The University Philosophical Society, commonly known as The Phil, is a student paper-reading and debating society in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Founded in 1683, it is often referred to as the oldest student, collegial and paper-reading society in the world.
The society is based within the Graduates Memorial Building of Trinity College. Throughout its long history it has welcomed many prominent guests and some of its most notable members include Ernest Walton, John Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde.
The crest of the University Philosophical Society
|Type||Student debating union|
|Headquarters||Trinity College, Dublin|
The Phil's members meet every Thursday during term to discuss a paper, debate a motion or hear an address. Traditionally a paper-reading society, meetings sometimes continue the format of responses to a paper rather than debate on a motion.
Its rooms are within the Graduates' Memorial Building (GMB) of Trinity College, which it has shared with the College Historical Society (the Hist) since the building's construction in 1902, where it provides facilities for its members such as a games and a conversation room. The Phil shares the use of its Bram Stoker Room with the College Theological Society (the Theo). It holds most of its meetings in the GMB's Debating Chamber with meetings having an expected audience of above two hundred being held in the larger lecture theatres of the college.
The society also hosts numerous social events, internal competitions, sporting events, blood drives and the occasional concert. It endeavours each year in providing debating workshops, developmental competitions for members and school children. Furthermore, it has a strong history in intervarsity debating competitions, at both an international and national level.
The society publishes The Philander as an annual Freshers' guide to the society.
Membership of the society is open to all Undergraduate and Postgraduate students, as well as all staff members of Trinity College. It offers four year membership to students of the university. This means that should a person join in their Junior Freshman year they would still be a member for their entire time of study at the college.
The history of the University Philosophical Society spans over three centuries, several guises, identifies and name changes.
In 1683, natural philosopher and political writer William Molyneux (b. 1656) founded the Dublin Philosophical Society, with the assistance of his brother Sir Thomas Molyneux and future Provost St George Ashe. They intended it to be the equivalent of the Royal Society in London (with which it maintained cultural ties) as well as the Philosophical Society at the University of Oxford. The society was traditionally a paper reading society; however it also included many demonstrations of the latest science and mathematical endeavour of that era. The first meeting on 15 October 1683 was in the Provost's lodgings at Trinity College, Dublin, a location where members continued to meet.
Sometime after December 1683, Provost Robert Huntington became the society's first Senior Patron, promising protection and assistance, a role the Provost of Trinity College still holds. While at the time no particular precedent existed for Trinity College to recognise it, it can be considered the college's first such society.
On 1 November 1684 William Petty was elected as the first President of the society, and William Molyneux elected as its first Secretary. The current numbering takes this as the first session of the University Philosophical Society.
In November 1842, to mark the original session date the Dublin Philosophical Society was fully reformed under its original name, traditionally meeting on Mondays, to cater for those Trinity College students too young to join other societies in Dublin.
At the time, undergraduates were not allowed to join most College societies, such as the College Historical Society. It then became the Dublin University Philosophical Society in February 1843 when it was recognized by the college, with then Provost Franc Sadleir reassuming the traditional role of Senior Patron.
In 1860, the Dublin University Philosophical Society changed its name to the University Philosophical Society. This makes the Phil the oldest, student, paper-reading, and collegial society in the world, as well as currently being the largest such society in Ireland.
The society suffered greatly, with the rest of Trinity College during the First World War. Ireland was still part of the British Empire during the outbreak of the war and so many Irish enlisted. Interestingly however there was a diverse mixture between members who predominantly described as being part of the Protestant Ascendancy and those who believed more in Irish republicanism.
The meetings and overall strength of the society was massively diminished during the period, with there being no Inaugural Meeting from 1913 until 1919 after the end of the war.
From 1913 (229th Session) to 1916 (231st Session) ten officers of the society resigned their positions to enlist. Minutes from the time mention that many more members of the society would go on to enlist, however their names went unrecorded.
In 1919 the names of eight past officers and members of council of the society who had been killed during the war was read aloud at the Opening Meeting.
