Guiding for Ireland

Thirteen years ago, Carol O’Brady’s eight year old daughter, Aoife, was excitedly preparing to join the Brownies, the section of the Irish Girl Guides for 7-10 year olds, writes Maureen Browne.

Carol O'Brady
Carol O’Brady

Carol, who is Medicines Information Manager at Tallaght Hospital, Dublin and Clinical Lecturer, at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, at Trinity College Dublin, had been a Girl Guide herself, and decided to go along and see if guiding was as good as she remembered.

It turned out to be even better, she became a leader and 13 years later is Chair of the National Committee which looks after the section for the 10 – 14 year olds, as well as having a major input into the programmes for the entire 10,000 youth members and 1,800 young and adult members, who are now in the association.

The Irish Girl Guides’ structure involves a Ladybird section for girls aged from five to seven years of age, Brownies for those aged from seven to 10, Guides for ten to 14 year olds and the Senior Branch for those in the 14 to 30 age group.

“When I went back to the Guides when Aoife joined, I found I really enjoyed it. I was on the Ladybird Committee for about four years. Then as Aoife moved up through the branches, I thought I would prefer to work with the 10 – 14 age group, as it involved more outdoor work and the outdoor activities and camping are great fun.”

They learn to be independent in hall and to be independent outdoors, to be able to mind themselves, to work together, to trust each other and to trust their leaders.

In 2015, Carol was asked to join the National Committee for the Guides and in late 2015 was invited to take over as Chair, a post she has held since then.

She sees the most important part of their mission as helping their members to grow in confidence. “We want them to develop to the fullest of their potential as responsible citizens of the world. That is our mission and we aim to do this through fun educational programmes.

“They are learning through everything they do in the various programmes, whether it is in our halls or outdoors.  They learn by doing small things on their own and in groups and as they work through the programmes their skills and confidence build year on year. They learn to be independent in hall and to be independent outdoors, to be able to mind themselves, to work together, to trust each other and to trust their leaders.”

Leaders have to be over 18 and it can be difficult to get sufficient leaders. “However, the leaders we get really get a lot out of it. Often they are parents who want to be involved with their kids and it gives these parents new skills. Mothers who are involved develop their own leadership skills, they enjoy new experiences and friendships.  I have friendships through guiding which I would never come across if I hadn’t become a member.”

The weekly guide meetings take about an hour and a half, which is a very manageable commitment, but for those involved in management, it can spill over into a large part of their lives, planning and organising guiding events and charity functions.

The Irish Girl Guides is an all inclusive organisation. The organisation actively promotes diversity and welcomes girls from all walks of life.

“We do a lot of hill walking and camping events. Last year for example I was part of a team which ran a big camp for 800 girls aged from 9 – 18 and we ran a day event for five years olds.

“Guiding is all about thinking of others so we try and do charity work for others also.”

Last year Carol and her team organised a national awards event in Croke Park, attended by over 300 members. As Chair of the Guide Committee she also sits on several other national committees, including the National Programme & Training Committee which links into the Executive Committee.

She says The Irish Girl Guides is an all inclusive organisation. The organisation actively promotes diversity and welcomes girls from all walks of life.

The Irish Girl Guides was started in Ireland in 1911, It grew from the scouting movement set up by Robert Baden-Powell in England on the premise that boys could be trained and used to help in emergencies.

He held an experimental camp at Brownsea Island in Dorset in 1907 at which the boys were divided into patrols and trained to be self-reliant.

The first big rally for Scouts was held at Crystal Palace outside London in 1909. At this there were 10,000 boys as well as some uninvited girls who dressed in a uniform and called themselves “Girl Scouts”.

In 1910 Girl Guides were officially formed with the founder’s sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, in charge. A syllabus for girls was drawn up for their training similar to that for the Scouts.

The first official company in Ireland was formed in 1911 in Harold’s Cross, with Lady Powerscourt as Chief Commissioner. Guiding quickly spread to Cork and Wicklow and then to other parts of the country.

At this time Guiding was run as one organisation for all Ireland, but following partition in 1921, a separate organisation was created for the Free State – the Irish Free State Girl Guides.

Ireland became a separate member of World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 1932 and in 1938 the name of the organisation was changed to the Irish Girl Guides.