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Scouting History

Scouting History

Scouting Ireland is the National Scout Association for Ireland and a member of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement.  Scouting Ireland was formed on 1st January 2004 from the two original Scout associations in Ireland, Scouting Ireland S.A.I. and Scouting Ireland (CSI).  Both associations voted to join together to form a new single association in 2003, following a decision to set this process in motion in 1998.

Scouting Ireland has over 40,000 members across Ireland, including Northern Ireland where Scouting Ireland works in partnership with the Scout Association Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom Scout Association.

Baden-Powell and the Origins of Scouting

The Scout movement was founded by Robert Baden-Powell in 1908.  Baden-Powell, popularly known by Scouts as “B-P”, was born in London on 22nd February 1857.  His birthday is remembered as Founder’s Day.  He had a distinguished military career in the British army, becoming the youngest ever Major-General before his retirement in 1910.  Much of his service was with cavalry regiments in India and South Africa, but he was stationed in Ireland for short periods in barracks at Ballincollig (Cork), the Curragh, Dundalk, Belfast and Dublin.

B-P himself excelled at “scouting” – the skill of military reconnaissance in enemy territory – using his stalking, camouflage, disguise, mapping and survival skills.  He published several training manuals, including Aids to Scouting, based on his techniques.  These involved more scope for individual initiative, work in small teams and recognition badges to reward achievement.

B-P was best known for the defence of Mafeking in a siege during the Boer War 1899/1900.  He formed the boys of the town into a Cadet Corps to act as messengers and orderlies, and saw how young people, given training and responsibility, rose to the occasion and worked well in small teams.  This experience led him to adapt his ideas on army scout training for use by existing youth organisations as part of their programme.

Scouting for Boys

B-P held an experimental camp for 20 boys on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour on the English south coast in August 1907.  He tested his ideas with a programme of scouting activities – camping skills, observation, woodcraft, life-saving and games – and this was an outstanding success.

As a result B-P prepared a handbook called Scouting for Boys, first published as six fortnightly part-works in January 1908.  Boys snapped these up from newsagents all over Britain and Ireland, and formed Scout Patrols wherever they could find a meeting place.

In response to requests from girls to join, B-P established a sister organisation, the Girl Guides, in 1910.  Scout Troops were open to boys aged 11-17, but demand led to the addition of Wolf Cubs (8–11) in 1916, and Rover Scouts for over 17s in 1919.

B-P was well ahead of his time in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras when young people were “seen and not heard”.  Many of his novel methods for informal education have since been taken up by mainstream schooling, but the spirit, fun and friendship of Scouting still gives it a distinctive place in the development of young people.  B-P was later created Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell.

Irish Scouting

Ireland, then still part of the United Kingdom, was one of the first countries to have Boy Scouts.  The first recorded meeting took place at the home of Mr.Richard P.Fortune, 3 Dame Street, Dublin on 15th February 1908 where four boys were enrolled in the Wolf Patrol of the 1st Dublin Troop.  A plaque marks the location of the house, now demolished, on the plaza next to Dublin’s City Hall.  The 2nd Dublin formed the following week at 5 Upper Camden Street.

Details of the formation of early Scout Patrols and Troops are sketchy, as initially there was no administration to keep such records, but other Scout Troops formed in Dublin and in Bray, Greystones, Dundalk and Belfast in the early months of 1908.  The Greystones and Dundalk troops have been in continuous existence ever since.

In 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty created the Irish Free State, within the British Commonwealth.  The Irish Free State (later Eire) Scout Council was created for Scouts in the 26-Counties, still linked to the UK Boy Scout Association.  Membership was open to all religious faiths.  Members of this association were popularly known as B-P Scouts’.

B-P visited Ireland to review his Scouts in 1910, 1911, 1915 and 1928.  He died and was buried in Kenya in 1941.

Boy Scouts of Ireland / Scout Association of Ireland

When the Republic of Ireland was declared in 1949, a new independent national association, the Boy Scouts of Ireland was formed from the Eire Scout Council.

An International Patrol Camp Loc Rinn 1960 was held at Lough Rynn, Mohill, Co.Leitrim.  The BSI celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Scouting with an International JamboreeWestport 1968, and completed a major review of structure and programme.  The removal of references to the word “boy” from the title and rules opened the way for the admission of girls to the new senior Venture Scout section, and later co-education for all age groups.

