Founded in 1846, the Literary and Debating Society has been fanning the flame of free speech in Galway for 171 yrs. Alums include Pres. Michael D. Higgins
Lit and Deb is currently in its 172nd session.
The Literary and Debating Society (also know as “Lit & Deb”) is the oldest and most prestigious society at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Founded in 1846, it is currently in its 171st year. At the inaugural meeting of the society John J. Gibson outlined to the assembled masses that the purpose of the society was to “elicit the latent sparks of genius in a few individuals, and send forth individuals of enlightened views and cultivated tastes”, with those individuals issuing “forth from this hall, who, vying with the great spirits of the past, shall illumine the future.” 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.
An Inclusive Forum:
Of equal importance to the society is the inclusiveness of its forum. 17,000 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.
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 “That This House Has All the Time in the World.”
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 university at national and international competitions in other universities including; Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Istanbul, Vancouver, Tallinn, Bangkok, Amsterdam, the Hague, Moscow and Gabarone. 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. We have in the past hosted the European Universities Debating Championships (EUDC). Hosting the EUDC was an enormous undertaking, with over 600 delegates attending the week long debate, culminating in a Grand Final where the Champions of Europe were crowned.
The Modern Society:
The modern society is as committed to the evocation on the “latent sparks of genius” in the student populace today as it was in 1846, but the topics of discussion have changed. The Lit & Deb’s 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.
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’Toole, Playwright Tom Murphy and Patrick McCabe.