« Co. Kildare Online Electronic History Journal Home »


 Leinster Leader 7 Aug 2008

A kaleidoscope of international uniforms will grace the hallowed turf of Punchestown this month as the Irish scout movement marks its 100th birthday by hosting an international jamboree. Scouts from every continent will gather at the Kildare venue to celebrate the centenary of a movement which although born in the days of the Edwardian empire has flourished in the very different perspectives of modern republics such as Ireland. But then the scouting values of service, respect and teamwork are universal and have stood the test of decades.
Perhaps few of the scouts who will camp at Punchestown over the coming weeks will know of the Kildare link to the biography of the man honoured as their founder, the British general Robert Baden-Powell. A classic soldier of the empire Baden-Powell saw service in India, Afghanistan and, famously, in South Africa where his defence of Mafeking during the Boer War became the stuff of legend. It is said that it was during the siege of Mafeking that he had recruited the boys of the town as messengers to penetrate enemy lines and from these ‘scouts’ in the field formed the idea of a boy scout movement which would appeal to peacetime Britain. After his period in South Africa Baden-Powell was appointed inspector general of Cavalry in 1904 and served for a period on the Curragh Camp. Thus it is fitting that over a century later his successors in the modern day scout movement should gather in County Kildare.
He established an inaugural camp in England in 1907 in which the boys were divided into patrols and trained in the skills of observation, field craft, camping and self-sufficiency.  He published a magazine ‘Scouting for Boys’ from early 1908 which became popular with boys throughout Britain and almost spontaneously young lads began to form themselves into scout troops and patrols.
The concept soon extended across the Irish Sea and early in 1908 there were records of early troops in Dublin and Bray. The beginnings and evolution of the scout movement in Ireland have been documented in a fine book ‘Scouting in Ireland’ by noted historian Fr. J. Anthony Gaughan published in time for the centenary. He records that by 1909 over 500 scouts had turned out in Dublin for a St. Patrick’s Day parade which was followed, in true scouting form, by a hike to the Dublin mountains and a campfire at Three Rock Mountain.
Baden-Powell retired from his army career and devoted himself to the burgeoning scout movement in his new role as Chief Scout. His familiarity with Ireland from his army days meant that he took a close interest in the formation of scout units in Ireland and he made a sequence of morale-boosting visits. The scouts turned out in numbers for his visits and were also out in force for the arrival of King George V in July 1911 when it is recorded that scouts from Belfast, Dundalk, Wicklow and Kildare were among the parading units.
The early scout troops had close links with the establishment  circles of the era and were often led by officers from local army barracks. However despite its characteristics of uniform and discipline the movement remained at a remove from the army structure although inevitably scouts became involved on the home front during the first world war helping with telegrams and post.  Equally inevitably the political traumas experienced in Ireland with the separation from Britain led to some uncertainty for the Baden-Powell scouts – as Fr. Gaughan notes: ‘ The political environment in which the scouts had been introduced to Ireland was such that it was natural that leaders and members were almost entirely Protestant, unionist and middle-class.’ Nonetheless the scouts adapted and in the 1920s were reviewed on parade by Catholic figures such as Major General Sir William Hickie and General Sir Bryan Mahon, both members of the new Irish Free State Senate. Baden Powell, the founder of the movement which by now had extended to forty-two countries with an extraordinary two million scouts made his last visits to Ireland in the late 1920s. By then the Ireland which he had known as an army officer twenty years previously had changed greatly.
The Baden-Powell scouts continued as an entity but their number in this country was to be surpassed in time by the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland founded in 1927 which as the twentieth century progressed formed units in towns throughout the Republic. In recent years the Baden Powell scouts, properly known as the Scouting Association of Ireland and the CBSI achieved an historic merger to form a new scouting organisation known as Scouting Ireland.  Whatever about the various strands and nuances in the Irish scouting movement the principles remain much the same as those laid down by Baden Powell and no doubt pondered by him during his service on the Curragh plains in the early 1900s.
My thanks to Ms. Jo Coy of the Naas Scout Unit for suggesting this article.
Series no. 79

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun' comments on the fact that in August 2008 'the Irish scout movement marks its 100th birthday by hosting an international jamboree.'

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2