In October 1930, the Fr. Guardian of the Franciscan Friary at Merchants Quay, Fr. Augustine O’Neill OFM, spoke with a group of altar boys in Adam and Eve’s Church about starting a scout troop in The Liberties. The boys responded enthusiastically to the idea. In the following weeks Fr. Augustine asked Fr. Angelus Hollis to become Chaplain to the scouts, while Arthur Swan, who was employed in the Assisi Magazine Office, agreed to become the first Scout Master.
On the 8th November 1930, three adults and seven altar boys met in a room beside the sacristy for their first scout meeting. On 15th May 1931, the group received its charter from the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) as the 61st Dublin Scout Troop and thus began an unbroken history of ninety years of scouting at Merchants Quay.
The friars gave the scouts the use of a meeting room beside the friary on the corner of Winetavern Street, as a scout den, and there they remained until 1941.By the end of 1931 the troop had established a pipe band and were regularly to be seen proudly marching behind their pipe band at functions throughout the city.
In February 1933 scout John Byrne of the 61st Merchants Quay Troop became the first scout in Ireland to be awarded ‘The Silver Palm’, the highest achievement award in Irish scouting. Only thirteen scouts ever achieved this award before it was replaced by the National Scout Award in 1968. The last recipient of ‘the Silver Palm’ was scout Larry Mulligan who subsequently, as Fr. Larry Mulligan, became chaplain of the Franciscan Scout Unit at Merchants Quay and National Chaplain of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland.
In March 1934 seven members of the 61st Troop took part in a national scout pilgrimage to Rome on board the liner ‘Lancastria’. At the Papal audience for the pilgrimage, Pope Pius XI, having paid tribute to scouting and to CBSI, walked among the scouts and, stopping at Merchants Quay Scouts flag, he examined it and then personally blessed it.
By 1940, total membership of the 61st Scout Troop was over one hundred. Following the outbreak of World War II, some older members joined the British Armed Forces, including J. J. Kenny and Thomas Moore, who were killed in action while serving in the RAF, and Sean Deegan who joined the Franciscans after the war taking the religious name of Bro. Columbanus. The first two scout chaplains, Frs. Angelus Hollis and Kevin O’Sullivan, became military chaplains in Burma and Egypt respectively.
In 1941, through the generosity of the Franciscans, a new scout den in Skippers Alley was acquired and was formally opened by the then Chief Scout Prof. J. B. Whelehan. For members of the 61st in the 1940s, scouting was the centre of their lives. There was the pipe band, boxing, table tennis, hikes, camps etc. Many scouts were in the scout den four or five nights a week. On VE Day 1945, members of the troop were very proud that their Pipe Band was selected to play on a celebratory programme on Radio Eireann. After the war membership of the pipe band declined until its demise in 1947.
At this time a second scout troop, the 69th Dublin, was established in Merchants Quay. With the establishment of the 69th, the scouts in Merchants Quay became known as ‘The Franciscan Unit’. In April 1954 at a special ceremony in Adam and Eves church the original 61st Dublin Scout Troop flag was replaced by a new Franciscan Unit Flag. The new flag was presented by the past members of the 61st in honour of Fr. Angelus Hollis who had played such a vital role in establishing the scout troop and who died, aged 47, in 1948 having never fully recovered from the impact on his health of his military service in Burma. The blessing ceremony was followed by a parade of current and past members of the Franciscan Scout Unit which was led by a large pipe band composed of ex- members of the Unit who had been ‘resurrected’ for the day.
In 1957 another special event took place when 53 scouts travelled overland to Rome via Luxemburg, France and Switzerland – all for £24.00! In 1958 following a decision by the friars to demolish the Skippers Alley den as part of plans to refurbish the Cook Street side of Adam and Eve’s the scouts relocated to a new den in Winetavern Street.
In 1960 an additional troop, the 64th Dublin, was established. The Franciscan Scout Unit now stood on the brink of a new and exciting era. Membership now stood at over 200. During the late 1950’s and 60s vast housing estates were constructed in the outer suburbs of Tallaght, Ballyfermot, Palmerstown and Walkinstown. There were no scout troops in these areas. Large numbers of boys from these areas found their way to Merchants Quay Scouts primarily because the den was located on or near suburban bus routes. Scouting activities were taking place 7 days a week. During this time the scouts were involved in a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities. In addition to hiking and camping in Ireland, annual two-week camps were organised to the UK and Europe. At this time, scout leaders from Merchants Quay played a key role in the establishment of new scout troops in the suburbs and membership of the Franciscan Unit began to decline to a more normal size of one scout group, 61st Dublin, as boys from the suburbs joined the newly established suburban scout groups.
In 1981 membership of CBSI was opened up to females. This led not only to an influx of girls but also to a team of excellent female scout leaders. 1981 was also the 50th anniversary of scouting at merchants Quay. In addition to Golden Jubilee celebrations, a history of scouting at Merchants Quay was published.
During the 1990s scouting activities continued apace and in 2002, Adam and Eves church was the venue for a national church parade, attended by President Mary McAleese, of over 3,000 scouts to celebrate the 75th anniversary of CBSI. The ceremony was followed by a huge parade including two pipe bands and contingents from The Army and Gardai, comprised of ex-members of CBSI. It was to be the last national parade of CBSI and was a fitting finale to 75 years of outstanding service by CBSI. In 2002, the two scouting organisations in Ireland, CBSI and SAI, merged to become a single, multi-denominational organisation, Scouting Ireland, with over 50,000 members. In 2011 the 61st Dublin Scout Group relocated, after 79 years in Merchants Quay, to a new den in the heart of the Liberties close to St Patrick’s Cathedral. The premises were provided by Dublin City Council on licence to the scouts.
Today the 61st Dublin Scout Group consists of four active sections, Beavers (6-8), Cubs (9-11), Scouts (12-15), Venturers (15+). The objective of scouting, as always, is to provide activity programmes that will enable young people to progress their social, intellectual, physical, character, emotional and spiritual development so that they can achieve their potential as responsible citizens. The current youth membership of the Group is 80 (boys and girls), supported by a team of 26 trained scout leaders.
On the 21st of November 2021 our Annual Past Members Remembrance Celebrations will be held in Adam and Eve’s Church Merchants Quay at 2pm to Celebrate and Remember all those who have passed through the Doors of the Group over the last 90 Years.
In 1930, Fr. Augustine O’Neill asked the altar boys in Adam and Eve’s if they would like to start a scout troop. Ninety years later, the flame of scouting which he ignited has been successfully passed down through successive generations. Today that flame glows as brightly as ever – and the dream lives on.
Text by Frank Tracy with kind permission of David Kessie and the 61st Merchant’s Quay Scout Troup. More on the 61st Merchants Quay at Facebook.