By beating Eton College in the final of the International Schools Mace competition in London, Ronan Daly and Pádraic Malone of St Francis College in Rochestown became the second Irish team in successive years to clinch the prize.
The “mace” brings the champion debaters of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales into competition, with the motions provided to national representatives in advance. However, Ronan and Pádraic had no knowledge which side of the debate they would be on until shortly before the final last Saturday.
The London trip required the pair to take a break from their Leaving Certificate studies. However, they took it all in their stride, despite a gruelling three-hour wait for the adjudicators’ decision. And it was well worth it when they were deemed unanimous winners by the five-member judging panel.
They had to oppose a motion that proposed voting be weighted by age in a system that would give greater voice to younger people. For 17-year-old Ronan, who will represent Ireland as one of the five-member team in August at the World Schools Debating Championship in Bali, their ability to add humour may have helped the decision.
“We opened with me saying, ‘Here we are again, the Irish trying to explain to the English about the merits of one man, one vote’ and how it didn’t really work out well before,” he said.
While some tongue-in-cheek always helps, the duo believe, their ability to respond to the other side and anticipate the points that might be made against them were also key in their win over Eton.
“One of the great things about debating, where you don’t decide which side you’re on, is how it teaches you to see there’s two sides to every story, and often more than two,” said Pádraic.
The international mace competition was first won by an Irish team when Cork school Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh were victors in 1997. Only three other Irish schools did so since then, including Dublin’s Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green who defeated Pádraic and Ronan in last year’s Irish final.
But it was not the first appearance at the mace for a St Francis College debating team — or for a member of Ronan’s family. He can now claim bragging rights over older brother Ciarán and his team-mate Rory O’Sullivan, who pipped himself and Rory to all-Ireland victory in an all-Rochestown 2015 final, only to lose to a Scottish side in the semi-final in London.
The debating success coincided with the weekend victory of Limerick teenager Diana Mirza in a nail-biting end to the under-17 World Schools Chess Championships in Romania. Herself a native of Romania, she is a transition year student at Coláiste Chiaráin in Croom.