Irish Boy Scouting

HBU at this time has been unable to find much information about the Irish Scout movement and Irish Scout uniforms, but would be very interested in any more detailed infornation HBU visitors could provide. Ireland is a very small country. This may be a factor. After Lord Baden Powell published his book Scouting for Boys in fortnightly parts in 1908, Scout Groups started spontaneously throughout Great Britain. Within a few months Scouting also started in Ireland, which at that time was part of the United Kingdom. The Irish Scouts was part of the English movement at first. Scouting is a middle-class movement. Presumably most Catholic boys in the 1900s and 1910s could not have afforded to paticipate. This began to change somewhat with the creation of the Irish Free State and Catholic support for the Scoiuting movement. A sepaete Catholic association was founded (1926). Ireland continued to be a very poor country, in part because of the Socialist ethos of many independence leaders. Market reforms in the 1970s began to grow the country's economy. The two associations decided to unite (2004). Today there are about 50,000 members of Scouting Ireland.

Historical Background

Ireland at the time that Baden-Powell founded the Scouting movement was still part of the United Kingdom. Thus the earliest history of the movementbis connected with British Scouting. This began to change after the creation of the Irish Free State, but there was still a continued connection with British Scouting. A complication was the creation of a separate Catholic association--the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI). The history of the various Scouting levels is thus somewht complicated. After Lord Baden Powell published his book Scouting for Boys in fortnightly parts in 1908, Scout Groups started spontaneously throughout Great Britain. Within a few months Scouting also started in Ireland, which at that time was part of the United Kingdom. The influence of Baden-Powell's new Scout Movement very quickly spread throughout the United Kingdom, including Ireland. The first Irish Scout meeting occurred at the home of Richard P. Fortune, a Royal Naval Volunteer Reservist, at 3 Dame Street, Dublin (February 15, 1908). Four boys were enrolled in the Wolf Patrol of the 1st Dublin Troop. The first known Scouting event followed soon after. It was held in Phoenix Park in 1908 staged by the Dublin City Boy Scouts, which was the first unit of what would become the Scouting association of Ireland (SAI). The popularity of Scouting may have been limited in Ireland, except in Ulster, at first as it could haved been preceived as a British organization, although the nationalist movement was not as strident before the 1916 Easter Rebellion. The poverty of Irish Catholic families would have been another limitation. World War I affected Scouting throughout the United Kingdom. The adult leadership cohart included military age men who volunteeered or were later drafted. This and the terrible resulting casualties impacted the available adult leadership. Older Scout patrol leader members took over much of the leadership activities as the adult leaders left for sercice as the front. Irish Scouts as other Scouts participated in the War effort in different ways. The Sea Scouts were especially important. They aided regular ular coast guardsmen. Irish ports unlike World War II were used by the Royal Navy during World War I in the struggle with German U-boats. This was particularly important. World War I U-boats had very limited capabilities. As a result their operations were mostly in the eastern North Atlantic in waters close to the coast. Thus Irish coast and ports were very important. The image of the Scouts must have changed after the Easter Rebellion and the struggle fir independence began. The Catholic Church played an importnt role in that struggle. And it began to take an increasing interest in Scouting after the creation of the Irish Free State. The Anglo-Irish Treaty created the Irish Free State, within the British Commonwealth (1921) The Irish Free State (later Éire) 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’. A separate Catholic association, the Cathoic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) was founded (1926). The Irish Free State did not join the British in World War II and remained neutral throughout the war (1939-45). Even so, Ireland was affected by the War and Ulster in the north still prt of the United Kingdom was involved in the war. It was bombed by the Germans. Scouting functioned throughout the war. Scouts in Ulster as in World war I carried on under the direction of their patrol leaders, and undertook a range of service tasks. The boys acted as messengers, fire watchers, stretcher bearers, salvage collectors, etc. When after World War II the Ireland declared itself an independent republic (1949), a new independent national Association, the Boy Scouts of Ireland (SAI) was formed from the Éire Scout Council. The CBSI continued to function as a separate asociation.


