You’d have to be deaf and blind not to have noticed the revelry in Galway this week – an antithesis of a low spirited January in which the population was getting to grips with our economic collapse.
Yes, the students are on the town for annual Rag Week – an event that has become synonymous with drink, late night partying, and, inevitable juvenile excesses.
For many students the week is the highlight of the social calendar, having a laugh and a drink before settling down to the hard study slog prior to exams, and certainly few would begrudge them. And in case you didn’t know, Rag Week is about raising and giving.
The cynical might well say raising hell and giving it a lash, but for thousands of students the week is an an opportunity to let their hair down while at the same time raising money for charities and those less fortunate. NUIG and GMIT, which are celebrating this year together, have chosen charities for whom they will raise funds throughout the week. NUIG students are aiming to raise more than €20,000 for the Galway Rape Crisis Centre, CD’s Helping Hands, L’Arche, and the Belarussian Orphanage Project, while GMIT’s chosen charity is Console, the organisation that supports people bereaved through suicide, in addition to promoting positive mental health within the community in an effort to reduce the high number of suicides.
NUIH SU president Muireann O’Dwyer had stated she hoped the week’s events, that include an array of entertainment, would promote the charitable aspect of Rag Week, while also improving its image in the local area.
Unfortunately this week it has been hard to see the charitable aspect on the streets of Galway. As always the problems arise when moderation becomes excessive, and like the rest of Ireland, drinking is inevitably a major part of student culture. It is difficult to judge today’s students doing what most of us have done at some stage of our lives. Making people aware of their own limits, and the dangers of out-of-control behaviour is not exclusive to students. When under the influence people fail to see how their behaviour, particularly when congregating in large groups, can be intimidating for any person, young or old, and downright anti-social.
The colleges urged the city’s pubs to put a halt to cheap alchohol throughout the week, and to reconsider their opening hours. By 10.30am on Monday large groups had gathered in several city centre pubs and on the streets, and it was not unexpected that things would eventually get out of hand. In the first two days Gardai had made 25 arrests and the NUIG authorities had been forced to pull the plug on their support for Rag Week, claiming this traditional week of charitable events had been overshadowed by a minority of students using this time as an opportunity for “excessive drinking, leading ultimately to unsafe, unruly, and anti-social behaviour”.
Of course there were warning signs for the last couple of years as Rag Week became increasingly associated with excessive drinking, and rowdy, anti-social behaviour. One must remember also that the number of younsters attending college has grown considerably in the last 10 years, which has exacerbated the problem. Today’s students have grown up during the Celtic Tiger era with more money to burn than students in the past, and certainly less appreciation. The downturn in the economy has not hit home yet, but in a couple of years’ time they might find themselves on the dole queues and find out the hard way. It might also prompt a new attitude to what has been a hugely popular and worthwhile week for possibly more than a century throughout institutions around the globe. It would be a shame to see its end.
BY LINLEY MACKENZIE