UCD’s Belfield campus caters to nearly 20,000 students. Yet, for those living close to campus, the area doesn’t just represent a place of study or a base for the semester – it’s home. So, just what do they think of us? Matt Gregg goes to meet the neighbours…
Living in UCD is like living in your own self-contained universe. In fact, you could quite conceivably survive an entire week without setting foot outside Belfield and feel none the worse for it. Need something to eat? Well, just pop down to Centra. Can’t cook? Not a problem, the Restaurant or Elements will cater to all your nutritional needs. If that’s all a bit too heavy, you’re never more than five minutes away from one of the campus’s numerous delis.
Of course, there are other things in life besides food, entertainment being an essential one. UCD seems to have that pretty much covered as well: Two bars, free WiFi, a pool hall, a gym, countless pitches, even a hairdresser – it’s hard to imagine anyone running out of things to do on campus. If worst comes to worst, you could even study in one of the many libraries scattered across campus (I particularly recommend Health Sciences; the most comfortable chairs bar none).
Its facilities are hardly surprising when you think that UCD caters to roughly twenty thousand students alone. If UCD was listed as an individual town its population would see them slot in as eleventh biggest in the country, just ahead of Tralee and Naas. As a county, it wouldn’t be much smaller than Leitrim.
However, Belfield is not a separate entity.
It can sometimes be hard to remember that life in Donnybrook does not begin and end with students. There was a neighbourhood here before UCD relocated from its city centre buildings in the 1970s. Truth be told, we’re just part of what makes up the larger Dublin 4 community. But what does the community think of us? It’s time to meet the neighbours.
Having been to my fair share of house parties and seen firsthand the chaos that often ensues, I did wonder if UCD’s neighbours would have anything to say. So it was with a deserved sense of trepidation that I ventured out on a cold Wednesday night, through the Clonskeagh gate and into the real world.
As I approached the first in a long line of Georgian houses, it was not difficult to establish which ones I could skip over. Driveways with a Fiat Punto, a dented Micra and a couple of bikes lashed to railings overrun by ivy, were unlikely to know much about the problems of living in an area dominated by students.
A patio lined with potted plants, though, seemed more promising. Taking a moment to compose myself, I quickly ran over the questions I’d prepared before ringing the bell. Nothing. Maybe they hadn’t heard me? I rang again, then conceded defeat.
This pattern was repeated until I struck the fourth house. Sheltering in the doorway, contemplating moving on again, the curtain nearest me snapped back to reveal an aged women peering out at me. Expecting her to at least hear me out, I tentatively moved back towards the door.
She recoiled, even with a heavy set door between us, and gave me a look that said “Not tonight, sunshine.” I retreated, tail firmly between my legs, and wondering what could possibly have evoked such a vehement reaction.
Soon after, it struck me how suspicious I must have seemed – walking up each drive, ringing the doorbell, peering through the entrance, desperate for the sign of movement that would herald an invitation in from the cold. I could quite easily have been casing the joint. Suddenly, her reaction seemed perfectly acceptable. Normal even.
I found myself wishing the Observer made official press badges – and not just to feel self important. Knocking door to door, they would have come in real handy. Slightly crestfallen, and now really regretting jettisoning my scarf back at the office, I continued to work my way up the street.
Briefly after crossing over to the other side, my luck began to change. Maybe this wouldn’t be a waste of an evening after all.
“It’s a bit of a mixed bag,” admits Michael, walking me into the kitchen. “There are good and bad sides. I mean, it’s nice having all that open space behind me, but students going out at night can cause quite a lot of noise.”
Beyond this, Michael’s only gripe with living in such close proximity to UCD is the extra traffic clogging up his entrance every morning. After a quick discussion of the George Lee subject (“a bottler”, in case you hadn’t heard), I was on my way.
Though brief, my visit had exponential benefits. As a veteran of the neighbourhood, Michael was able to point out which houses were definitely not students and, more importantly, which ones’ occupants wouldn’t mind giving up their time to help me.
His first tip was an instant success. Following a couple of seconds spent weighing up my back story, mother-of-two Jane beckoned me into her living room and placed a mug of reassuringly hot tea in front of me.
“Well, there are a lot of students living down in The Maples and they do tend to have a lot of parties. So just noise would be my only problem,” she says settling into the chair opposite me. “Though, to be honest, I wouldn’t really have any interaction with students.”
On the other hand, Jane is particularly positive about “the lovely grounds” UCD has and believes that, if nothing else, the college provides a great place to walk the dog. Though not the intended purpose of any third level centre of education, walking featured highly on the important advantages offered to the local community. In fact, to some it seemed important enough to balance out the sporadic noise problems.
It certainly featured prominently in Sarah’s assessment of living in such a student dominated area. “Maybe it’s an advantage because people can walk there,” she begins. “Yes on the basis that it’s a green area, I’d say it’s good for the community.”
However, this is not to say she doesn’t have her grievances. “Students coming home very late at night, drinking their cans on the corner outside the house, drive me demented,” she pauses, the sound of her vegetable chopping filling the kitchen. “I have a small child who sleeps at the front and it would be lovely if they just noticed that people do live around here or stayed further towards the centre of campus.”
Though an understandable problem, a funny pattern concerning noise pollution began to emerge. Funnily enough, those closest to students often complained the least. Brendan lives with his family, fast approaching middle age and practically encircled by student digs, but seems rather blasé about the whole situation.
“Truthfully, you rarely see your neighbours when they’re students. It’s no advantage to them and no advantage to me because there’s no interaction,” he points out the window, across the way. “There’s a few sets of students in that redbrick house there. I mean they have parties, because I hear them leaving late enough but they just, sort of… have their party and leave.”
“You’ll get a gang coming home in the morning and they’ll literally just walk up the road talking really loudly, then they’re gone,” he continues matter of factly. “The occasional vodka bottle will come flying but no real damage. We have no issues really.”
His daughter Sally, hereto silent, interjects that it’s just the facts of college life.
“Exactly. Somebody going down the other night, for a bit of fun, put all the plants on top of the car. You don’t usually expect the plants to be there, but that’s no damage,” Brendan trails off into laughter.
And maybe that’s the truth of the matter. For the large part, living so near to students doesn’t have that much of an effect. Aside from intermittent noise disturbances, our neighbours go about their lives in pretty much the same way we do: in almost blissful ignorance of each other.
“I feel we’re two separate blocks,” mused Michael. “If there wasn’t beer up here, I don’t think we’d ever see each other!”
Case Study: Living next door to University
Brendan lives close to UCD’s Belfield campus. He initially found that his personal difficulties were exacerbated when a group of students moved in near his house, but soon came to a workable compromise.
“I was a bit stressed, and the next thing the gang moved in next door, and there was a party rocking on until quite late. So I went in [to the student house] and I was very nasty. The next morning, I got up and I was really sorry, so I scribbled a little note and I put it in the letter box. I said: ‘Well, look, we’ll come to an agreement here… make as much noise as you like up to eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, and then we’ll have a curfew at that point – we’ll all get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll all be happy’. I think it’s worked out very well since.
I’m happy with that, as long as everyone else is happy with that. There are no issues at all.