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22 February 2010

Irish Times US tour history

As you may know the Irish Times Debating Championships (Irish National Championships) recently celebrated it's 50th year.  One of the key elements in the success of the championships is that the winners get to tour the United States.  The key driving force behind this is Professor Gary  Holdbrook. 

Gary established the US tour back in the early 1980s and has been present at most Irish Times Finals ever since.  While much of Irish University Debating has transformed to a Worlds/BP format the Irish Times remains with its unique format and remains the competition to win on the Irish circuit.  I believe the attraction of the US tour is a key factor in this.  Irish Debating owes Gary a huge debt of gratitute.  I hope this post goes some way to expressing that gratitude.

Gary recently sent me a brief history of the tour and included some articles from old newspaper reports.

1980 – 1996
Gary H. Holbrook
Professor Emeritus
Contact Information:
February 15th – February 21
01 644 7541

The Perfect Storm
January 1979, I walked through the Front Gate of Trinity College for my first of three sabbaticals – a sabbatical that would be the beginning of the Irish Debate Series. I was attached to the Higher Diploma Program in the Education Department and I was allowed by the College Historical Society to conduct research on the early beginnings of the Society.
I attended Debates at the Hist and was quite taken by the style and quality of Parliamentary Debate. I had hosted at Metropolitan State College in Denver, the 1978 National Debate Tournament which brought the sixty-two top teams in the United States for the National title. When I started attending debates at the Hist, I had never heard such lively exchanges and heckling in a formal debate setting before. I remember an exchange where Pat Healy, a UCD L&H 1977 Times individual winner who enjoyed heckling, receive his just reward from Suzanne Kelly from the L&H who gave it back as fast as he could heckle. There was an electricity in the air when the Hist and the L&H got together to see who was the better debating society. Debate was the major entertainment of that era. I went to Bristol University in England that spring for the Final of the Observer Mace Debates. (John Smith Memorial Debates). The Irish teams finished first and second. Conor Gearty and his partner, Donal O'Donnell, won their second Observer Mace representing the UCD Law Society. Eugene McCague and Suzanne Kelly for the UCD Law Society, were runner ups. At the end of the debates, I had a general discussion to see if there was any interest in a tour of the United States of Irish Debaters.
The English Speaking Union had sponsored a yearly tour of the States since the 1920s. But to my knowledge an Irish team had never toured representing the Republic of Ireland. It was Eugene McCague who proposed that this discussion continue in Dublin. A series of meetings were held in my rooms at Trinity as described by Maeve-Ann Wren, in her chapter in the L&H 1955-2005. ―So lively is the Dublin debating scene that a visiting American academic takes an interest. Gary Holbrook invites some of us to tea in his rooms in Trinity to discuss the possibility of Irish debaters visiting the US. We find the concept exotically improbable. From this beginning opens an amazing world of debating competitions‖. (p.216)
In attendance on a regular basis were Eugene McCague, representing the UCD Law Society, Alex Owens, Auditor of the Hist, Dermot Quinn, senior member of the Hist and Maeve-Ann Wren, Auditor of the L& H. It was decided that if this tour would go forth that the winners of the Irish Times Debate would be the best representatives for the tour. I scheduled a luncheon meeting with Christiana Murphy, the Education Editor of the Irish Times and she supported the idea if sponsorship could be found. I had an idea of a potential sponsor in Golden, Colorado. On my return to Colorado in late May, I scheduled a meeting with Norm Dominguez, who was in charge of college marketing for the Adolph Coors Company. Norm had worked with me when Metro State hosted the National Debate Tournament. Coors hosted an elaborate reception at the Brewery for coaches and judges. Norm saw Coors’ potential sponsorship as a positive way of showing Coors' commitment to academic endeavors and was able to convince the company to sponsor a tour of the winners of the Irish Times Debate. I returned to Dublin in August of 1979 with sponsorship in hand and the 1980 tour of the United States became a reality. Coors underwrote the tour for three years. I was more 3

