Fiachra Johnson looks at the history of RAG weeks in Ireland and whether they're to blame for students' bad reputations.
The year is 1969, and it’s RAG Week in UCD. Four students, seeking to live up to the storied history of the event, are somehow able to sneak into the Montrose television studios of RTE. Their prize for breaking in: a nine-foot wide replica of the moon, used for the qualifiers of the Eurovision Song Contest. Confused spokespersons were able to give no explanation as to how the thieves actually managed to enter the premises or how they were able to make off with the sculpture. Despite only ever claiming to ‘borrow’ it for use during charity events within the college, newspapers and authorities since have failed to discover whether or not it was ever actually returned.
UCD is famous for its RAG ‘pranks’, from its long feud with Queens University Belfast resulting in several kidnappings, to literally scaling the walls of Trinity College with ropes and battering down the doors with a car to steal a sign (all in the name of charity). However, all British and Irish colleges have celebrated the “Raise and Give” weeks in their own ways, usually at the expense of local property and businesses.
RAG weeks are often a huge time for celebration by students, and are meant to be a feel-good way of raising money for local groups and charities. The ransom payments are towards charities, the damages are (usually) payed off, and everyone returns to their normal senses.
On the opposite side, RAG Weeks are a logistical nightmare for university staff and businesses unfortunate enough to cross paths with a large group of students during the week. Reputations are put in jeopardy, fines and damages accrue, and complaints are nearly always made by nearby residents.
UCD has had a ban on official RAG weeks since the 50’s, while NUIG have demanded that all events hosted under the RAG banner be non-alcoholic. Are we as students giving ourselves a bad name as a result of these events?
More often than not, most of the issue stems from the students themselves, and a huge factor: alcohol. It’s one thing to be a usually well-behaved student being a little raucous for one week of the year, it’s another thing to try and smash windows in a rival college while downing drink on your way to a club with a few dozen equally hammered college-goers. Just because some of us have forgotten what the word moderation means, it isn’t fair to plaster a whole youth group with a bad name as a result.
Is RAG Week truly the whole cause of this near universal bad-name of undergraduates though? Being a student on its own already paints a target on our backs. We receive dismissals and one sentence replies to emails when trying to search for accommodation. Our C.Vs are dumped in drawers to be forgotten about by employers. At this point, ‘student’ feels less like an occupation, and more of badge of shame pinned to us.
Are RAG events in Ireland a cause of hatred for college students, or has our decades long history of antagonising the public served as an outlet for a sense of disdain students feel for being treated as second-class citizens?
Is it up to us to set a new standard of behaviour going forward, or has the damage been done already, and our reputations as students tarnished beyond repair? Regardless of the answer, RAG weeks both official and unofficial continue to remain both the yearly highlight of students and the bane of university officials, everywhere.