Of them and those other members who gave up their lives, we can only say that while the University Philosophical Society stands they shall not be forgotten, since such men, by their deaths, have conferred on their Society, and on all connected with them, an honour that does not fade.— Society Records, extract from the first Opening meeting of the Society in 1919.
The Irish War of Independence began shortly after the beginning of 1919, public and political will to remember those lost during the war was weak. This meant that the names of many more members of the society who were also killed during the First World War went unrecorded by the society.
The first female students were admitted to the college in 1904, however they were unable to join any of the student societies that existed at the time. In response to this the Dublin University Elizabethan Society (more commonly known as The Eliz) was founded in 1905. The society was a female-only debating society, having sent teams to the Irish Times National Debating Championship from relatively early in the competitions history. It also hosted many debates, paper discussions, group discussions and the Eliz Garden Party (within Fellow's Square) which was considered one of the social highlights of Trinity term in the college. Each year the society welcomed esteemed guests to speak on topics regarding the history, the societal limitations of women and feminism. These included such guests as Ninette de Valois, dancer and founder of The Royal Ballet, who visited in late 1964 to celebrate the society's 60th year.
As mentioned in the following section, over the years there had been great debate within both the University Philosophical Society and the Dublin University Elizabethan Society regarding a merger of both societies into one. There was strong individual opposition within both societies however, with a vote in 1968 by the Eliz rejecting a merger. However, in 1981 the Dublin University Elizabethan Society merged with the University Philosophical Society, which vastly increased female membership and increased debating within the society.
Today as a symbolic gesture, the highest ranking female officer of the Phil is accorded the honorary title of President of the Elizabethan Society.
Current President of the Elizabethan Society
|Hon. Treasurer||Ciara O'Leary|
It was the 1953/54 session of the Phil that first welcomed in long overdue gender equality advances: Women were at last allowed to attend public business meetings and then also to speak at them (provided though Standing Orders were suspended!). What is more, at the end of that session, membership was actually even opened up to them. Sadly though, this final breakthrough proved short-lived as the College Board after a gap of only one term – and although it had no direct constitutional jurisdiction here – in early 1955 voted down female membership for that year pending possible reorganisation of the Major Societies. It was an understandable decision perhaps from the Board’s point of view except that even more sadly such restructuring was never led by them as announced or indeed subsequently. While reorganisations and possible mergers between the Phil and the Hist and the Phil and the Eliz and the Phil and the SRC (Student Representative Council) + the Eliz surfaced variously at periodic intervals actual plans ‘with legs’ never seemed to result. Divisions and maybe feelings of self-interest within and between the different factions, the continuing unwillingness/inability of the College for some reason to meaningfully grapple with this process and, what is more, effectively address the issue of student union type facilities that were commonplace in other institutions of higher education all seemingly presented insurmountable hurdles.
Indeed, it wasn’t until session 1963/64 that a further vote taken by the Phil on the admission of women, although it was lost by only 3 votes. Some advances were though made: From that session onwards, it was agreed that women could at last reply to papers read to the Society and, in 1965, Joanna Walmsley became the first woman to read her paper to the society. (It wasentitled "Tolstoy - Realist or Moralist?"). One of concerns held over the years had been that the Society's facilities were generally inadequate for a larger mixed membership. In session 1967/1968. opposition even led then President of the Phil (Gordon Ledbetter) to resign in exasperation. It was a matter though that wasn't going to go away. At the first Council meeting and a subsequent private business in the following session (1967-68), this aspect again prominently featured as a concern. There were also many in the Phil who felt the way forward would be achieved through revisiting the idea of a merger with the Eliz to form a super sized Major Society. However, even setting to one side the thorny issue of finding satisfactory accommodation for such a body , it also turned out to be the case this time - as it had previously that the Eliz just weren’t sufficiently interested such a proposal. (That was of course to change some years later).
