New term, same old mayhem as students mark Freshers' Week in Belfast
Our reporter takes to streets around Queen's to witness the now annual scenes of havoc
For the residents of the Holylands in south Belfast, it is that dreaded time of year when university students descend on the area ahead of a new term.
Its terraced streets are home to hundreds of young people starting out on a new adventure in life.
But in recent years the area has become infamous for anti-social behaviour — to the distress and frustration of those who live there permanently.
Already this week a number of arrests have been made as students returned for Freshers’ Week ahead of the start of the university year.
On Thursday night the Belfast Telegraph went along to see exactly what the situation was like.
As we wandered through the area we witnessed students certainly unafraid of putting on public displays of ‘affection’, countless brawls and the general mayhem all too often associated with Freshers’ Week.
When we arrived shortly after 10pm, it was clear that the partying was well under way. Queen’s Students’ Union was packed with revellers — and throngs of people continued to join the queues.
While there were a few happy party-goers minding their own business, the overwhelming atmosphere was one of disorder as hordes of rowdy students made their way further down University Road. At one point we encountered some students, half-naked and wrapped in bedsheets, as they headed to a ‘toga party’. Wine and beer bottles in hand, they kept the party alive on their journey to the club.
Others were simply too preoccupied with holding back friends from assaulting peers to partake in the illegal street drinking.
The Fresher tradition was originally intended as a week full of activities to help new students integrate into university life.
However, in recent years the week has become an excuse for excessive drinking and, in many cases, anti-social behaviour.
Once again the PSNI and Ambulance Service were pushed to their limits, fighting to keep students safe throughout the early hours of yesterday — making arrests and administering first aid.
To set the scene, there was pandemonium at closing time as students poured out of various venues, drunkenly running between traffic in an attempt to cross the road.
One had consumed so much alcohol that he passed out on the pavement outside the university gates.
And, of course, we had the usual crowd of inebriated males going topless and chanting football songs.
Managing to almost drown out the background noise of wailing sirens, local residents were treated to an ear-shattering rendition of “We are the Ulster boys” as a group paraded along University Street, accosting other students as they went.
Shortly before 1am our attention was drawn in the direction of University Square by the piercing blue flashing lights of two ambulances.
A young female, looking shell-shocked, was being treated for a nasty head injury that was gushing blood.
Around the corner police had also been alerted to an assault and criminal damage at the Students’ Union.
A young male in handcuffs resisted as he was being thrown into the back of a PSNI Land Rover.
Then unfolded what can only be described as something like a scene from a movie. Perhaps it was alcohol that prompted one of the detainee’s friends to play the hero and mount an ill-advised rescue mission. The second male, who looked to be in his early 20s, jumped onto the Land Rover and attempted to open the back doors, while antagonising police.
Alas, it was to no avail, as officers gave chase to the young man, who filled the air with yobbish hoots while running in circles around oncoming traffic before heading in the direction of Botanic Gardens.
Meanwhile, on Damascus Street, officers had to confiscate a baseball bat from a young male, who appeared to be on his own. Still, while there was this anti-social behaviour from some, a large crowd of students had, without any bother, migrated to a takeaway on Botanic Avenue, their main priority being to get some food to soak up the alcohol they’d consumed.
But it wasn’t all sensible behaviour on Botanic Avenue. I witnessed two males struggling to carry back to their digs a stolen road sign. The scene was reminiscent of a ‘To me, to you’ Chuckle Brothers comedy sketch, as they tried to balance the large red ‘Road Closed’ sign between them.
It wasn’t until shortly before 3am that an atmosphere of peace descended on the area.
As students managed to stumble home eventually, police and paramedics were able to pull out of the area and let residents finally settle down to sleep for what remained of the night.