An explainer for all the Americans who don't know what the Debs is

Following the success of Normal People, many Americans have been wondering what the Debs is. Here we explain the Irish institution in forensic detail 

So, the Americans have got their hands on Normal People.

Their thoughts? All overwhelmingly positive.

Anything they didn't understand? The Debs (and football).


Over the last few days, reactions to the TV adaption of Sally Rooney's Normal People have been coming in thick and fast. Never has a show created such a fire in audiences. A heat made solely from the fact the story depicts a somewhat universal experience.

Those in the US are getting their fill on streaming service Hulu and it seems their love for the land of the green grows. However, there was a gap in the commentary.

A hole of no information around the Irish institution that is the Debs.




One commentator said: "No one would have asked me to 'debs' it's clear as day to me." She made it sound like a dance in the way that Monaghan people jive.

And I would like to tell her that, by God, it's some sort of a dance alright.

It's only fair that I help our friends across the pond and explain in great detail what the 'Debs' are and define the gravity the event holds in the hearts, minds, and purse pockets of the Irish people.

The debs

Many American viewers have been right in their assumption that the Debs are like a prom. Debs is shorthand for a debutante ball, but it isn't an introduction of sixth years into high society.


No, in this case, you are debuting your tan, eyelashes, and your 'short back and sides' haircut.

While your mother gets to showcase her new timber flooring in the pictures.

The Debs are seen as a final farewell to secondary school life and most take place after the Leaving Cert exam results are released. Although, some schools (for example, mine) have theirs in the first term of sixth year.

These schools are tight when it comes to money but very shrewd: they know you can get better deals on the meal off-peak.

The ask

Us Irish don't do the flamboyant prom asks that can be seen on social media. Ours is subtle, incredibly awkward and equally terrifying. If you are lucky, you have a boyfriend or girlfriend to take and there isn't even a question asked – it is assumed.

However, if you are self-conscious and alone, the idea of a Debs date is an altogether foreign prospect. Nobody goes on their own, and if you do, you are seen as a pariah in the parish. They will whisper about you at GAA matches in the way people talk about females who never entered the realm of matrimony.


They whisper "and she never married".

Except now it's "she brought no one to the Debs".

I am not too sure how the youth of today conduct theirs, but back in my day there was a communications device called Facebook Messenger and you used it with brazen boldness.

The interaction went a little like this:

Boy: Will you go to the debs with me?

Girl: Yeh.

Boy: Grand


If someone had the gall to ask you in person, you would seriously consider ringing the guards.

The location

Usually in a hotel with 'glen' or 'castle' in the name. Its aroma is damp with a touch of the 1970s. The walls are beige and the carpet is patterned. The bar is long and brown but glistens like a mirage in the desert.

If you weren't shifting your Debs' date you most likely told them you needed to go to the toilet while they bought you a drink at said bar.

You never again return.

The food and drink

Unlike the American prom, the Debs call for a three-course meal at tables akin to those at a wedding reception. There is one fork and knife for the entire meal because this is the Debs and not the royal wedding. The starter is always vol-au-vents. The main course is beef or chicken. There is enough mash potatoe to alleviate the famine and enough carrots to cure blindness, with gravy on the side. For dessert, it's cheesecake.


Absolutely none of it is eaten.

The reason it isn't consumed has to do with a scientific theory called 'soakage'. As a teenager at your Debs, the last thing you want to be is a sponge.

Thus, this may be the most colossal disparity between the prom and the Debs.

At the prom, there is a non-alcoholic punch.

At the Debs, there are naggins of vodka.

The Debs is a party with alcohol that features a large body of teenagers who are on the cusp of adulthood with no members of the school faculty attending.

You do the math.


The music

The DJ is usually the brother of one of the girls on the Debs' committee. He has been dropping beats on YouTube for a few months and sees the Debs as his gateway to Ibiza.

Except, his tunes are not wanted. Around midnight, a raucous group of young bucks with their ties wrapped around their heads will shout aggressively at him to play Mr Brightside. 

The DJ will always concede defeat.

Then, through the melodic hypnosis that is Livin on a Prayer by Bon Jovi, a boy will get on the back of another and ultimately break something.

And so, the party is over and everyone is thrown back on the bus.

The school will never be allowed to have a Debs at the Glencastle Hotel ever again.


The aftermath

The next morning is a series of fear-induced texts about who shifted who and whether anyone has seen my phone, shoes, lipstick, rented tuxedo jacket, purse, wallet, and/or date.

This, America, is the Debs.

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