With such topics under the spotlight, a feeling though also started to emerge from the active membership that discussion was going around in circles once again. The halfway house with regards to female participation was just unsatisfactory. For quite sincerely held reasons of equal rights and inclusivity and indeed on a practical level to revitalise our business and expand membership the Society had to try and go it alone regardless. So a motion calling for women to quite simply be admitted as full members was proposed, debated at Private Business on 30th. November 1967...and was elatedly passed!  The then President of the Phil (Geoff Goolnik) pointed out to those gathered that restrictions on female membership had in fact been a matter of convention as gender was never once mentioned in the then current Laws – unlike with those of the two other Major Societies, viz.the Eliz and the Hist (College Historical Society).
At the following private business meeting held on 5th. December three women were proposed and voted in as members – including the then President of the Eliz (Elizabeth Hall) who was appropriately nominated by Goolnik and seconded by ‘Gully’ Stanford, the then Auditor of the Hist, in his capacity as an ordinary member of the Phil! Finally, the first female member to address the Society after it had become gender free, Gráinne Monks, was also elected on 1st. February 1968 as the first female member of Council.
In Trinity News’ edition of 25th. November 1953, an anonymous female contributor had declared that “The bar to the admission of women to [the other] major societies ...is a real deprivation to everyone – to College women, to the members of the societies, themselves and, most important, to the University”. Fifteen years and five days later the Phil at least eventually, permanently and proudly righted that wrong.
Today the University Philosophical Society is the largest student society within the college and Ireland. Its meetings include weekly paper readings and debates. Additionally it invites many internationally esteemed guests each year, regularly interviews with public figures, which have included Al Pacino, Desmond Tutu, Angela Merkel and Stephen Fry.
Among the notable events held was the demonstration of an early telephone by Stephen Yeates in 1865.
The Phil is governed by a Council elected by the members of the society each year. There are eight officers: President, Secretary, Treasurer, Registrar, Debates Convenor, Librarian, Steward, and Schools Convenor. All officers are directly elected. In addition to the officers are a fourteen Members of Council. The Members of Council serve as deputies to the officers, aid in the execution of their responsibilities and any other such work necessary for the efficient running of the society. Six are directly elected each year. One of these six is then selected by the Council to serve as Vice President of the society. The Senior Member of Council is also elected in the same manner as the officers of the society and is delegated the responsibility of co-ordinating the other Members of Council. The newly elected Council may then add up to seven further Members of Council via co-option.
|Debates Convenor||Harry Higgins|
|Schools Convenor||Harry Morris|
|Vice President||Maeve Claffey|
|Senior Member of Council||Sorcha Ryder|
|Pro-Secretary||Umang Kalra, Kate Kleinle|
|Pro-Debates Convenor||Ryan Grunwell, Sadhbh Nuanán Ní Dhonnabháin, Irene Fuentes McDonnell|
|Pro Librarian||Jack Counihan, Zahra Khan|
|Pro-Steward||James Johnston, Shane Kenneally|
|Pro-Schools Convenor||Katie O'Brien, Sebastian Tozer|
In addition to its usual events, the society added a sub-group, the Bram Stoker Club (more commonly known as Bram), to its organization in 2011. Named after one of the Phil's most illustrious presidents (Bram Stoker), the club holds weekly afternoon paper-readings on a range of topics. These paper-readings have served to carry on the long tradition of the society, which had fallen slightly out of fashion in recent years.
In January 2013, the Club was incorporated into the official laws of the University Philosophical Society by majority vote. This was then officially recognised by the Dublin University Central Societies Committee in March of the same year.
