There are plenty of people in UCD who are happy to voice their opinions on all and sundry, but not all of them would have the nerve to stand up in a lecture hall and argue their case in front of their fellow students. Those who do, debate.
Aoife McDonagh is a first year Law with French Law student who had no previous experience of debating before September, but who developed an interest in the highly verbal activity after attending a comedy debate during Freshers’ Week.
After she signed up and took part in the Literary & Historical Society’s (L&H) Maidens debating competition, McDonagh was bitten with the debating bug. “I really enjoyed it, got a bit of a thrill out of it and kept with it.”
Covering topics ranging from abortion, euthanasia, the role of the media to hostages, debaters speak on a truly varied number of topics, but according to McDonagh the level of research required is not all that indepth.
“I think what’s nice about it is that it’s not like study, it’s just general knowledge and expressing your own opinion.”
Seasoned debaters have their natural, off-the-cuff air down to a fine art, but even those who are just starting off have to learn to work with their own minimal notes and not read from a prepared script, leaving their argument open to a certain amount of improvisation.
McDonagh’s method is just to “write down a couple of points and try and work with it… it’s all about practice!” Of course from time to time, words have failed her, but frustrating as it may be, it is as she admits, “all part of the learning curve”.
Anyone who has been to a debate in UCD will have seen the pros in action; disarming their opponents with valid points and seemingly unbeatable confidence, but behind the scenes they are far from intimidating.
“Nobody in there is scary, they’re just very good debaters. They absolutely are there to give a helping hand to anyone who asks and they’re always giving advice.”
Another off-putting factor for potential debaters could be the sheer size of the societies involved. This has not been an issue for McDonagh, but she does admit that she “was lucky because I knew a lot of the girls in there already”.
Many first year debaters have taken part in school debating beforehand but experience is not a prerequisite. The Maidens debating specifically aimed at novices.
Like any extra-curricular activity in college, the bottom line is the social aspect. Aoife has gotten to know plenty of people through debating, and although she hasn’t “really experienced the social side yet”, an intervarsity debating weekend in Cork should be a good introduction to the lighter side of the L&H debating community. One thing’s for sure- they won’t be short of something to talk about.
In conversation with Aoife McDonagh