The new Scout Association of Ireland replaced the BSI in November 1968.

A new junior section Beaver Scouts was added in 1976, based on similar developments in Northern Ireland and Canada.

SAI marked Scouting’s 70th Anniversary with a Jamboree Woodstock ’78 at Inistioge, Co.Kilkenny,

Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland

During the 1920’s some of those with aspirations for the new Ireland felt uncomfortable with the focus of the existing Scout Association, which tended to have a pro-British and Protestant image.  Fr. Tom Farrell and his brother Fr. Ernest Farrell considered the possibility of establishing an association with a Catholic ethos.  Some ad-hoc Catholic Troops were already operating.  In 1925 Fr. Ernest wrote a series of articles in Our Boysmagazine, under the nom-de-plume “Sagart”, advocating the formation of an Irish Catholic Scout association.

A Constitution was drawn up and approved by the Catholic Hierarchy in November 1926, and Fr. Tom founded the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland in 1927.  The first Troops included Fr. Ernest’s own experimental group in Greystones, 1st Dublin (“Archbishop’s Own”, Fairview), “Headquarters Troop” at the University Church, St. Stephen’s Green and 2ndDublin (St. Teresa’s, Clarendon Street).

CBSI played a significant role in services to the 1932 Eucharistic Congress with a large camp at Terenure College.  The First Aid Corps later evolved into the Headquarters Division of the Irish Red Cross when established in 1939.

In 1934 a major Holy Year Pilgrimage to Rome was organised, chartering the cruise liner‘Lancastria’.  On the voyage Sir Martin Melvin, the proprietor of the English Catholic paper‘The Universe’, presented a silver trophy, later named in his honour, which became the premier award for the CBSI National Scout Campcraft Competition held each August.

Larch Hill camp site in Tibradden on the slopes of the Dublin Mountains was purchased in 1938, using surplus funds generated by this Pilgrimage, and is today the National Office and Campsite of Scouting Ireland.

The CBSI expanded quickly to become the largest Scout Association in Ireland, with Troops in many Catholic parishes throughout the country.

Other highlights of the CBSI included:

1930, 1936, 1958 CBSI National Pilgrimages to Lourdes.

1930’s             Senior Knight Errant Clans added,

1938    A junior Wolf Cub or Macaoimh section added.

1962    A major programme review updated the programme and testwork schemes.

1967    Lios Mor National Camp at Lismore, Co.Waterford to celebrate the 40th Anniversary

1970    A new constitution was introduced with a strong democratic structure.

1971    The Venturer section replaced the Knight Errant Clans.

1977    Jamborora International Camp at Mount Melleray Abbey, Cappoquin, Co. Waterford to celebrate the Golden Jubilee

CBSI accepted girls as Venturers in 1983, and soon afterwards in all sections.  A Beaver section was also added.


Following lengthy negotiations, the two existing associations formed the Federation of Irish Scout Associations in 1965, recognising both as fully federated members of the World Organisation.  This gave CBSI members official access to all international events, which had previously been confined to members of the Boy Scouts of Ireland.

The three Scout Associations on the island of Ireland, CBSI, SAI and the Scout Association in Northern Ireland, jointly ran a series of International Jamborees Portumna ’85, Co.Galway, Gosford ’89, Markethill, Co.Armagh, Ballyfin ’93, Co.Laois, and Lough Dan ’97, Roundwood, Co.Wicklow.

During the 1990’s SAI adopted a new working title Scouting Ireland SAI, and CBSI changed its name to Scouting Ireland (CSI), both anticipating moves towards unification.

Scouting Ireland

In 2003 a large majority in both associations voted in favour of proposals to come together and form a new body, Gasóga na hÉireann- Scouting Ireland.  This was established on 1stJanuary 2004.  The two former Associations, and the Federation, ceased to exist and Scouting Ireland became the recognised member of the World Scout Conference.

Heritage Group

Further information on Irish Scout history may be obtained from the Scouting Ireland Heritage Group.  Interesting Scout memorabilia is on display in the Scout Museum at Mount Melleray Scout Centre, Cappoquin, Co.Waterford.