Shelby Jo Long-Hammond, associate professor of communication studies and director of debate, 406.657.1054,
RMC Media Team, 406.657.1105,

Photo caption: Irish National Champion Debaters (l to r) Kieran O’Sullivan, Dearbhla O’Gorman, and William Courtney compete at RMC March 28 [credit Irish Times]

Irish Champion DebatersRMC hosts Irish National Champion Debaters March 28

BILLINGS, March 17, 2014 – The Irish National Champion debaters, winners of the annual Irish Times debate competition, visit the Rocky Mountain College debate team for camaraderie and a competition March 28. RMC sponsors refreshments and hors d’oeuvres before the debate begins in the Great Room of Prescott Hall at 6:00 p.m. 

For 54 years in a society that prizes sophisticated allusion in witty argument, the most competent Irish undergraduate and graduate debaters have competed in the Irish Times National Debating Championship. As their prize, the top team of two and top individual speaker visit the U.S. to work with parliamentary style debaters such as the RMC Debate Society. 

Kieran O’Sullivan and Dearbhla O’Gorman of the Law Society, Blackhall Place, Dublin, comprise the Solicitors’ Apprentice Debating Society of Ireland team that won the Irish National Championship three weeks ago. Winning individual William Courtney represents University College Dublin Medical Society debate.

The parliamentary style of debate that the Irish and RMC teams have mastered is more value- and principle-oriented than solution-oriented American policy debate. It is practiced throughout nations with British heritage such as Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. “We want to share this style with the community,” said Shelby Jo Long-Hammond, director of RMC debate. 

“Debate in this style is a big deal in those countries,” she said. “It’s an honor to be part of these debating societies. These grad students volunteer themselves and their time. It’s historically based, a part of the education culture. Prominent Irish leaders, politicians, and even comedians were all debaters. There’s an entire building devoted to debate” [at Trinity College Dublin where the RMC team competed in February].

The four-day visit to RMC brings learning opportunities and cultural exchange. “They go to New York and Miami, so Montana is somewhere newer,” Long-Hammond said. Her team will be great hosts though, in the Irish tradition of “offering the craic,” or conversation.

“We’ll take them downhill skiing with Tim Lohrenz [director of outdoor recreation], to a cabin outside Columbus for rural hikes, and try to get them a steak dinner,” she said.

The RMC Debate Society themselves returned in February from international competition on the Irish champs’ home turf in Dublin. This academic year, RMC debaters argued in international competitions at the University of Calgary in Alberta, the Kingsmail Invitational at Trinity College, and the Trinity College IV tournament in Dublin. Team members also attended national tournaments at the United States Air Force Academy, University of Denver, and Northwest College.

Community engagement is a mission of the RMC Debate Society, which brings hundreds of high school students to campus each year for high school tournaments that help younger debaters engage the potentials of competitive communication.

Each RMC debater is also involved with RMC’s tribal college debate program, which in 2013-14 brings debate education to three tribal colleges in Montana through argumentation, debate, and public speaking workshops. RMC students are debate trainers and mentors in this program.

Long-Hammond has taught seminars for the International Debate Education Association, and she was on the forensics team at Carroll College through their 1999 national championship year. Her former coach at Carroll, Brett Northrup, organizes the American tour of the Irish champions. She coached debate at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and University of Montana before coming to RMC. 

Long-Hammond leads an annual student trip to Ireland for two weeks. Debate has taken her debate team to Bosnia, Ireland, Slovenia, and all over the United States.