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11 April 2008

Irish National Debaters Charm All

By Gary Gillespie Kirkland, WA April 9, 2008

An Irish legend promises that anyone who kisses a certain stone set in the wall of Blarney Castle will be endowed with powers of persuasion and eloquence.

The Blarney magic was on display on April 7 when three Irish lads visited the Eastside to take part in debates with Northwest University students.

History students, all from Dublin, Christopher Kissane, Stephen Boyle and John Gallagher won their national debating championship in February. The prize was a cross country public debate tour of American universities in Colorado, Florida, Washington, Oregon and California from March 27 to April 13. The trio arrived on Sunday, April 6 for a day of sightseeing in Seattle guided by three Northwest students to took them to the Space Needle and Pikes Place Market. They asked to see something that the typical tourist might miss, so three Northwest students took them to see the giant troll statue under the Fremont Bridge.

For the next two nights the men were treated to a stay at Kirkland’s new Heathman hotel – which agreed to officially sponsor the Irish team. The five star Heathman has 91 rooms in the center of Kirkland a few blocks from Lake Washington. It was the first “green built” hotel in the state and is one of the must luxurious anywhere.

The first of three debates took place at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond at 12 PM, followed by a round at the Kirkland City Hall at 3:30 PM and finally one at 6 PM on the Northwest University campus in Kirkland.

The topic for all three debates was: America would be better off with an Irish president.

An audience of about 100 Microsoft employees enthusiastically listened to the students outline arguments for and against John McCain for president. While each Irish student personally favor Obama for president, they were assigned to defend the Republican candidate as part of the academic game of debate. The Northwest students role playing the pro Obama side included team captain Nigel Reed and his partners Morgan Chinn and Casey Digennaro.

Mike Egan, International Relations Director for Microsoft, said that several employees of Irish decent made a point to fit the debate and lunch into their schedule that day. He also said that he noticed several Vice Presidents attended as well. In addition to providing lunch for the debaters, Eagan generously presented each debater with a gift Microsoft logo jacket to remember the event. The Microsoft PAC invites nationally recognized speakers each month, including Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton and even the former president of Ireland Mary Robertson for lunch time presentations for employees who choose to attend.

After the debate Stephen Boyle reported that he and his teammates especially enjoyed the Microsoft debate, considering it “the best one on our trip so far.”

Later that day the debate students were hosted by the City of Kirkland’s communications director Janice Perry for a debate in the City Hall chambers. The debate was televised on KGOV cable television and streamed over the web. Watch the debate here. This time the Irish argued that Obama is actually the Irish candidate because he has documented Irish heritage. That meant that the Northwest debaters -- Nigel Reed, Morgan Chinn and Shelly Hall – choose to defend Hillary Clinton as the best presidential hopeful. After the debate, Perry gave each debater a gift KGOV coffee mug filled with treats.

Finally at 6 PM that evening about sixty people gathered in a lecture hall of Northwest University’s new Health Science building to hear the debate champs tackle the issue yet again. This time the Irish repeated their spirited defense of Senator McCain and Northwest students, Reed, Digennaro and Elly Kazakova opposed.

The evening began when the Irish were welcomed to the Seattle area by John Keane, Secretary of the Seattle Irish Heritage Club, who brought signed copies of his book “Irish Seattle” for the Irish guests as gifts. Keane then joined six professors and Northwest debate alumni who made up the judging panel.

At the end of the debate the judges were escorted into another room to deliberate while the audience voted by applause for which team they thought did the better job of debating. Audience members also come forward for one minute pro or con speeches on the same topic as the debate.
Christopher Kissane – a dual US - Irish citizen -- stood up to the white board to point out that Obama should be spelled with an apostrophe after the O – “O’Bama” -- to stress that while they were assigned to defend McCain he and his friends actually hope that the Democrat wins the presidency. He remarked that people in Ireland follow American politics closely because what happens in the United States often has an impact on Ireland as well.

The audience and the judges for the evening contest voted for the visiting Irish team – a decision that matched the votes of the previous debates that day – giving the champions three more wins to add to their list of achievements and confirming yet again the Blarney legend. Debate coach Professor Gary Gillespie presented the winners with Space Needle trophies to conclude the event.

Alumni and students then enjoyed dinner downtown Kirkland to say farewell to the charming Irish lads who left early the next day for Eugene, Oregon for more debates at the University of Oregon.

More about the Irish National Debate Team tour.
More about Northwest University Eagle Debate Team.

Gary Gillespie
Associate Professor, Director of Debate
Northwest University

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