than happy for the three years of sponsorship as it gave us a national tour recognition that we could not have ever achieved otherwise.
I then formed the Friends of the Irish Debate Series which allowed fundraising, and with the support of Metro State and the participating schools, the tour continued. The Irish Times and Aer Lingus provided roundtrip flights to New York for the debaters and I arranged funding for transportation in the States. Metro State acted as the host for the first fifteen years of the tour. In 1995, The National Parliamentary Debate Association became the sponsor and host in the United States. I continued to act as the coordinator of the tour through 1996. All of the right pieces and players were in place for the beginning of this International Debate Series and now we can celebrate the 30th Anniversary.
The 1980 winners of the Irish Times Debating Competition were the first debaters to tour the United States. Thirty years later we celebrate the oldest international tour of the United States of the winners of a national debating competition. Ninety Irish Debaters will have traveled to the United States with the end of the 2010 tour, unique in many ways, from the fact that this tour was funded in the beginning by the Adolph Coors Company and subsequently the Irish Times, Aer Lingus and the Friends of the Irish Debate Series, Metropolitan State College, Denver and today, the National Parliamentary Debate Association and the Irish Times Newspaper with Aer Lingus.
The following pages will give you a brief history as how things fell into place for the first tour with photographs and articles on ―Team '80‖, Eugene McCague, Charles Meenan and Brian Havel. An article written by Christina Murphy on her visit to Denver in the 1990s and Christina's obituary gives us a clear insight as to her many important contributions to Ireland.
It is our hope to develop a dedicated webpage that will include photos and articles of the 17 years that I was a part of the series.

Gary H. Holbrook
Professor Emeritus
Founder of the USA Debate Tour

The first stop on the 1980 Debate Tour was the
University of Wyoming in Laramie. 5 6 7

THE IRISH TIMES, April 19, 1991
Christina Murphy, Irish Times journalist prepared the following article after travelling with the Irish Times Debate winners on their tour of US universities
The three American debaters from Metropolitan State College in
Denver Colorado, (from left) Jeff Howard, Sean Goode and
M.J. Coots; photographed with Tim O”Leary, Barren Faughnan
and Pat Treacy, the winners of the Irish Times competition,
who debated against them.
METROPOLITAN State College in Denver, Colorado, may not be the best known university in the United States, and Prof Gary Holbrook of its speech and communications department may not be the most famous academic, but both are household names among many Irish students — particularly those involved in student debating. Each year the winners of the Irish Times Debate, the main national student debating competition, go on a debating tour of US universities in the west and mid-west. The tour is organized by Holbrook and the Friends of the Irish Debate, both based in Metropolitan State College otherwise known as "Metro". This year's Irish Times winners, Pat Treacy and Tim O'Leary of the Kings Inns Debating Society (winning team) and Barra Faughnan of the L & H at University College Dublin (individual winner) has just returned from the annual three week American tour, during part of which they were accompanied by this writer. The Irish Times competition has been in existence for thirty years, with teams from all the major third level debating societies competing for the Demosthenes trophy and gold medals for the best speakers.
In 1979, Holbrook, who teaches debating skills or "forensics" as part of his speech and communications course, came to Trinity on sabbatical. Irish student debating was on a crest at the time. Two law students, Conor Gearty and Donal O'Donnell, winners of the Irish Times trophy, had just beaten every university team in Britain in two successive years. Holbrook was mesmerized. "The Irish debaters were fantastic yet nobody had heard of them in the States. The English Speaking Union brought teams from Oxford and Cambridge to tour the US campuses each year, yet here were guys who regularly beat these colleges." He conceived the idea of an Irish student debaters' tour and came to us with a proposal that the winners of the Irish Times trophy should travel to Denver each year and engage in a debating tour of US colleges organized by him. It was an attractive idea but sounded at first prohibitively expensive. But Aer Lingus liked it too and came on board as joint sponsors looking after travelling costs, and the first tour took place in 1980.
Holbrook set up a ―Friends of the Irish Debate organization — complete with leprechauns, shamrocks and shillelaghs on their logo — to raise funds and organize the debate. In reality most of the funding now comes from Metro itself, and Holbrook handles the organization. He travels to Dublin each January to adjudicate at the Irish Times debate semi-finals and assess the talent for the tour, which always takes place before St Patrick's Day, and the Irish debaters then travel to places like Laramie, and Cheyenne, Wyoming; Fort Collins, Boulder and Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they debate teams from various other universities. But Metro and Denver are the really big event. Denver may not sound like a very Irish city, but St Patrick's Day is as big there as anywhere 8

