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Introducing the Irish Champions - 2008

Three Irish history students to tour America

"Winning this year was breathtakingly, amazingly, fantastically, wonderfully good." Stephen Boyle

Ireland has crowned its debating champions for 2008 and three Irish lads are headed to Colorado to oppose three top American debaters in a Thursday, March 27, public debate that precedes the start of the NPDA national tournament.

The winning Irish debate team and the top individual were crowned on Friday night Feb. 29 on the campus of University College-Dublin.

The winning team was the team from Trinity College, Christopher Kissane and David Kenny. The winning individual was Stephen Boyle from University College - Dublin.

Since law school obligations prevent Kenny from making the trip, John Gallagher, the runner-up individual from Trinity, will substitute for Kenny on the American tour.

All three of the Irish champions are 21-year-old Dublin students of history.

Christopher Kissane, 21, in his fourth year as a history major at Trinity, hopes for a career in journalism or, perhaps, as a professor of history. Both his parents are college professors.

Kissane has debated in the Irish Times Final for four years, reaching semi-finals twice and finals twice, including this year's victory. He's been a successful debater throughout college, including three trips to the world championships.

Son of an American-born mom from Michigan and an Irish dad, Kissane actually holds dual American and Irish citizenships. Born in Oxford, England, he lived briefly in Virginia and Georgia before moving to Ireland. Kissane has resided in County Kerry for the past 16 years.

"Because I'm a bit intense, people think I'm quiet," says Kissane. "But I'm actually very, very argumentative!"

Stephen Boyle, 21, is a third-year student of history and English at University College - Dublin. Boyle is aiming towards a career as a consultant. His father is a researcher and his mother a news editor. His brother Aengus, 17, is a kung fu black belt. His family lives in Dublin.

Boyle describes himself as cheerful, dedicated, loyal - and messy.

"Winning this year was breathtakingly, amazingly, fantastically, wonderfully good," he smiled.

Boyle has debated for four years, reaching the Irish Times quarterfinals and semifinals before winning best individual this year. He was a finalist at Oxford and broke at the World Championships.

"I believe that with perseverance, people can achieve almost anything they want," says Boyle.

John Gallagher, 21, is a third-year student of history and French at Trinity. He says he may end up as a historian or, alternatively, a comedian. His father is a solicitor and his mother is a teacher.

Gallagher is a three-time Irish Times debater who has also competed at the World Championships three times.

"Debating combines two of my greatest loves: talking out loud and jokes," says Gallagher. "Coming into contact with many diverse points of view has made me question and justify what I believe. That's probably its greatest effect on me."

All three have traveled in the states many times. Boyle has been to both coasts, and has competed at a Yale tournament. Gallagher has been to Pennsylvania, where he has family, and to D.C. Kissane's dual citizenship has allowed him extensive time in the U.S.

All are thrilled at the prospect of the American tour.

"I couldn't be more excited at the prospect of a cross-cultural oratory fight," said Gallagher. "I'm really excited to come to the states at a time when oratory is reasserting its importance in politics, and to see how well Irish orators can persuade American audiences."

"Debating is about passion and persuasion," said Kissane, "so it'll be great to meet different views and styles as we travel the states."

"Debating brings me to new places, lets me meet new people and explore new colleges," says Boyle.

The Irish Times final was held at University College Dublin in Dublin and hosted the UCD law society. The evening featured the nation�s four best two-person teams and the four top individuals.

All 12 debaters spoke once for 7 minutes, while answering questions during their remarks. The topic for the evening was "This House believes that Ireland owes a debt of gratitude to The Catholic Church."

The proposition cited the Church's positive role in shaping Irish identity, cultivating communities and caring for the poor. The opposition speakers argued that the Catholic Church did more than shape minds - it brainwashed young children, fostering guilt by "turning out the lights and then offering us candles."

The two top teams and top individual were all on the opposition. Gallagher was a proposition speaker.

Eamon Gilmore TD, leader of the Labour Party, chaired the evening.

Ciaran Lawlor convened the final debate.

Judges for the final included Eoin McVey, managing editor of the Irish Times; Dr. Paul Anthony McDermott BL, a lecturer in the UCD school of law and former team winner in 1996; Brendan Kelly BL, director of a financial services lobby group within IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) lobby group and a former team winner in 2002; Rossa Fanning BL, lecturer in the UCD School of Law and former individual winner in 1999; Philip Nolan, deputy president of UCD; Barry Glynn, former team winner in 2006; and Brent Northup, an American forensics coach from Carroll College in Montana.

The Irish Times, Ireland's "serious paper of record," has sponsored the Irish Times debating championship for 49 years. This year the Times sponsored 16 preliminary debates in six cities, which drew 139 teams. Each preliminary resulted in the advancement of the top teams, plus the best individuals from among the losing teams.

There were eight second round debates and four semi-final debates, which set the stage for the final in Dublin. The competition featured nine teams from Northern Ireland, marking a resurgence in competition featuring teams from both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The championship final is a black-tie event, with all debaters and judges in formal dress, and many members of the audience in tuxedoes and formal gowns as well. The Dublin crowd was responsive and appreciative throughout the debate. Ireland takes debate seriously, and takes pride in its history of inspired rhetoric.

The debating competition, which began in 1960, is open to all students, whether undergraduates or graduate students or law students. The winners have included many individuals who later distinguished themselves in Irish politics and Irish law.

The winners will participate in a showcase debate at NPDA on March 27 against three top American debaters: Jess Ryan of the University of Wyoming; Adam Kretz of the Colorado College; and Eric Atcheson of Lewis & Clark College, located in Portland, Oregon. All three Americans are part of top American teams and have enviable records throughout their debate careers.

The Irish will then visit five American universities in Colorado, Florida, Washington, Oregon and California before returning to Ireland on Sunday, April 13.