By Maeve O’Keeffe
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” – Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
“I am so sick of forking over a tenner just to get into that kip of a club,” my friend moaned during our customary Friday morning debrief in the kitchen of our first year accommodation. Each morning we reached the same conclusion; that most of our nights out were exhausting, overpriced, and overrated. Still, we returned each week to the same spots, following the same routines as we embarked on our pilgrimage, from bubbling pre-drinks in someone’s kitchen, to the shivering and knock knee-ed queue to the club, reaching the symbolic summit of our journey on the dancefloor to ABBA.
The goal of the pilgrimage was mostly ambiguous; some hoped for romance (if that’s what you call shifting in a dark corner of a club), others were merely hoping for a good old-fashioned boogie (bonus points if the DJ played some Westlife songs), and some of the group had no aim but to reach paralytic levels of drunkenness. Whatever the motivation for the pilgrimage, there was undoubtedly a sense of fulfilment that accompanied the pitstop in a revered, yet decidedly rough and ready fast-food place on the way home. Wolfing into pizza, chips, and kebabs that we paid for with cards sticky from vodka, we would come to our senses as the delirium of drinking and dancing the night away wore off.
Crucial to our outings were the mornings after. The least hungover pilgrim would don their runners, an oversized hoodie, and a top-knot, and mooch to the nearest Centra for sausage rolls and Lucazade Sport, the most reliable of hangover cures. Not all heroes wear capes, eh? We’d gather around the kitchen table, still strewn with mementoes from the night before – pizza boxes and empty cans – and recount stories of what happened throughout the night. Often, this involved a bit of detective work, piecing together the fragments of each individual’s night out into a (somewhat) cohesive narrative. We laughed about which couples got together in the smoking area, who was found worse for the wear in the toilets, who ran into that random person from their course and made a show of themselves by spilling drink down themselves.
On big nights, these escapades were amplified. The streets would be thronged with people, all battling to appear as sober as possible before the surly bouncers. The glamour of thoughtfully considered outfits quickly descended into varying degrees of messiness. Fake tan blemishing
once white minidresses in pools of underarm sweat, sleekly straightened hair turned frizzy and loose, t-shirts stained from jostles for drinks at the overcrowded bar, slick new trainers scuffed from stampedes of feet when Mr Brightside blared out from the dancefloor.
However, at some point throughout my first year of college, a distinct sense of inertia set in around our college nights out. Our funds were dwindling, while our assignments were accumulating. What was once deemed sacred ritual, became repetitive, and some of the gang began to complain about the expenses and predictability of our messy nights out.
Naturally, when these nights out were swept up from under our feet at the start of the pandemic, they promptly changed their tune. We worked hard to adapt to socialising during a pandemic, from Zoom catchups during the worst of the restrictions, to meeting in small groups outdoors, to a return to pubs and restaurants in small groups. Many months of isolation saw us welcome an easing of restrictions with open arms. We were grateful to get to see anyone in-person again, regardless of the setting. Still, we lamented, “I’d do anything to hop up on the tables in Wash again.”
Now, with further easing of restrictions for vaccinated people, and Taoiseach Micheál Martins’s assurance that “what traditionally happens at nightclubs will still happen at nightclubs,” it will be interesting to see how the novelty of the traditional college nightlife will be received, all these months later. Have we moved past those messy nights to social engagements less reliant on copious amounts of alcohol and joltingly loud music? Have more intimate gatherings hinged on conversations with friends, or house parties that don’t require a tenner entry fee eclipsed the need for the bustling nights out in the city we were accustomed to?
My guess is no. Even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (which it most certainly isn’t), there is something formative about the experience of going “out-out” in college. The degree of chaos that surrounds a night of dancing until the early hours feels as though it could only be fully embraced at this point in our lives. Again, that’s not to imply that the drama and rigmarole of large-scale nights out is for everybody.
In fact, the most vital takeaway from how we have learned to socialise in different ways during the pandemic is that having fun is not a “one size fits all” affair. I would hope that we have learned to identify the kinds of engagements we value most as individuals. Sure, that might be a wild night in style (or at least, some semblance of style) in the clubs of Cork City, but it might also mean cheese, crackers, and a beloved movie or favourite book. For others, it’s a few mocktails or cocktails in a nice bar with a friend or two. Some of us might still be mad with anticipation of a return to live music. And many of us are looking forward to a mixture of all of these, in moderation. Do what suits you, when it suits you. Though I encourage you to expand your friend group and embrace the social scene in college, don’t feel pressure to succumb to the expectation of how you think college students should go out. Just because it might seem like we are all going out, doesn’t mean we have to always go all out.