During the 4th Session, the club welcomed three living descendants of its namesake Bram Stoker. Noel Dobbs, Robin MacCaw and Dacre Stoker met with members of the club and society at large. Each presented papers on the history of Bram Stoker and legacy of Dracula within their family. Also in attendance was distant relative and Senator David Norris. Finally the Stoker family presented the club with portrait of Bram Stoker by Dublin artist Damian Byrne, and a plaque specifying the connection between the society and their ancestor.
|2010-2011||1st||--||Clíodhna Ní Ghuidhir and John Engle|
|2011-2012||2nd||--||Leah Morgan, Brian Higgins, Sch. and Jamie Donnelly|
|2012-2013||3rd||Sarah Grace||Gavin Tucker, Sch., Fionn McGorry and Keith Murphy|
|2013-2014||4th||Fionn McGorry||Cormac Henehan, and Turlough Heffernan, Sch.|
|2014-2015||5th||Liam Hunt||Huda Awan, and Patrick Lavelle, Sch.|
|2015-2016||6th||Conor Scully||Sophie Donnelly, Sch. and Matthew Collins|
|2016-2017||7th||Orla Delaney||Bryan Rohan and Conor Nevin|
|2017-2018||8th||Hugh Fitzgibbon||Nicole O'Sullivan and Andrew Connolly|
The society endeavors each year to enable its membership to engage in competitive debating both externally and internally to the college. This includes holding workshops, regular weekly competitive debates, as well as traveling to other colleges throughout Ireland and abroad to compete in similar competitions.
The society has a strong presence and list of accomplishment on the competitive debating circuit. Having first won the Irish Times National Debating Championship in 1961 the society has gone on to win and place in several other well known debating competitions. These include the John Smith Memorial Mace, World Universities Debating Championship, Irish National Law Debates, Cork IV and the UCD Vice Presidents' Cup IV.
External Debating Competition Success
|2016||UCD Vice-Presidents' Cup IV||Chris Costigan & Jack Kearney||Finalists|
|2016||European Universities Debating Championship||Chris Costigan & Eoin O'Gorman||Quarter-Finalists|
|2016||European Universities Debating Championship||Stepan Lavrouk & Cormac Henehan||Quarter-Finalists|
|2016||Maynooth Open||Julie Davis & Conan Quinn||Finalists|
|2016||Irish Mace||Clare Ni Cheallaigh & Orla Delaney||Finalists|
|2016||Irish Mace||Stepan Lavrouk & Cormac Henehan||Finalists|
|2016||Maynooth Open||Stepan Lavrouk & Chris Costigan||Finalists|
|2016||UCD Pro-Am||Stepan Lavrouk & Andrew Connolly||Win|
|2016||UCD Pro-Am||Chris Costigan & Jack Kearney||Finalists|
|2016||Limerick Open||Stepan Lavrouk & Eoin O'Gorman||Win|
|2016||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Clare Ni Cheallaigh & Hannah Beresford||Finalists|
|2016||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Sarah Mortell & Caoimhe Stafford||Finalists|
|2016||Irish National Law Debates||Eoin O'Gorman & Sarah Jennings||Finalists|
|2016||World Universities Debating Championship||Matthew Collins & Hannah Beresford||Quarter-finalists|
|2015||Cork Inter-varsity||Michael Barton & Hugh Guidera||Win|
|2015||UCD Vice-Presidents' Cup IV||Sarah Jennings & Chris Costigan||Finalists|
|2015||SOAS Inter-varsity||Eoin O'Gorman & Chris Costigan||Finalists|
|2015||European Universities Debating Championship||Liam Hunt & Naoise Dolan||Quarter-finalists|
|2015||European Universities Debating Championship||Matthew Collins & Hannah Beresford||Quarter-finalists|
|2015||Irish Mace||Liam Hunt & Gavin Tucker||Win|
|2015||Irish Mace||Matthew Collins & Chris Costigan||Finalists|
|2015||Irish Mace (Novice)||Izzy Sweeney & Aisling Foster||Finalists|
|2015||National Maidens' Debating Competition||Matthew Collins||Win|
