Article submitted to The Irish Times
Over the last few weeks a number of articles and letters have appeared in The Irish Times in relation to the Centenary and historical antecedents of the Scout Movement in Ireland. While in many ways fair, none of them, in my view captured the spirit, ethos and sheer value of Scouting as it has served our country for one hundred years. Yes, one hundred years of proud public service and commitment to young people unmatched by any other organization in the world. In particular the repeated notion that somehow there were BP Scouts and the “Sectarian” Catholic scouts is a travesty and does no justice to the origins of the Movement in Ireland. It is a Movement I have had the privilege to be a member of since I joined Donnybrook Cub Scouts in 1966.
Last year, Scouts and Guides in over two hundred and fifty countries marked the Centenary of World Scouting with an International Jamboree held in England. That camp commemorated the decision of Robert Baden-Powell to hold a camp for twenty boys on Brownsea Island off the coast of Dorset. That was the event that effectively launched the new Movement. 2007 also marked the centenary of the publication of the world’s second biggest publishing success, (only exceeded by the Bible), in English, “Scouting for Boys”.
In its early incarnation, Scouting represented, or more accurately was seen to represent, much that was conservative and was, unfortunately, somewhat militaristic. In the context of the times this was understandable. The early Movement was seen to encourage young boys to serve, unquestioningly, what was then the British Empire. That rapidly changed and following the horrors of the First World War, B.P. and the
Movement he founded, evolved and changed. The role of Scouting as a mechanism to develop as a cross-class, international youth movement that would build character and reduce barriers and misunderstanding became more and more apparent. The Movement has since grown into a force for good in our communities, in our country and throughout the world.
Current membership of the World Organization of the Scout Movement stands at approximately 30 million young people and adults, with over ten million members in the Girl Guides. Since 1907 it is estimated that
well over 300 million people have at some stage donned the uniform and made the Scout or Guide Promise. The Scouting record of education, promotion and encouragement of young people stands unequalled by any
other voluntary body.
Following the initial success of the concept in Britain, Scouting came to Ireland soon afterwards with branches established in Dublin as early as 1908. The first recorded Scout meeting in Ireland took place in Dame Street in Dublin in February 1908. That event will be commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque on the site later this month.
For reasons, to do with our history, politics and the struggle for Independence, many Irish people were reluctant to join, or let their children join, what was perceived, to be a British, or Unionist or Protestant body. To counter this and following some preliminary soundings by leading Catholic figures of the day, the Roman Catholic Hierarchy approved the establishment of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland. This new Association was formally launched in 1927. Among the earliest Units was my own local Scout Group in Donnybrook founded by Monsignor Daniel Maloney in 1927 and which, to this day continues to thrive. The new Association grew rapidly throughout the thirty-two counties and operated in parallel with the other Scout Association already in existence. For the next seventy-five years Ireland had two Scout Associations; the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the successor to the formerly British based, Scout Association of Ireland.
That division of Scouting in Ireland was finally healed in the early years of the new century. In the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, Scouting played its role through the creation of a new 32 county, 40,000
strong, Scouting Ireland. The new body was an amalgam of the former two Associations. The process had been progressed through a series of three International Jamborees held in Ireland in 1985, 1989 and 1993. It now heads into the second century of Scouting stronger and more united than ever. The challenge for Irish Scouting now is to ensure that it continues to be as relevant and innovative as before and that the values
and methods of Scouting are offered in a way accessible too and understood by the people, particularly the young people of Ireland.
The challenge today in a sense is to recapture the imagination of young people in the same way as it captured their imagination in the past.
So what is Scouting?
First of all Scouting is not an organization or an association. It is a Movement. A Movement, providing ongoing, voluntary, educational and life enhancing experiences for young people. In many ways Scouting is perhaps the ultimate expression of a democratic Youth Organization. Unfortunately, it is a Movement that suffers from the twin image problems of being perceived in some ways as being too good and yet, for
some, not good enough. The image of the woggle clad, shots wearing youngster, singing “Dyb Dyb Dyb” as he helps the old lady across the road is too entrenched in the media consciousness to complain. Yet it
distorts the reality of a Movement that has always been ahead of its time in youth service provision and values. It also maintains the still common, yet far from correct, perception that Scouting is male only.
Scouting in Ireland has been a co-educational movement now in most areas for over thirty years.
Scouting is more than a hobby. It is a way of life. As a Movement, for and about young people, Scouting provides a unique mixture of Fun, Friendship and Challenge, usually, though not exclusively based on an
outdoors programme. Camping, Hiking and service to the community are probably the most readily identified aspects of Scouting activity. But Scouting is more, much more.
Long before it became fashionable, internationalism and respect for diverse cultures were tenets of Scouting. Long before the growth of the Green movement, respect for nature and our environment were core
principles of Scouting. Long before the development of modern education norms, the encouragement of young people to ‘learn by doing’ was Scouting practice and long before notions of democracy were even
contemplated in many societies the very essence of Scouting was of young people deciding for themselves, their programmes, their activities and their future.
I am proud to have had the opportunity and privilege to be a member of one of the most progressive and inclusive youth movements our world has ever seen. I am proud of the thirty-eight young Venturer Scouts, from my own Scout Group in Donnybrook, who some years ago raised the funds to renovate a home for young deprived people in Peru and then went out there to carry out the work themselves. In recognition of that work they were awarded the United Nations Youth Endeavour Award – world winners for Ireland. Here at home they were awarded – silence. Despite the media obsession with “anti-social behaviour” among people and the far too often repeated mantra that “young people don’t care”, their win was largely ignored. Clearly reporting the bad behaviour of the few rather than the positive behaviour of the many is more attractive to many of our media and public commentators. The Scouts from Aughrim Street Venturer Group in Dublin’s Inner City, who travelled to Vietnam and painted and decorated the Orphanage home to over one hundred children in the Vung Tau Province, is a further example of Scouting Ireland delivering in the International arena. They join the thousands of Scouts across the world actively participating in development work in Asia,
Africa, South America and many parts of Europe and North America.
Scouting in Ireland is well regarded in the wider Movement and this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the current Vice-Chairperson of the World Scout Movement is an Irish woman, Therese Bermingham while the Chairman of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is another Irish woman Elspeth Henderson.
The main event marking the Irish Scouting Centenary will be “Jamboree 2008” to take place in Punchestown in August. This will be an enormous undertaking with approximately 10,000 young people, including several
thousand from abroad sharing the unique Scouting experience in an Irish setting. The Jamboree will require the support and encouragement of the various Public bodies and the financial support of Government. Is it too much to ask that Government would contribute a significant sum to celebrate one hundred years of service?
So, congratulations Scouting. You have done our world much service. You have given hundreds of millions of young people, Fun, Friendship and Challenge. Long may you grow and develop. Long may you forge peace,
harmony and understanding in our world and long may you give the opportunities you gave me, to so many more in the future. Good Scouting.
Dermot Lacey is President of Donnybrook Scout Group and a former Lord Mayor of Dublin.