Tales from Maidens Debating part 1: UCD and the Baptism of fire

Tales from Maidens debating part 1: UCD

First in a series recounting my first year of debating at university



I can pin point the moment shit got real for me in the debating world.  I’m calling it a world because it is a remarkably complex and wide network between universities with its own culture, in jokes and running gags that you are fucked for understanding unless you’ve been on the scene for at least 4 years.  it’s terrifying and terrible and also a rather fun way of passing a Friday and Saturday while feeling all smart intellectual.  It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been involved in anything competitive that actually takes my interest, so of course when they were looking for people to go to inter varsities I hopped at the chance- And I mean, I did pretty well in maidens, I got through house debates just fine- An IV would be a snap, right?

Oh boy…

I was so young then, 6 months ago.  I thought I knew it all.

My first ever IV was the UCD vice Presidents cup.  I was entered with another rookie – two in fact, because my original partner couldn’t make it on the Saturday another rookie had to replace her to make up a full team.  I was pretty confident we’d survive- two rounds on day 1 and 3 on day 2, no big problem!  We’d breeze through them.

Such a naive, foolish Niamh.

For the uninitiated of you, Inter varsity debating generally takes place over two days.  You’re guaranteed to be in five rounds, against 3 other teams.  You get 3 points for first, 2 for second and 1 for third.  Fourth gets zero.  You can end up in any sort of room at first, matched out of a draw.  After that, you get put in a room with other people who scored 1, 3 or 3, etc. and in each successive room you get matched with people on the same points.  After 5 rounds you get what’s called the ‘break’ when all the teams reaching a certain amount of points go through to semi finals and then from there another break to the grand final.

You don’t know any of your five motions or your position before hand, and you get 15 minutes to prepare. This means that you really might have no fucking clue what you’re debating about- the idea is to argue using logic and philosophy to come to a conclusion that the motion is good/bad/etc. It also means you can’t look up loads of stats or anecdotes or prepare a very sophisticated speech; it’s all about what you manage to bullshit out in those 15 minutes.  It’s an insane amount of fun once you get into it but as a friend of mine put it for a maidens debater it is one steep ass learning curve.

Our first motion was ‘this house would outsource the capture and detention of dangerous criminals to bounty hunters’. We were closing Opp.  We were against 2 Trinity Historical Society teams and 1 from Griffith College.  I’m… Not sure how to articulate how badly we bombed.

we bombed worse than Hiroshima.  We bombed worse than Dresden.  We bombed worse than a Roy Chubby Brown gig would bomb at the Apollo.  We bombed worse than Battlefield Earth at the box office.  We bombed, ladies and gentlemen, so spectacularly that it would have probably gone down in legend if not for the fact that everyone has to bomb that badly first time around.

We were so horrendous, so unprepared and so nervous that we came last.  we came last after one Speaker from Griffith college got up, spoke for 1 minute and 12 seconds (Out of a possible seven) and then took one point of information from a Hist speaker.  He listened to the point, said ‘Well I didn’t consider that..’ and sat the fuck down.  And he still beat us!  That is how bad I was in my first IV debate.

We ended up in a room with other people who’d come last in their first room.  I don’t remember the motion but I do remember wanting to sink through the floor during it as we stumbled and failed our way through it.  One’s first IV a terrible isolating thing- In your 15 minutes you can’t talk to any other teams, you can’t ask for help, you have to wander aimlessly through an unfamiliar Arts building and look for your room then sit outside with a pad of paper and PANIC trying to think of something to say.  Then your judges arrive and you go in.


We came last again and headed over to the student center in UCD to drown our sorrows in wine and club orange.  I licked my wounds and realised that this was a very, very big playground and I was a little junior infant compared to the big scary sixth class people.  My good chum and bandmate happens to be a seasoned debater in UCD and has for the last year looked out for me in a wise fairy godmother sort of way, but even his encouraging words didn’t help the first night.  It was such a shock to the system, the wall was so high it actually hurt me to think of. I honestly considered not going back the second day, but my Ma had me up early because she knew I was supposed to be somewhere.  I crept into our third room.  I had by that stage decided that if I was going to fail, I would fail WITH STYLE and go down fighting.  So we went into the third round, This House would give Aboriginal tribes exclusive copyright to depictions of their culture.

First Prop.



Our fourth round was in what’s commonly known as the ‘bin room.’ This is where all the rookies and maidens end up, the real dregs of the competition where the logic is hilarious and most people just don’t care anymore.  We ended the competition in 2 rounds with the same few NUI Galway freshers that just didn’t care anymore and managed to get first  (FIRST) In the final, worst, shoddiest bin of a room.  That didn’t matter.  We got SOMETHING.

We finished on 4 points.  Sound.

I was a little bit discouraged after being stuck in crappy rooms all day, and annoyed at myself for my naive arrogance.  I stuck around to watch the finals just to pass some time before I could drown my sorrows.

Guys, here’s a rule for debating rookies-  Always stay and watch the final.

It’s dazzling watching people at the very top of their game do this shit properly, it really is.  There was a Hist team, Durham, a Trinity Phil and Edinburgh.  And fuck they knew what was going on.  They were fantastic, brilliant, other adjectives that I could list.  And it gave me a little bit of hope that someday I might actually manage to get into a final.  Or a Semi.  Or at least out of the bin room.

I left UCD with a battered ego but it was almost cathartic as an experience.  It left me with absolutely no notions of my own skills and talents and held up a mirror to my inexperience.  Had to put my chin up at battle through.  I was going to crack this business!  So I laid low for a while and said I’d do Trinity.


Next time: Trinity IV and the Pool table of lore

Niamh ‘On that point, sir!’ Keoghan


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