|2015||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Hugh Guidera & Rónán O'Connor||Win|
|2015||World Universities Debating Championship||Hugh Guidera & Michael Barton||Semi-finalists|
|2014||Oxford Inter-varsity||Hugh Guidera & Michael Barton||Finalists|
|2014||SOAS Inter-varsity||Michael Barton||Best Speaker|
|2014||SOAS Inter-varsity||Hugh Guidera & Michael Barton||Win|
|2014||Irish Mace||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & Adam Noonan||Win|
|2014||Irish National Law Debates||Hugh Guidera & Michael Barton||Win|
|2014||John Smith Memorial Mace||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & Adam Noonan||Finalists|
|2013||World Universities Debating Championship||John Calvin Engle III & Adam Noonan||Elimination Round|
|2013||Irish Times National Debating Championship||John Calvin Engle III & Liam Brophy (Bram Stoker Club)||Win|
|2013||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Eoin O'Liathain & Brian O'Beirne||2nd|
|2013||Irish National Law Debates||John Calvin Engle III & Glen Rogers||Finalists|
|2013||UCD Vice Presidents' Cup IV||Hugh Guidera & Michael Barton||Win|
|2013||Cork Inter-varsity||Hugh Guidera & Liam Hunt||Finalists|
|2013||SOAS Inter-varsity||Michael Barton||Best Speaker|
|2012||World Universities Debating Championship||David Byrne & Ricky McCormack||Elimination Round|
|2012||Oxford Inter-varsity||John Calvin Engle III & Adam Noonan||Finalists|
|2012||Cork Inter-varsity||John Calvin Engle III & Adam Noonan||Win|
|2011||Irish National Law Debates||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & John Calvin Engle III||Win|
|2011||Irish Mace||Ricky McCormack & Fiachra Fallon Verbruggen||Finalists|
|2011||Cork Inter-varsity||David Byrne & Ricky McCormack||Finalists|
|2011||Cork Inter-varsity||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin & Fletch Williams||Finalists|
|2010||Irish National Law Debates||Ruth Faller & Catherine Murphy||Win|
|2010||UCD Vice Presidents Cup IV||David Byrne & John Calvin Engle III||Finalists|
|2010||Limerick Debate Open||Jonathan Wyse and David Byrne||Finalists|
|2009||World Universities Debating Championship||Kiera Healy & Ruth Faller||9th|
|2008||UCD Vice Presidents Cup IV||Brian O'Beirne||Best Speaker|
|2007||UCD Vice Presidents Cup IV||Brian O'Beirne||Best Speaker|
|2000||John Smith Memorial Mace||Bob Cuffe & Fergal Davis||Win|
|1999||Irish Mace||Niall Boland & Colm O'Mongain||Win|
|1997||John Smith Memorial Mace||Matthew Magee & Alex Massie||Win|
|1986||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Declan McCavana & David Keane||Win|
|1982||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Michael Byrne & Gerry Foley||Win|
|1961||Irish Times National Debating Championship||Hallam Johnston & Jack Daniels||Win|
The society runs several internal debating competitions each year. These consist of:
Eamon O'Coine Memorial Maiden Speaker's Competition Champions
|326th||Rosalind ní Shúilleabháin|
Margaret Thatcher Memorial Competition Champions
|325th||Aengus O Corrain|
Elizabethan Society Memorial Pro-Am Competition Champions
|331st||Orla Delaney & Doireann O'Brien|
|330th||Clare Ní Cheallaigh & Aaron Downey|
|329th||Eimear Gorey & Jamie Donnelly|
|328th||Lorcan Clarke & Jamie Buckley|
|327th||Orlfhaith Sheehy & Charlie Ward|
|326th||Rosalind Ni Shuilleabhain & Lydia Rahill|
J.P Mahaffy Memorial Champions
|331st||Mark Finn & Jack Kennedy|
|330th||Sarah Jennings & Sam Browne|
Each year, normally in January, the society jointly with the Hist hosts the Claire Stewart Trinity IV. Before 2015 this consisted of the Trinity Invitational and the Dean Swift Intervarsity. In 2015, the Trinity Invitational was replaced with Trinity Women's Debating Competition.