There were two scouting groups in Ireland, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) and the Scout Association of Ireland (SAI), often referred to as the Boys Scouts of Ireland. SAI was established along with the British Boy Scouts as Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom (1908). I'm not sure why Ireland has a separate Catholic scout association as most Irish are Cathloics, but there are non-Catholics. The nationalist ethos must have been a major issue. After the creation of the Irish Free State in the 1920s, two Roman Catholic priests, Fathers Tom and Ernest Farrell, became interested in Scouting. They knew that in other European countries, the Catholic Church had taken up the idea of Scouting as a means of building a Catholic ethos on boys and girls. After some initial work including study and experimentation, they suggested to the Catholic Hierarchy of Ireland that a Catholic association be created which a special religious orogram. They were granted a constitution and Episcopal patronage for the new Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) (Gasóga Catoilici na hÉireann) (November 1926). CBSI given Ireland's largely Catholic population would become the the country's largest Scout association. The largest Protestant population is in the north, but this was Ulster which continued to be part of the United Kingdom. The SAI was already in existence, but it was seen as having an overly English Protestant orientation. SAI thus became the "non-Catholic" group, i.e. Protestant/Jewish. This identification lasted for decades as the CBSI insisted on the boys being Catholic to join. This usually happened almost automatically as the troops were sponsored by churches. The first step toward union occurred with the creation of the Federation of Irish Scout Associations (FISA) (1965). The major impetus was to facilitate internatiinal activities. FISA helped Irish Scouts to fully participate in internatiinal events. The World Organisation of the Scout Movement (WOSM) for a range of reasons recognises only one Scouting body in each country. SAI had been recognised by WOSM (since 1949). The Northern Irish Scout Council (NISC) had observer status in the Federation. CBSI's membership extended across the 32 counties (north and south) of Ireland which created another problem. WOSM usually only recogniseed associations that observed political boundaries. The formation of FISA did not mean, however, that the two Irish Scouting associations unified. SAI and the much larger CBSI continued to operate as separate entities through the rest of the 20th century. Serious dissusions on possibke uniin began (1998). The associations conducted a vote on union (May 2003). The vote was overwealmingly for union. Finally the two organisations were merged to form 'Scouting Ireland' (SI) (2004). SI now has some 50,000 members at all levels across the island of Ireland (2016). This includes Northern Ireland in a kind of partnership with the Scout Association in Northern Ireland (SANI). Formally SANI, however is part of the United Kingdom Scout Association. SI has many local volunteers working in Scout Groups and Scout Counties and also various national teams. They are supported by SI's full-time (professional) staff who run day-to-day operations.

Age Level Programs

Irish Scouts have the same basic age-level groupings of most Scout groups around the world. Scouting Ireland offers programs designed for youths between 6 and 25 years of age. Each level has age appropriate activities. Sckuting began with the basic Scout program and then develop programd for younger and older boys. Beaver Scouting is the newest of the various Scouting levels. It is for the youngest members of Irish Scouting. They range in age from 6 to 8 and get involved in camping. It is the newest level of Scouting. Cubbing is for boys 9-11 years old. We believe the SAI Scout association adopted Cubbing at the same time as the Britush Scout Association (1916). At the time Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. A junior Wolf Cub or Macaoimh section was added to the Catholic (CBSI) Irish Scoutting program (1938). This was more than 20 years after Cubbing was fonded in Britain. All Scoyting programs around the world that we are familar wih alreasy had well-established Cubbing programs. America was late to establish one, but even the United States established the program in 1930. Cub Scouting is at present the largest section within SAI. It provides an active and educational program for boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 11 years. Cub Scouting is open to all, regardless of race or creed, in accordance with the principles and method conceived by Baden Powell. Ventures Scouting is for boys and girls from 15 to 17 years. Rover Scouts are for young people, both genders, ages 18 to 25 years.


Baden-Powell comceived of Scouting as a program for girls. The first Boy Scout rally was held at The Crystal Palace in London (1909). Some 10,000 boys showed up for the event along with several hundred uniformed, but uninvited and unexpected girls. Basen-Powell in Scouting for Boys mentioned that girls as well as boys could benefit from a Scouting program. He was, howver, not prepared for the many bands of girls in variations of the Scout uniform they crafted and turned up at the Crystal Palace. He regretted that he had hadn’t had the time to work up a suitable program for them, but was not at all sure he was best suited to do this. Baden-Powell to differentiate the two programs gave the Girl Scouts the name Girl Guides (1910). So he enlisted his sister, Agnes, to aid him in adapting his Scouting for Boys mannual for girls. They jointly wrote How Girls Can Help to Build up the Empire (1912) which telly uou volumes about how Baden-Powell originlly envisioned the scouting program. The Girl Guide program immediately began in Ireland as well. It began as part of the British Girl Guide association with its Headquarters in London. The first Irish company was organized in Harold’s Cross in Dublin (September 1911). The movement spread quickly throughout Ireland.

Figure 1.--Sea Scouting has become a major component of Irish Scouting. These Irish Sea Scouts are pictured in the 1970s.