in the States. It has its quota of Irish-American politicians and to be of Irish ancestry carries the same cache as in Boston or New York. The level of interest in the debate was amazing. We arrived at midnight on Thursday night, exhausted after an l4-hour journey from Dublin — but the three debaters had to be up at the crack of dawn next day to participate in an 8 am radio chat show. Every time I looked at the television or turned on the radio all week they seemed to be talking about Ireland or St Patrick's Day on the debate.
The Metro president, Dr. Thomas Brewer, hosted a dinner in honor of the‖ Friends of the Irish Debate‖ at which a formal, framed, leprechaun-bedecked scroll was presented to yours truly in recognition of The Times' involvement, and Pat Treacy made a presentation and a lovely speech to the president from the Irish visitors. The dean of the arts faculty hosted a dinner, the women's studies department made me guest of honor at their International Women's Day reception, and the debaters sat with the mayor, Frederico Pena on the reviewing stand for the St. Patrick's Day parade and made a televised presentation to him at the end of the parade. Television producer and script writer, Gerry Stembridge (of Scrap Saturday fame), is one of the more famous tour "old boys", having travelled to Denver as a student on one of the earliest tours. He had been invited back this year to run some television production workshops for students on the Metro campus and whenever the debaters were not on the talk shows, Stembridge seemed to be there!
The big debate between the Metro team and the Irish debaters was broadcast live on the campus TV network and relayed on public television throughout Colorado the following week. And the campus television recorded a 45-minute discussion program on Ireland with Stembridge and me chaired by Prof Holbrook. This too went out first on campus and later on state-wide public television. To Stembridge's amazement, all of this filming and recording was done by students under the direction of a faculty member. He didn't think the RTE unions would take too kindly to such practices! Everywhere we were interviewed or had discussions, people wanted to talk about our new woman president. They were all fascinated by the idea that Ireland had been one of the first countries to elect a woman president and they all thought she enjoyed the same powers as
George Bush!
The motion for debate at all of the venues was That This House Favors a Palestinian State. a motion which drew quite a bit of indignant criticisms for even daring to raise the question, let alone support it. But, President George Bush had just made his New World order – Peace in the Middle East speech as we arrived, even mentioning a home for the Palestinians, so the topic became more respectable. As it happened, the Irish were drawn to speak against the motion in any case — though they had to support it on some of the other campuses. The Metro debate took place in a large hall with a big American flag on one side of the platform and the Irish flag on the other side; top-hatted leprechauns cavorted on the logo on the front of the podium. The hall was packed, with many more outside watching it on television monitors. Lots of business people, local politicians and other assorted non-campus adults turned up. The Metro team was very good. It consisted of Jeff Howard, an Afro-American studying broadcasting; Sean Gooden, a tall blond pony-tailed communications student, and M. J. Coots, a woman student also studying communications. On facts and information I thought they were better than the Irish students, but in presentation, delivery and wit the Irish had the edge. American student debaters on the whole tend to have a more plodding style, heavy on facts and weak on delivery. But Howard, in particular seemed to have mastered the technique of lively delivery, throwing his arms around the place, much body movement and lots of humor. There is no adjudication in American debates and, therefore, no winners or losers. The debate took place at lunchtime. "You wouldn't get students to come back to the campus in the evening,‖ Holbrook 9

