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Column RAG Week - when it began, where it all went wrong, and how to fix it

RAG Week is a topic that has provokes strong emotions in recent weeks, but what is RAG all about? Where did RAG Week come from? What does the future hold for RAG? asks Daithí de Buitléir.

RAG WEEK – a week of mischief and mayhem, hazy memories and hangover cures, wicked craic and worn-out wallets. The social highlight of the student calendar!!

RAG Week – late night revellers and drink fuelled flare-ups, public order offences and noise pollution, harassment and anti-social behaviour.

RAG Week is definitely a topic which provokes strong emotions. What is RAG all about? Where did RAG Week come from? What does the future hold for RAG?

History of RAG

The verb “to rag” was commonly used in the late 1800s in the UK, its meaning was to pester or badger someone. It is thought that the term rag came into common usage amongst students around this time as university students noticing inequalities in society began to take time out of their studies “to rag” members of the public to donate items to clothe the most vulnerable members of society.

Throughout the years RAG evolved to stand for “Raise & Give” and in the UK has become the focal point of student fundraising. Most Universities have their own RAG societies which work around the year to raise money for causes in need – some with incredible success. Last year for example in 2012 Leeds RAG donated over £320,000 to non-profits in need.

RAG in Ireland

It is unclear when the RAG concept came to Ireland and furthermore when it evolved into a stand-alone RAG Week. Reports as far back as the 1950s show RAG week to be a high-jinx affair. In fact RAG Week was banned by UCD authorities around this time, after a number of high profile pranks including the “kidnapping of sales girls from Clerys”.

If you look back over the history of RAG weeks in Ireland there seems to be a constant clash – university vs the student. NUIG are not the first university to come down heavy handed on students with the hope of slapping them back into line. They are not the first to fail either.

In recent years RAG Week has remained in the headlines. Constant efforts have been made by University authorities and Student’s Unions to rebrand and re-orientate this problem week. The majority of which have failed.

What many colleges have failed to grasp is RAG is a concept which originates from the students, it belongs to the students and if anyone is going to change it, it has to come from the students. A top-down approach cannot always work.

Is this a realistic possibility you may ask? I fundamentally believe it is!

RAG of the Future

Around 18 months ago in DCU, a friend and I decided enough was enough; we were fed up of non-stop talk of unemployment and emigration. We just got so fed up with being passengers in our own futures that we decided to do something.

We wanted to try make Ireland a better place but there just didn’t seem any options available to us. “Well RAG that has something to do with charity doesn’t it? We wondered aloud one day”. We looked at the work that had been done in the UK and knew that RAG could be everything we were looking for, it was edgy, fresh, innovative and inclusive.

We took the “RAG concept”, the problem child of the Irish student experience and decided to create RAG Ireland, a new organisation aimed at getting our generation to play their role in Ireland.

We knew our RAG had to be different to anything else that was there in Ireland or the UK. We knew that students wanted to be involved, wanted to make a difference. This meant not only would we need to operate all year-round but we needed to move away from simply fundraising – many students wanted to get more hands on and volunteer, many more wanted to probe social problems with their ideas which they believed could bring about a better future.

Fundraising, volunteering and community projects

What started in DCU in September 2011 with two students has blossomed in the short space of 18 months, we now have 1,500 members on five campuses (Mary I, St Pats, DCU, UL, IT Tralee) across the country actively fundraising, volunteering and starting up community projects. And our growth continues, we predict that by this time next year we will be working with upwards of 3,000 students on over ten campuses.

Its working – according to Thomas McCormack St Patrick’s College of Education Students Union President “RAG Ireland began working with our students this year to set up a RAG hub and even within the space a few months the understanding of the RAG brand has totally transformed. I’m sure that whoever thought of RAG week would be incredibly proud to see the dedication, passion and energy that the Raising and Giving students show each and every week in trying to make a difference to Ireland. It has definitely brought a new-found vibrancy to charitable activities on our campus”.

You can have great craic but give back at the same time, last week our guys in DCU organised a “RAG’s Shifting Flash Mob”, in a few weeks in UL we will have “The RAG Nearly Naked Mile” all to raise money for charity. Furthermore, we are getting young people out there doing what they are good at, if you’re an inter-county footballer why not share your skills with kids from a disadvantaged area, if you’re a techie why not design a new website for your local community group or if you love rap music, use it to teach history. We encourage students to bend rules, push boundaries; together we can solve some of Ireland’s biggest problems.

RAG beginning to mean something different

Students see RAG as their way of making a difference, many now realise that their passion, creativity and energy is vital to Ireland, they see how they can play a role and they are playing it.

“There is a lot of negativity around being a young person at the moment; I was as guilty as anyone of buying into it all. I always thought I was the only one who cared about all these things that were wrong in our society, RAG has showed me that I’m not alone, in fact most of my friends care deeply about the future of our country, and we have just never been given a platform to do anything about it”.  Kevin, 22,  UL.

The future of RAG is bright, the headlines might be dominated by the media frenzy around RAG Week but RAG is rapidly beginning to mean something different to students all over the country. RAG is the all about what can be, it is our generation’s vehicle to a better future – come on let’s give it a lash!!

If you want to get involved in join the RAG Society on your campus. If you don’t have one contact for further info on how to start one.

RAG Ireland is a network of student led hubs mobilising young people to create a brighter future for the country. Their hubs are committed to inspiring and motivating students to get out there in their communities fundraising, volunteering and starting their own projects to solve age old problems. It was founded only 18 months ago by a group of students who felt more needed to be done to help get young people involved. They work with 5 hubs across the country, with 1,500 members and a looser network of roughly 4,000. This will increase to 10 hubs and 3,000 members during the 2013/2014 academic year.

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