Breaking Records

 

The Literary & Debating Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway has a long and healthy tradition of incisive, inquisitive and exploratory debate. It has helped to answer the great issues of the time while provoking thought, and opening new angles on old themes. Guinness created their Book of Records to help answer debates of fact that typically arose in public houses following a few drinks. Guinness and the Lit & Deb have mutually satisfactory relationship in particular in relation to the world record for the longest continuous debate which has been held on three occasions by the Literary & Debating Society, who are the current holders of the title. Galway had held the record for the longest continuous debate on two occasions prior to 1995; the first occasion debating “That this house would be green” and on the second occasion “That this house would go through the motions”. That second successful attempt at breaking the world record took place in 1989 but was however the source of some heartbreak as it was beaten by the University of South Carolina prior to the printing of the Guinness Book of Records for that year and therefore was never adequately acknowledged.

 

The Literary & Debating Society of 1994/1995 was a very ambitious and successful session under the auditor John Sweeney. Many targets were set such as participation in the World Debating Championships at Princeton University New Jersey, reviving the College Annual, achieving success at the Inter-Varsity competitions, holding the Lit & Deb Ball and of course breaking the World Record for continuous debate. In light of the heartbreak of 1989 an ambitious target of 672 hours or 28 days was set, breaking the existing record by more the 9 days, in the hope of establishing an unassailable record. This was a huge undertaking. Support from the college was generous as we needed access to a debating hall 24 hours a day, which presented obvious but surmountable security issues. Sponsorship was generously provided by Guinness who picked the motion "That this house has all the time in the world", the theme of contemporary Guinness advertisements. Of course the cooperation of other clubs and societies was also essential. Planning for the challenge started in October and dominated committee energies subsequently. A start up date in March was targeted.

 

The Debate started at 20:00 on the 2nd of February at a traditional Lit & Deb night at the Kirwan theatre. The majority of the debate took place on the concourse at Smokie Joes cafe. The debate was easy to run during daylight hours and on weekdays. Crowds commonly gathered to hear, jeer and participate in the debate. Many shy retiring characters who under normal circumstances would never dear brave the crowds were compelled from their seats to contribute and one of the lasting outcomes of the debate was a large influx of new enthusiastic members of the society. Keeping the debate going at night and on weekends was more difficult. At night we would move to a room off the concourse. A core committee of eight convenors was established and a strict rota established of six hour shifts for which time an individual was responsible for the continuity of the debate. At all times a minimum of three people were required, a chairperson, recorder and speaker. An audience was not required although surprisingly we managed to attract one at all times even in the early hours of the morning.

 

At times it was draining. However there were some wonderful moments. Our only fainter called out as he hit the ground "keep talking, keep talking", and we duly did. Some of those on the late shift saw no point in going home once their stint was complete and found their way to the hall for their scheduled lecture and enjoyed a short snooze prior to the arrival of the class. All topics, sensible and otherwise were discussed. Patterns, themes and subplots emerged which were covered on local and national news media. Abortion, supply sided economics, and just warfare were debated as well as conspiracies to take over the world, the relative merits of oranges and apples and the utility of ornamental fish. Members of all faculties took part. The marathon took on a life of its own and in the end could probably have gone on longer. However on the 2nd of March 1995 after 28 days it was brought to a close where it all started at the Kirwan Theatre. In truth the core group of eight convenors Ciaran Houlihan, Eoin McGillari, John O'Halloran, John Sweeney, Oliver Moody, Catherine and Justin and I were exhausted and relieved it was all over. A Lit & Deb Ball was held the following night at the Great Southern to celebrate the occasion.

 

The concourse was a much quieter place thereafter and we all missed the camaraderie that is only found at four o'clock in the morning while soberly thrashing out the relative merits of organised religion. For all those who participated it will prove and enduring memory of their College years and hopefully and enduring record and testament to all the folly, adventure and intellectual endeavours of one of the greatest university environments: the Literary & Debating Society of National University of Ireland, Galway.

 

Dr David Healy

B.Sc., M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O. (Hon) Class of 2000 NUI, Galway

Chief Convenor World Record Debate 1995.

Lit & Deb committee '94,'95,'96, '97.