The Phil Speaks Debating and Public Speaking Initiative, more commonly known as Phil Speaks is a campaign aimed at promoting, as well as developing skills in public speaking and oratory. Formed by the society in 2004 the initiative combines in-school oratory workshops, with Pro–Am (Professional-Amateur) learning competitions to encourage these skills in students of all secondary schools throughout Ireland.
At the end of the contest, the society hosts the Phil Speaks Competitive Weekend modelled on the format of a University Intervarsity Competition held within the Graduates Memorial Building, with the grand final taking place in the Debating Chamber.
The society also awards the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage and the Bram Stoker Medal to various esteemed guests each year.
The society has a strong record of being the recipient of several awards by the internal Central Societies Committee of Trinity College.
In recent years these include:
|2015||Best Large Society.|
|2013||Individual of the Year, awarded to President Lorcan Clarke (328th Session).|
|2013||Best Online Web Presence.|
|2012||Best Large Society.|
|2011||Individual of the Year, awarded to President Declan Meehan (326th Session).|
|2010||Best Event, for the Oscar Wilde Festival (jointly awarded to DU Players).|
The Board of Irish College Societies (BICS) is a national organisation, constituted in 1995, dedicated to providing a national forum for the societies in Ireland's Universities, Colleges and Institutes of Education. The Board is responsible for the promotion of interest in the activities of Irish college societies and of contact and co-operation between them.
The University Philosophical Society has formidable history of achievement:
|2013||Best individual (Large Society), awarded to 328th Session President Lorcan Clarke.|
|2009||Best Event (Large Society), awarded for The Trials of Oscar Wilde.|
Through its years in college, the Society has recorded the presence of many notable guests, the most distinguished of whom are named honorary patrons of the society. Included amongst these are multiple Nobel Prize laureates, both before and after their receipt of the Prize, such as William Butler Yeats, Heads of State and of Government, notable actors and musicians, as well as well-known intellectuals. Guests have also included all Taoisigh since Charles Haughey.
Many guests which the Phil has invited over the years have courted controversy. Contributors to its debates included Oswald Mosley during his residence in Ireland. In 1988, the Society invited then–Holocaust denier David Irving to speak. A large protest by students, staff, Jewish groups, socialists, and anti-Nazi activists resulted in the meeting being relocated to a hotel conference room and held in the small hours of the morning. The traditional vote of thanks to Mr Irving for his paper was defeated, which is rare in the society's history.
The address of Austrian politician Jörg Haider to the society in late 2002 led to a protest by self-described anti-fascist activists, which continued through the debate, with noise being made outside the chamber and interjections in the society's proceedings within. An invitation to British National Party (BNP) official Tony Wentworth was revoked after threats of physical action by leftist groups.
Another guest to generate controversy was Islamist Anjem Choudary, who hailed the 9/11 terrorists as martyrs. Former Taoiseach John Bruton threatened to withdraw from a Phil debate later that year over this invitation, which was not withdrawn. Mr Bruton later became an Honorary Patron of the Society, and Anjem Choudary has been invited to speak at the Phil's lectern several times.
In 2011, the Phil encountered controversy when it invited BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak at a Thursday night debate on immigration. After raging protests, talks with college officials and physical threats made to the members and council the invitation was reluctantly withdrawn by the President of the 327th session, Eoin O'Liathain. In a press statement the Phil said that "it is unfortunate that circumstances have arisen under which the planned debate can no longer go ahead without compromising the safety of staff and students". Despite these challenges the session would go on to be voted Best Society in Trinity College that year.
In 2015, members of the Phil were asked by the President, to collect copies of The University Times after the newspaper printed details of confidential correspondence that had been supplied to the newspaper in the understanding that it would not be referred to in an article. While The University Times subsequently agreed to withdraw the edition of the paper in question from circulation, Trinity News reported that members of council had discussed calling a motion to impeach the president as a result of the society's actions in collecting the newspapers.  A motion of confidence in the president was later passed at a general meeting of the society. The incident was cited as one of the factors leading to Samuel Riggs, then the editor of The University Times, agreeing to take a permanent leave of absence from his position.