[10]

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.[11] Conor Cruise O'Brien served as Vice President of the Society during his time in UCD.[12]

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

Earlsfort years

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. 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, most memorably in 1961, when the L&H was suspended by UCD authorities.[13] No such attempts have been successful.

On the Belfield campus

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. The L&H continues to be the 'bearpit' for debate that it was renowned for since the 1950s.

Centennial and sesquicentennial histories

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

The L&H is run by a committee of enrolled members, each with a specific portfolio of responsibilities.[14] 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 annual 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, 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. As did the esteemed Dara O'Brian.

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 most recent 159th session of the society yet again broke this record, making it the university's largest ever society.[15]

President and vice presidents

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. 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


External links

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