6. Rag Week

A look at UCD’s infamous Rag Week past.

February’s Rag Week shenanigans in NUI Galway, which saw forty-two people arrested, prompted widespread condemnation and criticism. In this issue of Hidden History, we focus in on UCD’s own Rag Week, which in the late 1960s and 1970s gained widespread notoriety.

Rag Week was banned in the 1950s by UCD authorities after pranks marred the celebrations including the “kidnapping of sales girls from Clerys” by students. It was renamed ‘College Week’ in the mid 1960s and allowed to take place but as we’ll see the name didn’t stick and the trouble didn’t end. [1]

In 1966, to raise publicity for their Rag Week Queen’s University students kidnapped Miss UCD prompting UCD students to travel to Queen’s to recapture their queen and in the process seizing a “female member of the Queen’s Students’ Representative Council”. [2]

UCD students in 1967 travelled to Queen’s University in Belfast to kidnap Miss Ursula White, their Rag ‘princess’. According to newspaper reports of the time, she was taken “by car to an undividulged Dublin address” where UCD students sent out a press release demanding a ransom of £25 for the girls freedom. [3]

Queen's University Belfast which UCD students visited in 1967

Queen's University Belfast which UCD students visited in 1967

The following year, a vanload of Queen’s students visited Dublin, kidnapping Jean Power, a UCD secretary. She was later held in the offices of the Queen’s University Students’ Union. The Irish Times reported that “Miss Power … (was) at ease (but) was not available for comment as she was shopping in Belfast”. While in the city, Queen’s students took a 350-year-old doorknocker from the Graduates Memorial Building in TCD, demanding a ransom of £10 for its retrieval. [4]

During their trip to UCD, the students also tried to steal the Literary and Historical Society’s recently won debating trophy, valued at £300. Seven of the group slipped into the private business meeting of the L. and H where they the grabbed the trophy and rushed out the door. Their getaway attempt was foiled by a member of the society who shut the college gates. The Queen’s students van, which damaged its headlights after colliding with the gate, was “instantly besieged by (UCD) students”. After minor scuffles, the trophy was retrieved and handed back to the Auditor Mr. Henry Kelly. [5]

During Rag Week in 1969, four U.C.D. students raided the R.T.E. television studios in Montrose, appropriating a replica of the moon, which was used in the background set for the national song contest. [6]

RTE Montrose, Donnybrook where UCD students 'raided' in 1969

RTE Montrose, Donnybrook which was 'raided' by UCD students in 1969

Deceiving security, the students disguised themselves as building workmen and drove up to the studio in a lorry. The “moon”, devised by the R.T.E. head of design, Mr. Alpho O’Reilly, was over nine feet in diameter and made of a plastic substance stretched over a frame. An embarrassed R.T.E. spokesperson, when questioned over the incident, could not explain how the visitors entered and left the studios “unchallenged and unquestioned”. The students ‘borrowed’ the moon to use for publicity to raise funds for charity during Rag Week. A trawl of the newspaper archives failed to establish whether the students gave the “moon” back or not.

UCD Rag Week hit the headlines again in 1976 when hundreds of students ran riot through the centre of Dublin. Traffic was severely disrupted when “several hundred undergraduates … congregated at the top of Grafton Street”. The first garda called on the scene was pelted with eggs and flowers and was forced to retreat. The assistant manager of the Ambassador Cinema on O’Connell Street rang the UCD Students’ Union to complain about what he called the “disgraceful” behaviour of students who tried to force their way into the cinema without paying. UCD students also jumped into the River Liffey en masse. Later that evening, a group of students from Bolton Street College of Technology telephoned The Irish Independent and claimed that they had kidnapped the organiser of the UCD Rag Week, Mr. Billy McGrath “in retaliation for their attack on Bolton Street”. ‘Captain Blue’, a spokesperson for the Bolton St. students demanded back the College clock which they accused UCD students of stealing. They were also requested a barrel of Guinness and a £10 donation to a charity of the Irish Independent’s choice. [7]

In February 1977 as part of Rag Week celebrations, over one hundred UCD students invaded Trinity College, the College of Surgeons and Kevin Street College causing £3,200 worth of damage. [6]

Newspaper reports describe how the UCD students “scaled the walls of Trinity by rope” after the gates were closed to them.

Trinity College Gates which UCD students scaled in 1977

Trinity College Gates which UCD students scaled in 1977

Once inside, the UCD mob used a car belonging to a member of TCD staff as a battering ram to get into the Museum building. They also stole a large notice from the college entrance. A Kevin Street College of Technology laboratory was also damaged during the rampage. Eamon Gilmore, current Labour Party president and the then president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), blamed the trouble on a “fringe hooligan” element who he said should be identified and made to pay the bill for the damages they cost. [10]

Condemnation came from various circles in society including the Irish Housewives’ Association. Charles McNally, the then UCDSU president announced, that the Union had voted for fundamental changes to the College’s Rag Week, in future “it would be a Community Week devoted to helping the community and city centre forways would be banned” [11]

The Rag Week pranks and “high jinks” of UCD which were a staple annual event are now just a distant memory. Who knows if they’ll ever return?

[1]UCD Correspondent, “College Week in U.C.D.”, The Irish Times, March 1, 1967.
[2]UCD Correspondent’, College Week in U.C.D., The Irish Times – Wednesday March 1st 1967
[3]Irish Times Reporter, “Royal ransom will help Gorta”, The Irish Times, March 11, 1967.
[4]Irish Times Reporter, “Still captive of Belfast students”, The Irish Times, February 17, 1968.
[5]Sunday Independent Reporter, “Students’ high jinks were a gimmick”, The Sunday Independent, March 10, 1968.
[6]Irish Times Reporter, “Moon replica taken from R.T.E. studios”, The Irish Times, February 27, 1969.
[7]John Walsh, “Complaints as Rag gets out of control”, The Irish Independent, February 26, 1976.
[8]Irish Independent Reporter, “UCD rag week wreckers face expulsion”, The Sunday Independent, February 27, 1977.
[9]Christina Murphy, “UCD students condemned for damage”, The Irish Times, February 17, 1977.
[10]John Walsh, “Hunt is on for UCD ‘raggers’”, The Irish Independent, February 17, 1977.
[11]Irish Independent Reporter, “‘Rag’ Wreckers told: ‘Own Up’”, The Irish Independent, February 24, 1977.


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