Anyone for capoeira? Fancy an evening of food and drink? Or how about spending time with some serious Harry Potter fans? Universities and colleges in Dublin have a strange and eclectic mix of student clubs and societies.

Yes, there’s soccer and GAA, but what about caving & potholing or sepak takraw, a type of kick volleyball? Yes, drama and debating are to be expected, but did you know that you can also join student societies with a focus on comedy, animation or meditation?

Sam Blanckensee graduated from UCD last year. In his final year, he founded the UCD Harry Potter Society. “I loved it. I was the first auditor of the society and we created something really positive and fun. I had been involved in LGBTQ+ activism during my college years and, for me, PotterSoc meant I was making new friends that were not attached to my activism. The society was all about acceptance and friendship, and it was less important that members were big Potter fans than they were a nice and inclusive person who was respectful of everyone there.”

PotterSoc: Quidditch enthusiasts mopping the floor with the competition

The UCD PotterSoc wasn’t the first in Ireland; Potter societies have also sprung up in DCU, DIT and Maynooth University in recent years, bringing a little of Rowling’s magic to campuses (as an aside, the beautiful Maynooth campus would make a great setting for a Harry Potter film) around Dublin.

Students join clubs and societies for myriad reasons, but first and foremost because they’re interested in what it has to offer and drawn to the possibility of meeting like-minded people. Particularly novel clubs and societies stand out.

It attracts everyone because you do not necessarily have to be a ‘foodie’ to appreciate decent food

Fiona May, secretary of the Central Societies Committee at Trinity College, says that the societies proving most popular with students are those that can run interesting and original events that are true to their aims but also appeal to a broader membership. “One of our most popular societies, Food and Drink, organises a ball every year that almost immediately sells out due to the reputation it has for being the best ball to attend for incredibly good meals and beverages. It attracts everyone because you do not necessarily have to be a ‘foodie’ to appreciate decent food and drink and, yes, it is in some ways a novel experience.”

There are some fairly unusual clubs and societies out there, May says. “Animation, Comedy, Knitting, Meditation and Quiz societies are all doing well. One which stood out for me this year was the Literary Society which won Society of the Year at the recent CSC awards. It is a relatively small society but they have made real efforts to run original events with a broad appeal. One of the best was book bombing, where members had a chance to create their own books.”

Musical Society, courtesy of Rory Williams

In UCD, sports club and student societies are very active, and students who may not have been particularly interested in soccer, basketball or the more familiar sports will find other ways of being active with snow sports, American football and climbing among other popular options.

James Alkayed is chair of the UCD Societies Council. “There are over 85 recognised societies alone so there is a lot to choose from, but the mainstream societies are not for everyone. The Food Society, the Harry Potter Society and the TV Society (which isn’t just about watching TV but also about students creating, writing, making, editing and hosting their own shows) are all proving popular. Societies provide a service like no other in the university with a chance to experience many things you may not have done before.”

It definitely encourages students to mix more with people outside their course or year group

Over at DCU, college authorities have long since recognised the importance of clubs and society. In 2004, they became the first Irish third-level to formally acknowledge and offer credits for extracurricular activities. On its Uaneen module – named after the late broadcaster and DCU graduate Uaneen Fitzsimons – students who are involved in extracurricular life can get 20 per cent of their marks for continued involvement and the remaining 80 per cent for reflecting on what they have learned and the skills and competencies they have gained.

May says that clubs and societies form a much bigger part of student life in the Republic of Ireland than they do in many other countries, including Northern Ireland, where she is from. “It definitely encourages

Aquatics Society, courtesy of UCD

students to mix more with people outside their course or year group and infinitely improves the student experience.”

Besides joining societies as a member, students can also get involved in running them. Serving on a committee – whether as treasurer, captain, public relations officer, or secretary – is a great way to develop soft skills like communication, teamwork, organisation and budgeting that employers really value.

Increasingly, they also offer an opportunity to, in effect, get a second degree. If you’re a budding actor or journalist, for instance, there’s no need to do a drama or journalism degree when you can get involved in the drama society or the student newspaper – many people have built successful careers in their field this way.

Some more unusual societies in Dublin:

DIT

  • Mixed martial arts: Fancy yourself as the next Conor McGregor?
  • Kite and wakeboarding: For water sports fans
  • BanterSoc: For chats and banter, this society also organised events and activities
  • Enactus: A charitable organisation helping third-level students to create social enterprise projects.

Trinity

  • Equestrian: all horse sports
  • Sub aqua: for a view of some of the most spectacular wildlife and scenery on the planet, go under the water
  • Digital Arts Society: the DJ society, hosting events as well as DJ and production tutorials for members
  • Fashion Society: running fashion-related events every year as well as workshops on upcycling and fashion journalism
  • Traditional Music Society: no explanation required!
  • Student Managed Fund: students manage an equity portfolio, raising money for the Trinity Access Programme which supports young students from disadvantaged communities and helps members learn more about the world of business.

UCD

  • Capoeira: Afro-Brazilian martial art combining music, dance and acrobatics
  • Ninjitsu: a Japanese martial art
  • Trampoline: bounce baby, bounce
  • College Tribune and University Observer: neither are technically societies, but these two multi-award-winning student newspapers offer a chance to write and get involved in all aspects of a paper’s production; they’ve also been where dozens of prominent national journalists have cut their teeth.
  • Draw: visual arts
  • Horticulture: social events, cultivation of organic fruit and veg in the UCD community garden and a chance to learn new skills through education and practical events.

DCU

  • Paintball: Fortnightly paintball events and regular trips away
  • Circus arts: learn and practice juggling, unicycle, performance, aerobalance and more
  • Anime and Manga: for fans of this Japanese art form
  • Walk and talk: Organised walks where students can talk to each other about their mental health and wellbeing
  • TeaSoc: For the love of tea, for the tea lovers.

Maynooth University

  • Australian Rules Football: popular Australian ball game
  • Fencing: I challenge you to a duel…
  • Anthropology: a department-based society connecting students with those who are interested in learning about human culture
  • Busking: play music around Maynooth’s campus to raise money for charity
  • Elsa: where students learn about negotiation skills and then enter an international negotiation competition
  • Game of Thrones Society: not a fan of Harry Potter? Join this society to meet like-minded fans and play your own games as Lannisters, Starks or Targaryen.
Peter McGuire is a freelance features and news journalist. He also works a researcher and editor. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and the Huffington Post, and has also written for the Irish Examiner, Sunday Business Post and Irish Independent.

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