Nothing excites the media like rag (Raise and Give) week. Be it rural students making a show of themselves in a Galway Supermacs, or heavy drinking in the capital, you can always count on annual student rag weeks making their way into the newspapers for all the wrong reasons. Some colleges, including NUI Maynooth, have altered the name of rag week in the past in an attempt to change the connotations around it. Often, the debauchery/drinking/occasional violence is spoken of in terms of ‘Celtic Tiger Cubs’, or a new generation who know no better.
There is nothing new about rag week ‘carry on’ however. In 1933, the behaviour of Trinity College students at their annual rag day was enough to lead to condemnation in the pages of the Garda in-house magazine Garda Review, and national media attention.
On 12 June 1933, there were clashes in Dublin which began when Trinity students attempted to steal the cap of a Garda. The Irish Press wrote that:
Some of the more boisterous members of the motley-attired processionists who marched through Dawson Street and Grafton Street came into conflict with the Gardaí following upon an attempt to seize a Garda’s cap. The incident took place near the top of Grafton Street, and when the Garda held on to his cap some of the students still persisted in their efforts to secure a grip of it.
Back at Trinity, it was reported that Gardaí were pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes, and that two students required stitches after a baton charge. “Caps were pulled down over the Gardaí’s faces, and in some instances were knocked off. Eventually the Gardaí drew their batons to clear the thoroughfare…”
The students retreated back into their campus, but their attempts at robbing a Garda hat were only a minor prank, with newspapers noting that afterwards they “divided themselves into groups, mounted tramcars, pulled the trolleys from the wires, and so temporarily held up the city’s service.” One newpaper reported that “fireworks were laid by the students on the tram-rails, they exploded when trams moved over them.”
The Irish Times reported that a sizable gang of students went to the Shelbourne Hotel in search of fun, but on finding its doors locked to them instead made their way in through a window. Fifty or so students entered the hotel, before leaving as they had entered! In another instance, it was reported that a stolen tram sign was flung into the grounds of the home of the Trinity Provost by a student fleeing from Gardaí.
Back on campus, it was reported that students acted out several scenes in various costumes as part of their charity event, and that “they presented scenes representing a mock wedding, Gandhi and a goat, Spanish visitors at the senate and Mussolini on a donkey. Several were dressed to represent Herr Hitler’s followers.” They later “made a call to the Mansion House”, where they were addressed by Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne.
This wasn’t the first time Trinity students had dressed in controversial contemporary outfits for their rag activities. The year previously, as Andrew Moore has noted in his book Francis de Groot: Irish Fascist, Australian Legend, one Trinity student had dressed like the infamous de Groot, and “riding a donkey, dressed in a commissionaire’s uniform and wearing a hotel porter’s cap, cut a red tape across a path on the way to the college’s medical school.” Francis de Groot was a Dubliner by birth, who famously upstaged the 1932 opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge by taking it upon himself to do the honours, much to the shock of the Australian public!
The Gardaí were unimpressed by media coverage of the event, and their official publication slammed the media who they believed had made light of the events. The Garda Review noted that “Next time students from that college turn out to parade in the streets in accordance with an ancient custom let them not abuse what is merely a privilege and not a right, but show a proper and decent respect for authority.” The magazine condemned the youths as “hooligans”, and noted that they lacked “moral and physical courage”.
1933 was not the only year when RAG day spilled out of the Trinity campus onto the streets of the capital, but it was certainly one of the more dramatic years. It’s certainly not every day you see Hitler and Gandhi attacking a Dublin tram.