Literary and Historical Society (University College Dublin)

Literary and Historical Society (University College Dublin)

The Literary and Historical Society (L&H) is University College Dublin's oldest debating society and the official College Debating Union. Founded in 1855 by John Henry Cardinal Newman, it is one of the most prestigious and well-known student societies in Ireland. The society has over 22,000 ordinary members and over 5,200 enrolled members, making it the largest on-campus student society in Irish history.


House Debates

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 college's lecture theatres. Personalities central to the topic being discussed are invited to enlighten the house with knowledge and arguments specific to the motion. Motions for debate range from euthanasia (at which a Dutch euthanasiast spoke) to the more light-hearted "Battle of the Sexes" debate, chaired last year by rugby pundit and radio presenter George Hook. The porn debate and Battle of the sexes debates in 2007 attracted the largest crowds to ever attend an L&H debate. The debates convenors for 2008/2009 are Michael Conroy, Eoin Sheehy and Conor McAndrew. Attendance at house debates varies weekly, with some debates attracting over 600 people. Motions have ranged from those concerning the death penalty and abortion to pornography and the existence of God.

Guest speakers and L&H Accolades

The L&H also regularly invites speakers outside of debates. Recently these speakers have included Roger Moore, Noam Chomsky, John Hume, Bill Bryson, John Nash and Robin Cook. Guests range from academics, to activists and sometimes, controversial figures.

The Society awards Honorary Fellowships and James Joyce Awards to individuals who have "contributed significantly to a field of human endeavour". The Honorary Fellowship of the L&H is the highest honour that any student body in Ireland can bestow upon an individual. Recent recipients of either of the two awards include F. W. De Klerk, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Noam Chomsky and John Howard, actor Ralph Fiennes, actor Will Ferrell, Harry Potter author JK Rowling, former UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, celebrated novelist Bill Bryson, former England soccer captain Gary Lineker, comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, Monty Python member Michael Palin and Irish comedy writer Graham Linehan.

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

The Strauss Ball

Each year, the Society hosts UCD's only white tie ball, the Strauss Ball. Each lady attending is given a dance card, which they fill with ten different names. 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.

Competitive Debating

The L&H is the most successful competitive debating society in Ireland by a significant margin. 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, more than any other Irish society, and has sent teams as far afield as Asia, Australia, Africa and North America. In 2005/2006 UCD hosted the World Universities Debating Championship.

The Society also promotes and organises competitive debating in schools across Ireland through the Schools' Mace, the Denny Schools Debating Competition and the AIB L&H Junior Schools' Competition, all of 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 Cardinal John Henry 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.

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

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. 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 and 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 centenery 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.


Auditor and Committee

The L&H is run by a committee of enrolled members, each with a specific portfolio of responsibilities. 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.

The Auditor for the 154th Session is Ian Hastings.

Previously in the 153rd session of the Society, under then Auditor Michael MacGrath, 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.

President and Vice-Presidents

These roles are largely ceremonial. The President of the L&H is Dr. Hugh Brady, the President of UCD. 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.

External links

* [ Literary and Historical Society Website]
* [ UCD Website]

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