There’s little sign of any trouble as you walk through the main gates of UCC on the Western Road.
As I get closer to Áras na Mac Léinn, I hear the muffled thuds and muted bassline of Rihanna’s ‘Pon de Replay’ booming from within the student centre.
The first floor of the centre holds one of the two on- campus bars, and dozens of students form an orderly queue which stretches out of the building, reaching the entrance to the adjacent Honan Chapel.
It is 3.45pm on Thursday, the last full day of UCC’s Rag Week. Complaints and media reports of anti-social behaviour and booze-fuelled excess are now as much part of the annual event as the charitable fundraisers it purports to champion.
Rag Week’s defenders say it gives students a chance to take a break from their studies and raise much-needed funds to worthy causes.
However, detractors say there’s too much of the former and not enough of the latter to justify the disruption it causes to local residents.
This year’s Rag Week comes months after a YouTube clip of a house party, recorded by a resident on nearby Magazine Rd, went viral. A large group of young people were filmed singing, drinking, and throwing rubbish across the street in the early hours of the morning.
Inside Áras na Mac Léinn, a man in a high-viz jacket checks IDs to make sure only UCC students are attending the official, student union-sanctioned, events. House parties outside the campus are a different matter.
The eastern end of College Rd, where the street ends as it turns slightly to the right on to Gillabbey St, is lined on either side by three-storey terraced houses, most of which are rented out to students.
It’s a bright day and house parties are already in full swing. Some residents have opted to bring their living room furniture out front to drink and listen to music outside.
Five young women share a couch and single seater outside one house. The front window of the ground floor is ajar, a stereo speaker aimed out the opening.
I ask them if they were aware of the complaints from residents. One girl, who introduces herself as Aoife, say they’ve heard.
“It is unfair, but it’s only one week,” Aoife says.
“And the majority of people who live here are students,” a friend chimes in.
I ask them if they think the residents have valid grounds for complaint.
“It’s for charity,” another woman offers.
“I agree with them, but life is unfair, that’s just the way things are. It’s just part of life. What can you do about? asks Aoife.
This brings laughter. They tell me Aoife doesn’t live at the house and isn’t even a UCC student. She goes to CIT.
“It is really disrespectful for the residents and stuff but there are so many students around here,” says one.
“College is really hard and we need a week to let loose,” another says.
For some of them, it will be their sixth consecutive night out. They plan to stay drinking at the house before heading into town later.
Chris and Dylan are having a pint and a smoke outside Cissy Young’s, a pub on Bandon Rd just a few minutes’ walk south of UCC. The pub is busy, given its 4pm on a Thursday.
The pair are housemates who live nearby, and while they go to CIT’s National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy, they are planning to go out with the UCC Rag Week crowd.
They believe students are unfairly targeted for criticism.
“We have a house party tonight and the neighbours are fine with it,” Chris says. “We asked our two next door neighbours and they said work away.
“ We said ‘eleven o’clock, we’ll be finished’ and that’s the way it’s going to be. When eleven o’clock hits — that’s it. We’ll be done.”
“If they have any problems they can come to us and we’ll sort it out, no problem,” Dylan adds.
They believe that the actions of a few students are tarnishing the reputation of a wider demographic.
“It is unfair. Look at most last around here, they don’t want to start a fight, let alone make a mess of the place,” Chris says.
“It’s the gang that want to take things too far, take drugs, and keep going all night. It’s unfair,” Dylan says. “No one really wants to do that apart from 10% of students, max.”
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