Specialized Scouting: Sea Scouting

The only specialized Scouting group we know of are the Sea Scouts. From the earliest times some Scout Groups included boating in their programmes, and B.P. realised that this was a very useful extra programme activity. His brother Warrington, a well known yachtsman, wrote "Sea Scouting for boys" in 1910, to help these boating orientated groups. From this development came the first recognised Sea Scouts, although some Troops did not become officially registered as Sea Scouts until some time later. In Ireland the first Sea Scout Troops were registered in 1912. The 1st Port of Dublin Sea Scouts had apparently existed as a Boy Scout Troop from about 1909, and the Troop has been in continuous existence since then. A number of other Sea Scout Troop developed in Dublin in the succeeding years, and were organised into the "Port of Dublin Sea Scout Local Association" which was not merged with the Dublin county Scout Administration until 1948. In 1914 the first Sea Scout Regatta was held, consisting rowing and swimming races. The oldest trophy in Ireland - The Wood Latimer Cup - was competed for in that first regatta, and is still the premier trophy in the Sea Scout Annual Rowing Regatta. The most prestigious trophy is the Fry Cup--which his was presented in 1918 for a seamanship competition, which also has continued to the present day. The subsequent growth of Sea Scouting was very slow. There were never more than five or six Sea Scout troops in the Dublin area until the late 1930s. Sea Scouting made little or no progress outside Dublin. There was for a while a Sea scout Patrol in a boy Scout troop in Cork. By 1948 Sea Scouting had almost disappeared. There were only two troops left - 1st Port of Dublin (Ringsend) and 4th Port of Dublin (Dodder) with a total membership of about 40 boys. Then, very slowly at first, the numbers started to increase, and during the late 1960s and early 1970s the growth of the Sea Scouting section spearheaded the increasing development of Scout Association of Ireland in general. The first full Sea Scout Troop outside Dublin was 1st Wexford(New Ross). From two troops in 1948 we grew to four troops in 1958, to twelve troops in 1968. Thirty-eight in 1978. In the 70s Sea Scouting accounted for about 33 percent of the Scout Section. An Irish reader writes, "I was a sea scout in Ireland. We used the New Zealand Sea Scout Handbook. The uniform was similar, except for the shorts as we wore long trousers. The book was the only sea scout reference book available at the time. The activities that I remember were primarily water based. There was a drill practice every meeting, a lot of knot tying, the learning of nautical knowledge, and preparing boats for rowing or sailing. There was also general Scouting activities like camping."


A key element in Scouting is the need to find sponsoring organization. Scouting cannot function without a sponsoring organization. We have little information about Irish Scout troop sponsorship at this time. We know that churches sponsored many troops. This wasthe case with the early British prohram which grew out of the Church-based Boys Brigade. In the United States many organizations beyound churches began sponsoring troops, including schools. In recent years the sponsoring orgnizations n America have reverted increasigly to churches. We are not sure yet about Irish Scouts as to other spomsoring organizations. We think that most if not all of the CBSI troops were sponsored by churches. We are not sure about the non-denominational Scout Association of Ireland. Ireland is a a largely Catholic countr, but there are other churches. Of course there are many Protestants in Ulster. Interestingly the religious divide in the largely Catholic south is nothing like that which is only beginning to heal in Ulster.

Figure 2.--These Irish CBSI Cubs wear a jumper (sweater) and short pants uniform in the 1970s as part of a school Cub pack.


One report from an Irish scouter suggests that uniform decissions, at least in the 1970s, were a unit decission--especially whether long or short pants would be worn.

Cub uniform

An Irish Scouter reports that during the 1970s as a Cub, he and his other Cubs didnt think much about the uniform. No one said much about short pants as they all had to wear shorts to school anyway. Modern boys seem much more concerned about the clothes they wear. Irish cubs in the 1970s had schoolboy style peaked caps. Most all Cubs wore short pants uniforms. One Irish scouter reports, "For Cubs I dont remember any units wearing long pants, we all wore shorts." There were two scouting groups in Ireland, the Catholic Boy Scouts (CBSI) and the Scout Association of Ireland (CBSI). The CBSI cubs wore navy tops with navy shorts and grey knee socks, see attached picture. The SAI cubs wore green tops with grey shorts. Cub Scouts in the 1990s wear a uniform consisting of a green jumper, grey trousers and a group scarf (neckerchief). Most Irish Cub units in the 1990s permit long pants. As explained under Sea Cubs they may wear navy blue jumpers and trousers, the rest of the Sea Cub uniform and their badges are the same as for the rest of the SAI Cub Scouts. Tenderfoot and arrow badges are worm on the left arm. Caps are optional.

Figure 3.--The Irish Scouts are pictured in the 1970s uniform. It consisted of berets, green shirts, tan shorts, and kneesocks.

Scout uniform

Irish Scouts in the 1970s wore berets, green shirts, tan shorts, and knee socks with a colored band. One Irish scouter reports that, "I was a CBSI cub. When I progrssed to CBSI scouts I was in a school unit and we still wore shorts, light blue shirt with navy shorts and grey knee socks." The situation was much the same in the SAI scout units. An Irish scouter reports, "My neighbour was in the SAI and his scout uniform was green shirt with grey shorts and grey knee socks." Only about 50 percent of the scout units wore shorts by the early 1970s. One Scouter notes,"In our Scouts group, we though t that shorts in the winter were a bit of a drag, especially as we got older and stopped wearing shorts to school. We were a bit envious of the boys in unit s allowed to wear longs, but didn't discuss it much." He adds, "We prefered knee socks and mostly wore black shoes in the winter and sandals in the summer, but I don't recall any regulations about shoes." As for caps, the CBSI had blue army style berets. We are not sure when the berets were introduced. All the scout units in the 1990s wear long pants uniforms. Some Irish Boy Scouts wear dark green or yellow saffron kilts for special outings like camping or in dancing comprtitions and of course Jamborees.

Venture Scouts

An Irish scouter reports than in his unit during the 1970s, "Only when you went to venture scouts were you finally allowed to wear long pants, at about age 16."

Sea Scouts

Irish Sea Scouts in the 1970s wore blue ski caps with a red pom. There uniform was a dark blue shirt and shorts worn with blue knee socks that had red bands.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 8:51 AM 9/10/2016