Cumann Diospóireachta Sandford – Sandford Debating Society
The Céile Dé debating society was established in the school at the beginning of the 2008/2009 academic year. It was named after the Céile Dé debating forum that had once functioned within the walls of the monastic university of Tamhlacht in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, a grouping which is still held by scholarship to have stood at the very vanguard of the academic movement which had, at that time, set itself the task of re-establishing learning, culture and civilization in the Europe of the dark, dismal and desolate ages.
The speakers of the original Céile Dé had come to believe that higher purposes could be served were they but to recite, to say beautiful things and to say them beautifully and this idea, this concept came very quickly to stand at the core of the philosophical foundation upon which all of our subsequent activity in Sandford was based.
Winning is not enough, Sandford speakers go out with the intention of setting national agendas and influencing national debates. In their determination so to do the Céile Dé panel of approximately 25 speakers has committed an extraordinary amount of time and energy to the exercise , to the enterprise, to the aim of returning the glory days to the school, for glory days there had once most certainly been.
In 1993 Sandford had won the Concern national championship and some ten years later we had won the international Observer Mace competition. These teams had been trained respectively by Mr. Greg Collins and Mr. Gerard Skelly, ar dheis Dé a raibh a n-anamacha dilse and their achievements acted as the inspiration for the new generation, as the spiritual fuel that kept the flames of legitimate ambition alive on the long winter days and evenings of preparation and practice. The past began to fuse with the present, a new truth was consciously constructed, fate and destiny were caused to collide and in that moment a cultural renaissance was conjured up.
In the 2007/2008 season our Gael Linn senior debating team reached the All Ireland semi final stage for the third consecutive time, our Concern senior debating team topped their group on maximum points, our senior public-speaking team won the Dublin county final and reached the national semi-final of the Mental Health competition, our Transition Year team reached the county final stage of the European Forum series, our senior debaters won both the team and individual prizes at the Model European Parliament while a distinguished speakers award was achieved at the Model United Nations conference and our speakers were ranked in first position in the European Council invitational event which took place in Dublin Castle in March. Then in the 2008/2009 season we were again invited to the European Council event in Dublin Castle, our senior public speaking team reached the county final stage of the Mental Health competition, two of our debaters reached the semi final stage of Trinity College’s Historical Society’s competition while another senior speaker reached the national finals of the Philosophical Society’s competition, held in the same university. We again achieved a distinguished speakers award at the Model United Nations, had a speaker chosen to represent Ireland at an international session of the Model European Parliament held in Bratislava, hosted and participated in the Irish finals of the Oxford Union debating series, achieved two victories and two second places in the Cambridge Union schools competition, won the constituency final and reached the all-Ireland semi-final of the European Forum series and then after all that our senior debating team, having beaten Saint Joseph’s of Cluny, Saint Kilians’ , Saint Benildus’, Sancta Sabina, The Institute of Education, Coláiste Bhríde of Wexford, the Ursuline Convent of Thurles, Ardscoil Rís of Drumcondra and Gort Community School in nine separate rounds, on the 13th of May in the Astra Hall in U.C.D won the Concern debating championship of all Ireland.
At the junior level in the 2008/9 season two of our speakers reached the quarter final stage of UCD’s L&H competition with one of them, Christopher Nolan becoming a semi finalist in that prestigious series. Equally in Comórtas Diospóireachta Gael Linn a team made up of second and third years brought the school great credit. At the present time a system of training and competition exists internally within the school which prepares the younger students for the hothouse that is competitive inter-colleges debating at a senior level.
Our All Ireland victory took place in our final competitive debate of the year and in a strange almost mystical symmetry , the circle of time has been completed, the victories of the past matched and a new golden age of Sandford debating brought into being.
The 2010/2011 debating season proved to be an unique and historic one for Sandford Park School for it was during this academic year that Céile Dé, Sandford Park’s debating society succeeded in achieving the Irish/English double , winning both Craobh an Phiarsaigh, the All-Ireland Championship in debating in Irish and The Concern All-Ireland Championship for debating in English. Such a feat had never before been achieved. It had never before happened in the 120 years of inter-colleges debating that the All-Ireland Champions in the premier debating competition in Irish were also the All-Ireland champions in the biggest competition in English. To bring this situation about the school teams had to win 16 rounds in row, often competing on consecutive nights, speaking in two languages and emerge victorious from a pool of over 170 schools in the Gael Linn competition and over 120 teams in its English equivalent
Sandford Park School has continued to compete within debating at the highest levels. In 2012 the Senior Concern team reached the final four in Ireland. In 2013 they reached the final eight schools and in 2014 they were in the final sixteen. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 both the Senior and Junior Gael Linn Debating teams reached the All-Ireland semi finals, and in 2016 Senior Debating team of Hannah Harte (captain), Nathan Johns and Conor Lamb won the Gael Linn All Ireland Senior competition.
At this point in time Sandford Park, in terms of debating, is the most successful school in Ireland. Indeed if a comparison across countries and competitions is made Sandford is now the foremost debating school in Europe but as I have already said, for us, winning is not enough. For us the pursuit of truth, beauty and authenticity is paramount.
This unprecedented level of success was brought about as a result of the eloquence , skill and commitment of the speakers of this school and equally by virtue of the confidence and competence that tradition brings , a tradition of achievement that has seen this school winning the International Obsever Mace competition in 2001 , the Concern All-Ireland title previously in 1993 , 2009 and 2011 the Gael Linn Leinster title on 3 occasions ,Gael Linn National title in 2011, the Mental Health Dublin Public Speaking Championship in 5 of the past 6 years and innumerable other national and local individual speaking prizes , a tradition that has made Sandford Park School the most successful debating school in Ireland and amongst the most respected centres of oratory anywhere in the world.
In 2013 Sandford Park became a co-educational school and girls are now an integral part of Sandford Park Debating teams. For the academic year 2014-2015 Sandford Park are actively involved in the Round Robin stages of the Concern competition, the opening rounds of the Gael Linn competition and also The Historical Society, TCD sponsored History debates. This is an international competition with the finals in London in the spring of 2015.This year the school has also entered The Leinster schools debating competition. In this competition speakers can win through to the next round either as an individual speaker or as part of a team. In March Sandford Park will debate against the current All-American champions Regis High School, New York.
It was in 849 A.D. that the first Céile Dé began its journey into the core and heart of the human soul. It changed the world. We have but taken our first steps but might not the result be the same. A thousand years later could it be happening again.