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Decent student protests are lost in the mists of time

Soon -to-be college entrant Florence Horsman-Hogan cannot burn her bras -- they are expensive frilly affairs

When the confirmation came recently that I'd been successful in gaining entrance to college in February, I was ecstatic. I'd already been practising my torn jeans, bandana wearing, and 'make love not war' persona from the day of application. Totally shagilicious babes!

I had the student thing all organised in my dreams. Heading out after lectures (dressed as above) with my fellow 'cool cats' (all of them living in Rathmines and heating beans over a two-bar gas heater). We'd spend our evenings sitting in doorways in Grafton Street. We might even organise a protest 'music fest' or two, pitching our tents and instruments outside the Dail. We'd preach against war and promote love of fellow man.

Course, being a married woman I might have to curb my gallop on the man bit. The other thing is, I can't really burn my bras -- they're all very expensive frilly affairs. I also have to wear them at work in the hospital! However -- after that, pretty much anything goes.

Now, to my absolute horror, I've discovered that the students nowadays are more likely to be studying on their laptops in Stephen's Green than hanging out making daisy chains and smoking -- um -- herbal cigarettes. They've no time to carry out the historic role of their 'class', which is to question the Four Pillars of Society and bring to bear the terrible and traditional wrath of students worldwide -- street protests/music festival meet-ups etc.

The only (occasional) protests they'll have now are perhaps for the grants. While I think this is a more than laudable and worthwhile reason to protest, I feel the 'wider and greater good' of our thinking and protesting academics has become obsolete.

Never did the pursuit of my Byzantine dreams shore up such rolling seas of chagrin. OK, that's it -- I want a hippy revival -- and I want it now! This is very serious: it's a whole subculture of people that we're losing here, and we need to get them back for the sake of society's future. Austin Powers, where are you when you're needed?

Remember back to the Earlsfort Terrace student protests in 1968? Our great and gloried men/women of 'intellect' in media and politics of today staged a worldwide publicised protest as they wanted more input into the running of UCD.

Kevin Myers (journalist without compare), Ruairi Quinn (politician), Una Claffey (ex-RTE heavyweight) and many other students staged a three-day sit-in in what has now gone down in history as the 'gentle' revolution. 1979: The UCD Agricultural Society took to the streets to get its new block opened in order to use it for lectures as it didn't want to continue having to use the Albert (DCU) College.

Mind you, there was also an admirably 'meaty' one back in 2005, when a few students protested against the 2004 referendum on immigration, stating that it contravened the Geneva Convention. Michael McDowell, the then Minister for Justice, (escorted on campus by a few burly gardai) told them they were living in a time warp.

Now that's the kind of protesting I'm talking about -- funny, fast, and purely Irish.

Good God, we're steeped in intellectuals protesting and advocating on our behalf; even back to 1916, young WB Yeats and his pals organised our 1916 Rebellion. James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and many others lost their lives either in the uprising or in its brutal aftermath.

These were all academics of their time, and while they appear to have espoused the very opposite of 'hippy culture' -- which was to fight for freedom -- they themselves were actually more involved in the intellectual battle than in the shadow of the gunman.

Before I go any further, I do have a confession to make. One of my boys is doing his PhD at present. And, yes, I did see that he wasn't doing any of the above -- but he's not a 'real' student in my book. He's gone way too serious. I'm hoping that when he becomes a professor he'll go back to his old ways.

And I wouldn't mind, but he started off great. Never was there a mammy so proud as when I saw him pictured in the Irish Independent newspaper at 16 years of age, holding up the banner in the front line of the 'Save Our Streets' protests.

Lines of gardai were flanked on either side and my boy was there shouting with the best of them. Or when he got caught busking in Grafton Street. Or when he was playing in that mad band. Or when he got his eyebrow, lip and ... . well, all those piercings. All that's gone since he became an academic. But there you are, we all have crosses to bear.

The modern-day student takes no prisoners in pursuit of their aim: to achieve excellence in their chosen field. They can't afford to. Economics dictate that they must excel in order to succeed in gaining employment. And the modern-day colleges/universities will not tolerate fools. Even so, I'm fully prepared to dig that jive and rock the ride man, and -- um -- study like hell to get that diploma of course.

'Diligentia maximum etiam mediocris ingeni subsidium.'

Diligence is a very great help even to a mediocre intelligence.


Sunday Independent