IrFUW in Action in Ireland

IrFUW Public Speaking Competition

  • Began in Galway in 1957 with all Associations involved by 1991
  • Annual Public Speaking Competition for girls aged under 15
  • Each Association organises a local round of the competition and the winning team of 3 girls and the best individual speaker go forward to the National Final

Please contact your nearest Association for further details.

Please note, any School wishing to participate please note the following:

  1. Contestants to be under 15 on 1st January of the year of the Final.
  2. Heats are organised by the individual IrFUW Associations early in each new year
  3. Each heat will result in a school team of three members and an individual “Best Speaker” for the Final.  The best speaker may be a member of the team going forward to the Final.
  4. All contestants at the Final are eligible for the “Best Speaker” award.
  5. The final will be held on or as near as possible to the second weekend in March.
  6. No mobile phones / iPads, etc. allowed. No notes or books to be used by the candidates during the preparation period of 30 minutes prior to the start of the competition or no consultation allowed in that thirty minutes other than with team mates.  Blank prompt cards will be given to the candidates on which they can make their notes.
  7. The contestants should aim to speak for two minutes.  A bell will be sounded at two minutes.  A final bell will be sounded at three minutes.  At this bell contestants must stop.  The candidate will be penalised if she continues after the three minute bell.
  8. The contestants will be required to present themselves for the selection of an aspect on their chosen topics 45 minutes prior to the start of the competition.
  9. Teachers and parents are not permitted to assist the candidates during their preparation period.



At a meeting held on the 14th January 1957 the effectiveness of the Galway Association was the topic of discussion. As a practical outcome of this, the Association decided to make two awards with a view to encouraging public speaking among women in Galway. One award was to first year undergraduates of UCG and the other to girls in the then Technical School, (now the Galway Technical Institute). {What a sign of the times: Recorded in the minutes is the following – “It was decided by the members that the sum of 2 guineas be sent to the adjudicator!”} It was suggested that to encourage the language revival, these competitions should be in English and Irish on alternate years.

Poppy Corbett, the President of the Galway Association at the time, was of the opinion that Public Speaking should ideally start in the schools, and so, the first competition for Secondary schools was organised for 5th Year (pre-Leaving Certificate) girls and took place on 11th May 1959. The cup is still in use to this day. This competition was almost totally for impromptu speaking – the topic being drawn out of a hat only five or so minutes before having to speak on it.  (Recorded in the minutes of that year was the following: “The number of competitors was so great that we had to limit the entrants, some schools holding eliminating contests of their own. In order to stimulate further interest the branch successfully approached the Trustees of the Shaw Bequest Fund and were granted the sum of £20.00 to cover the cost of a series of lectures on the art of Public Speaking”.{Report on Triennial Conference 1960}).

These three competitions were held annually until 1967 when UCG dropped out . Four years later it was proposed to discontinue the other two due to insufficient interest by schools. Shortly afterwards the Galway Branch was temporarily wound up.

On 23rd March 1977 a General Meeting was held in UCG to form a new Women Graduates Association in Galway. This meeting was co-chaired by Diana McLean and Clare McMahon, both of Queens University, Belfast.

Three years later it was decided to revive the Public Speaking Competition, and this was held in 1981.

As the years passed it became obvious that the 5th year age group was very well catered for in the line of Public Speaking Competitions and some parents and teachers suggested that the competition should be changed to one for 1st years. The inaugural competition for this age group was held in February 1989. Twelve topics were proposed but this was amended to six by 1990. Around that time some of the other University associations became interested in what Galway was doing and it was decided to extend this competition to all the Universities. The first of these finals was held in UCG in 1991 when Belfast and Cork joined Galway .

The winner that year was Hunterhouse College, Belfast. It was proposed to travel to Belfast for the final the following year. However, due to the troubles in the North, the venue was changed to UCD, where Belfast won again. This time Dublin also provided two teams one of which was a runner-up.

The final has subsequently been held in Dublin alternating between TCD and UCD though each of the five Associations take turns in the organisation. This way the final can be run on the one day, which would not otherwise be possible.

This competition is unique in that whereas the general topics are known, the exact aspect to be addressed is not known until the moment of the competition. It is felt that Public Speaking as opposed to debating is a skill not adequately catered for and Galway is very proud to have been the instigators of this competition. Apart from the obvious benefits accruing through practice of Public Speaking, no less important is the social dimension, the opportunity it affords to competitors to mix with their peers from other parts of Ireland. The emphasis should be strongly placed on enjoyment rather than over-emphasis on winning if we want this competition to survive in the very stressful life in which teenagers live. It is one of the more worthwhile activities of the Federation and one of which we can be justifiably proud.

Marie Flatley, Galway Association of Women Graduates