It’s 2am on Rag Week Monday in Galway city. What seems to be half of the student population has converged outside of the spiritual home of NUI Galway: Supermac’s in Eyre Square. The students don’t care that it’s an ‘unofficial’ affair. It makes no mind that it’s the diet version, the watered-down Coyotes vodka equivalent, the ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rag Week’ strain of Rag Week, because it’s still Rag Week.
The temperature may be low but emotions run high. Fists are pumping, the traditional chant of ‘whoop there it is’ is being elevated to a whole new level of catchiness by a zealous crowd and, to crown the festivities: there is a young man atop a lamp-post.
Scratch that. He is no mere man, he is immortal. He scales the pole without effort, looking like Christian Bale ascending from the pit prison in that Batman film he was in. Casually dry-humping the pole, and of course, shirtless, our hero returns from on high like the man from Nazareth, back to absolve a few more sins. Fanatical cheers from the disciples gathered at the foot of the lamp-post make me, an on-the-fringe spectator, feel as though I’ve become so drunk that I have somehow managed to stumble back in time to the sixties to watch the Pope address a screaming crowd at Ballybrit Racecourse.
Images of Reeling in the Years are pushed from my head as the young man is promptly set-upon and arrested by the waiting Gardai before his feet even touch the ground. He is taken away in disgrace, now resembling a tired infant being carried up to bed more so than an apparition of Christ. His triumphs are soon forgotten as scores of pretenders clamber over one another trying to fill the void and become the central focus of night’s carousing. Well, the next few minutes of it anyways.
But that was weeks ago. Since then, the events of Rag Week have received a great deal coverage, both wanted and unwanted. The following Tuesday, The Galway Independent‘s Facebook page posted a link to a video that captured the night’s antics. The administrator of the page itself took no side. This impartiality sparked intense debate in the comment section below. The video instigated a wave of student-bashing and hate-fuelled stereotyping, a lot of which it would be unwise to reproduce here.
Some of the more polite keyboard-warriors labelled the crowd ‘a disgrace to Galway.’ This is funny because about seventy percent of NUIG’s students hail from outside of Galway. Another comment called for the complete removal of student grants. Surely the elimination of the right to higher education would be to the disadvantage of a country in turmoil, and an action like this would cause students to do a little more than organise a benign sing-song outside of Supermac’s, but we’ll move swiftly on. A more disturbing comment suggested that the Gardai should have used physical force to disperse the crowd on horseback. Trying not to wonder what this commenter’s opinion might be of what happened at Tiananmen Square, or how many framed Kim Jong-Un posters they have on their bedroom walls, I scrolled on.
Of course, there were also incongruent arguments that emphasised the frivolity and good nature of the crowd, arguments that disparaged a lot of what was being said. They pointed out that there were no fights (something that is uncommon for Galway on a random Monday night, not a mind the first night of Rag Week). The sensible commenters stated that unlike the year previous, there were no sexy Gardai, which was surely a disappointment for all present. There were also no flares. All-in-all, the gathering was more harmless than the hangovers that were to follow. These very arguments allowed me to retain my sanity as well as the continued use of my Facebook account, because the rebuttals I fought so hard to keep in reserve would have been more than enough to get me banned from the site.
And what about official reactions? With all the free speech and internet troll-ery of nowadays, we have a tendency to casually disregard the opinions and statements of the bodies actually involved in a dispute. A spokesperson for Millstreet Garda Station told the Advertiser that there was ‘none of the hassle of previous years’ and that ‘very few arrests had been made’. This was all thanks to ‘an extensive clampdown’ by the bringers of law enforcement and justice. All hail. Meanwhile, the university condemned the week ‘unequivocally.’ The university’s thesaurusy, comma-laden, look at me I’m an academic statement reads like a pre-Show Trial Joey Stalin address to the Politburo. According to the university, any student engaging in ‘such behaviour’ (having fun, merriment, laughter perhaps?) will be subject to disciplinary action. Ouch.
The almighty ex-emperor of the SU: Paul Curley I the Great, took time some out from preparing for his future life as Bertie Ahern born again to do his best Pontius Pilate impression. The spokesperson for the student body of this centuries-old establishment completely washed his hands of any involvement, blame or responsibility, something he’ll need in large quantities when he joins the Dáil. He said that he had no reason to believe that any of the students arrested on the Monday night were from NUI Galway. If he was straddling the fence any more he’d have a God-awful rash to contend with, let alone student dissatisfaction.
The co-founder of RAG Ireland, (that organisation behind the original idea for a student charity week who don’t really encourage the drinking side of things that no-one seems to pay any heed to) Donal de Buitléir, spoke to the Advertiser of the need to ‘harness student enthusiasm towards making social change, while also enjoying themselves.’ He also said that RAG Ireland fully endorses student volunteering and fundraising all year round. Each RAG hub is ‘passionate about giving students the right tools to make Ireland a better place to live in.’ The man makes sense, but then again, I’m a student who grows weary of negative media portrayal and slander. Of course I’m going to agree. So let’s examine the facts as objectively as we can.
The University of Limerick’s RAG hub has thought up a list of what is currently ‘broken’ with Rag Week. As they see it, third-party organisations (pubs and clubs namely) engage in profiteering during ‘the rag’. They promote large events and encourage students to drink excessively. According to our friends at UL, the media portrays students in such a bad light that the name ‘RAG’ has lost all of its original meaning. As it stands, there is no incentive not to drink.
Luckily, they have listed devised a cunning list of solutions that could be deployed to ‘fix’ the week (thank God, I thought I was going to have to come up with some). They call on universities to structure the week, rather than just cancelling it altogether. The university and the SU should hold a monopoly on all events organised. There should be more daytime, non-alcoholic events. More charity. More Raising and Giving. More RAG. The week should be more barbeques and bakes sales and less beer-bongs and barfing. If all of the events were contained on the campus, then they’d be under the watchful eye of the university. Anti-social behaviour could be fairly dealt with by their disciplinary bodies, as any such actions would occur on university grounds and not outside of Supermac’s at three in the morning.
In banning Raising and Giving week, it would seem that all the university has achieved is heightened defamation for themselves, and a lot less money going from students to charity. To tell a student not to drink excessively during Rag Week is to tell a librarian not to shh, a politician not to lie, a lecturer not to complain about dwindling attendance. It’s like the Novena in reverse: It’s going to happen every year: one demographic will be happy about it, while the other is not. Taking away the right to collect for charity does no good for anyone, and therefore should be re-instated. The week is a symbol of what university should stand for: freedom. Not freedom for freedom’s sake, used in bad faith to impinge on the rights of others, but the freedom to have a good fecking time.
It’s all Donegal’s fault really.