pointed out, "and in any case many of them have evening jobs." After the debate, there was a reception with more presentations and huge jugs of vivid; green fruit drink — alcohol strictly prohibited.
President Brewer and his faculty and students were all extraordinarily friendly and helpful to their Irish visitors and they put a lot of resources, both time and money, into organizing the Irish Debate series. Why, one might well wonder. Brewer speaks of "expanding our knowledge of a multicultural world", bringing a greater international dimension to the campus. Denver a most beautiful city of one million people, is a four-hour flight from New York or Washington" so, unlike Ireland is or other European countries, they don't get many foreign students visiting their campus. For the Irish students, too, the tour is an opportunity to widen their horizons and build links with young American people. Particularly valuable is that it is in a different part of the United States to the traditional Irish venues of New York, Boston or Chicago. Meanwhile, we continued on our celebrity trail, your reporter was invited to address the Denver Forum, a sort of Rotary Club of business people and public figures; Gerry Stembridge was asked to give a creative writing seminar, the debaters were invited to meet the governor of Colorado and asked to State Senator Dennis Gallagher's St Patrick's Day party, where they had to give a little demonstration of the ―gift of the gab". We were all invited down to the State House and presented on the floor of both the State Senate and the House of Representatives.
Gallagher stood up and asked to introduce a special motion. They all knew the week that was in it, he said, and St Patrick's Day was the day after tomorrow, so he would like to introduce some distinguished guests from Ireland . . . and our names were called out and we were solemnly presented. It was marvelous and for al1`l the world like Cork Co. Council; they all applauded and jumped up, shook our hands, slapped us on the back and told us their name was McCormack or Murphy and their great-granny came from Roscommon. Everyone should have the chance to be Irish and famous in Denver for a week. 10

Coors was the sponsor of the Debate Tour for the first three years, 1980 – 1982, then the Friends of the Irish Debate Series was formed. Below is an example of a topic that was debated in that series and the influence of the Friends of the Irish Debate Series logo. 11


In the first seventeen years of the Series, the Irish appeared in 133 debates at 46 schools
Adams State College, Alamosa, Colorado
Arizona State University
California Polytechnical State University
Cherry Creek High School, Denver, Colorado
Chico State, California
Claremont McKenna University, California
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska
George Mason University, Virginia
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Gonzoga University, Washington
Harvard University
Iowa State University
Kansas State University
Kearney State College, Nebraska
Metropolitan State College of Denver
Middle Tennessee State University
Northern Arizona University
Northwest College, Powell, Wyoming
Odessa Junior College, Texas
Oregon State University
Pacific Lutheran, Washington
Portland Community College
Regis University, Denver, Colorado
Rice University Southwest Missouri State University – (1996 National Parliamentary Debate)
The Colorado College (1994 National Parliamentary Debate)
Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas
United States Air Force Academy
University of Alaska
University of Arizona
University of Arkansas
University of Colorado, Boulder
University of Denver
University of Nevada, Reno
University of New Mexico
University of Northern Colorado
University of San Francisco
University of Southern Colorado
University of Texas, El Paso
University of Wyoming (location of the first debate in 1980)
Vanderbilt University, Tennessee
Western State College, Colorado
Wichita State University, Kansas
Willamette University (1995 National Parliamentary Debate) 13

