Just 26% of announced guests to Hist and Phil visit the societies, with Malala disputing invitation

Several guests have been advertised as “attending this year” more than once with no visit made to date

Only 26% of speakers advertised by Trinity’s University Philosophical Society (the Phil) and College Historical Society (the Hist) have made appearances at society events for the past three years. This figure relates to the attendance of those speakers who are included in the Phil and the Hist’s Freshers’ Week brochures, that are expected to attend throughout the year, but not those who partake in debates or panel discussions. The Phil and Hist publish this information in the Philander and the Historacle respectively. 

This comes shortly after Trinity News learned that Malala Yousafzai would not be attending the Phil this year, despite her inclusion in an email listing visiting guests sent by the Phil prior to Freshers’ Week. Following an article published by Trinity News noting that Yousafzai would attend the society this year, the activist’s Chief Communication and Creative Officer, Taylor Royle, contacted the publication stating that “Malala is not confirmed to speak or visit at the College this year. As she is in university herself, she’s focused on her studies during the school term”.

Speaking on this announcement, President of the Phil Sorcha Ryder stated: “We collectively work so hard all summer to make sure that we can make the list as accurate as possible and we push ourselves to deliver on our guests for the student body.”

She added that “it is unfortunately sometimes the case that certain guests we would love to provide are not 100% confirmed when the time comes for us to release the list, but we have excellent precedence of delivering to the best of our ability every year”.  

The Phil have seen the lowest yearly attendance rate, with 15% guest attendance recorded in the 2017-18 academic year. While the society saw visits from Patrick Topping, Kristin Chenoweth, and Sean Parker, it claimed to welcome Nigella Lawson, Brian May, and Dame Judi Dench. However, these guests, alongside 14 others, failed to visit the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB).

Last year, the Hist saw an attendance rate 7% higher than that of the Phil, with 22% of announced guests in attendance. The society welcomed civil rights activist Al Sharpton, while also hosting Patrick Wolf, Kenneth Clarke, and Jung Chang. However, the society failed to deliver on its announcement that it would host former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Labour politician Eamon Gilmore, and journalist Owen Jones.

The 2016-17 academic year saw the Phil and the Hist attract 28% and 38% of guests respectively. The Phil welcomed Dean Strang, Brian Cox, and Glen Hansard, with five other guests also speaking at the GMB. Idris Elba, Mary Berry, Kevin Spacey, Kesha, Mark Ronson and Ellie Goulding were among the star-studded list of guests who failed to visit the society. These guests were some of the 19 invitees who failed to appear during the year.

In the same year, the Hist saw six guests attend the society. Singer-songwriter and poet Patti Smith, politician Pat Cox, and American journalist Sarah Koenig all attended the society during the 2016-17 academic year, among others. The society also saw David O’Sullivan speak at its Inaugural event. The society, while announcing The Rubberbandits, Imelda May, and Rosanna Davison, alongside seven others, failed to deliver on these guests. The society also announced musician Patrick Wolf, who failed to visit the society until the 2017-18 academic year. This was the most successful year for either society in the three year period.    

The Phil saw its most successful spell of the last three years during the 2015-16 academic year. The society welcomed Snow Patrol, Weird Al Yankovic, and Steve Coogan, alongside five other guests included in the Philander. This amounted to an attendance rate of 36%. However, the society failed to welcome Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage, actress Kristen Bell, and Richard E Grant, alongside 11 other guests. The society also failed to attract Kristin Chenoweth, who was again advertised in the 2016-17 academic year, and subsequently visited the Phil in the following year.

In the same year, the Hist saw 16% of their advertised guests visit the GMB, in which the Historacle also saw the fewest number guests advertised over the three year period. The society claimed that it had a line up of 12 guests “that we have confirmed for this year”. Despite this, the society welcomed two of these guests, namely philosopher Peter Singer and Irish actor Robert Sheehan. Children’s writer Marita Conlon McKenna also spoke at a Burke Session, while David Norris, Katherine Lynch, and Carlos García de Alba partook in Chamber Debates. Failed attendees to the Hist in the 2015-16 academic year included Simon Pegg and President Michael D Higgins.

Speaking to Trinity News about the statistic, Phil President Sorcha Ryder said that the society “works non-stop during the summer to create the best possible line up for our members. When we are asked for our line up at Freshers’ Week, we provide the most accurate list of confirmed speakers at that time. Due to our speakers’ busy and changing schedules, all dates cannot be finalised by the first week of term.”

According to Ryder, this “results in a portion of our guests having to postpone their visit to outside of the current session. Some of our biggest guests have been 3-4 years in the pipeline”.

She also noted that many of the society’s “most prominent speakers were in fact not advertised in the Philander”. She noted such guests as Vice President Joe Biden, Martin Scorsese, Ice Cube, and Kevin Hart. She concluded by saying that “we are continuing to work so hard to deliver the most exciting guests for our members and we are really looking forward to the rest of the year”.

Auditor of the Hist Catherine Kelly also noted the wide range of speakers attracted by the society, and said that “the upcoming speakers who we list in the Historacle are guests who have told us they’re enthusiastic about the opportunity to speak at the Hist and committed to visiting that year”.

The Hist society have also claimed to have confirmed the Game of Thrones star Sean Bean twice, in the 2015-16, and 2016-17 academic years. However, the Phil then claimed that he would attend the society in the 2017-18 academic year. Despite this, in the 2018-19 academic year, Sean Bean is still yet to visit Trinity.

The Phil have also advertised its intention to host David Axelrod, a political consultant and analyst, best known for being the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s political campaigns. He is yet to visit the society.

Guests to the Phil and the Hist both receive a gold medal brandished by the debating societies. The recipients become honorary patrons of the societies, and also receive honorary membership. Previous recipients of the Phil’s medals include Martin Scorsese and Joe Biden, with the Hist gold medal being presented to Michael Noonan last year.  

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly is the current Assistant Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister Law student, and a former Deputy News Editor.