Journalist who pioneered education coverage dies in Dublin
Mon, Sep 16, 1996
THE death took place in Dublin yesterday of Irish Times journalist Christina Murphy who was a pioneer of educational coverage in the newspaper and one of the country's leading commentators on education issues.
She was a duty editor of The Irish Times, editor of the Education and Living supplement and a former education correspondent of the newspaper. She joined the staff as women's editor and before that had been the editor off Young Citizen Magazine, the Institute of Public Administration, publication.
She was a member of the interim local radio commission, An Coimisiun Raidio Aitiuil, set up in the mid 1980s to plan and organize local and community radio, and was author of two books on careers, Careers and Living 1 and 2 and another guide to the education system, School Report.
Christina Murphy had overall responsibility for the education coverage in The Irish Times. She developed the education services section, the first in any Irish newspaper, which organises the annual Higher Options careers exhibition and conference - due to begin on Wednesday in Dublin - the Music in the Classroom musical programme, the biennial Harvard The Irish Times colloquium and the Trinity College The Irish Times debate.
Born in Breaffy, near Castlebar Co Mayo, in 1941, she was educated at the local national school and the Convent of Mercy, Castlebar. After school she worked for three years in Germany and two years in Spain before returning to Ireland to take an arts degree in history and politics at University College, Dublin.
While she worked to put herself through college in a series of jobs including waitressing, she also took an active part in college life and was editor of the student newspaper, Campus.
For five years she was editor of Young Citizen, the current affairs magazine for schools, and her abiding interest in education developed at that stage. She joined The Irish Times as women's editor in 1972 and a few years later became education correspondent. During her period as women's editor she changed the whole thrust of women's page coverage, concentrating on health, rights and family issues.
As education correspondent she pioneered a new style of education coverage, delivering a much needed consumer oriented service to students and their parents, as well as writing for teachers and policy makers. Her contribution to education coverage was recognized in 1981 when she received the main award in the national press awards for her series Education for What?
She wrote widely on examinations, the points system, college entry and careers. The Points Race, column, which she started in 1983 to help students applying for college places, was so incisive and, 14

comprehensive that even officials of the Department of Education had to consult her on the intricacies of the recently introduced points system in the early days.
In conjunction with the series, which ran each September, she provided a telephone help line for parents and students. Her last article in this year's Points Race series appeared last Friday, exposing problems with the accreditation of third level courses in a Co Donegal college.
She was the first editor of the weekly Working and Living supplement and later became editor of the Education and Living supplement, to which she contributed a weekly advice column for students and parents.
Christina Murphy was constantly in demand as a speaker on education topics and careers and, as often as work permitted, accepted invitations to speak at parent/teacher meetings, careers con and school prizegivings.
In 1979, she wrote a booklet, The Newspaper in the Classroom, to highlight the way newspapers could be used in classroom situations. This led to the production of a regular Newspaper in the Classroom and from there developed the education services section of The Irish Times.
In 1987, she was promoted from assistant editor to duty editor in the editor's office, the first woman to hold such a senior position.
In spite of an underlying serious illness, she had lived a very full and normal life, professionally and privately, for many years.
Our everlasting appreciation to Christina Murphy and the Irish Times for making our Irish-American Debate dream come true. 15

Janet Stafford, Marketing Education – Irish Times, for her understanding and assistance throughout this project
Sean Moran, GAA Correspondent – Irish Times and 1981 Winner of the Irish Times for his photographic memory
TEAM 80 – Eugene McCague, Chairman, Arthur Cox Solicitors; Brian Havel, Professor of Law, DePaul University, Chicago; Charles Meenan, Senior Counsel - their memories and articles from Tour 1980 made this history possible.
Frank Kennedy, Convenor of the Irish Times Debating Competition 2009-10. Frank, you put a dance in my step and brought my memories alive.
To my wife, Judy, whose professional abilities and patience with me contributed to the completion of this article.


  1. Anonymous9:08 pm

    The high status of the Irish Times is probably counter-productive in terms of international success. Not as much overlap between recent Worlds breaks and Irish Times performances as one would expect from the country's self-proclaimed pre-eminent competition.

  2. I've had my disagreements with the way the Times is run and how it has increasingly become a Dublin focused tournament (most rounds are held in Dublin, most judges and convenors are from Dublin and then unsurprisingly most of the finalists are from Dublin).

    However I'm not sure that the Irish Times is to blame for poor Irish performance at Worlds. For most people who take part in Worlds it is only one or two debates in the term before Worlds. The rest of the year is Worlds style debates.

  3. I'm not sure that the Irish Times is to blame for poor Irish performance at Worlds. For most people who take part in Worlds it is only one or two debates in the term before Worlds.


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