Portarlington Scouts all grown up

Celebrating at their Scouts Den with them were local dignitaries Cllr Paul Mitchell, Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council, Willie Murphy, chairman of Portarlington Lions Club and PP Fr Dooley.

Celebrating at their Scouts Den with them were local dignitaries Cllr Paul Mitchell, Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council, Willie Murphy, chairman of Portarlington Lions Club and PP Fr Dooley.

The families of members and leaders who passed away during those 21 years were special guests, and Comhaltas provided the entertainment for the day.

The club began in September 1991 in the old girls school, with 20 cubs and 32 scouts, all boys. After several more moves they bought a warehouse behind Gogarty’s pub and renovated it. Now they have a warm, spacious den with a kitchen and two cosy lofts, decked out in colourful murals, with neckerchiefs gaily strung up, swapped with clubs. Recently they bought a half acre site behind the den, so both indoor and outdoor camping can take place.

The club now have 115 scouts across four groups, Beavers, Cub Scouts, Scouts and Ventures, aged from 15 to 17, and 17 enthusiastic leaders. Members come from as far as Bracknagh, Cloneygowan and Killenard, with a a waiting list for their Beavers and Cubs. Of course the boys only rule no longer applies, with girls a big part of the membership.

They have embraced the new ‘One’ programme by Scouting Ireland, which sets out a series of interesting challenges and adventures for scouts to choose from, as they ascend through the levels and attain their badges. Scout Leader Donie Molloy has been there from the start, and hopes soon to have Rover Scouts, the top level, for ages 18 to 26.

Beavers are the youngest members, aged from six to nine. Leader Trish O’Reilly says they have 42 on their books.

“They play games and colour pictures. They learn about first aid and camping and cooking. We did our pumpkins last Tuesday and we are getting ready for our Halloween party,” she said.

Aoife Connolly has been a beaver for a year now.

“We do lots of fun stuff, like camping. We did a campfire outside for our special interest badge, and we learned how to put up tents and toasted marshmallows,” she said.

Cub Scouts meet over two nights a week, and at the moment are learning survival techniques like making ladders out of available materials, exploring fire safety and learning the 16 basic knots.

Leader Annette Pierce is a librarian by day and hugely enthusiastic about the new programme.

“I hope they will learn about the world in general, its a fun way of learning. It makes it more interesting for kids, and gives them a sense of independence and achievement,” she said.

Shauna Lindsay aged 10 from Killenard, joined last year.

“I love it, we do loads of different activities every week. We had a sleepover here, and we had a summer camp in Athlone,” she said.

The older cubs are preparing for a long canal walk from Athy to Vicarstown, to earn their Chief Scout Awards. They are all set with their hiking boots, and have been practicing with shorter walks.

Tom Crean, the Antarctic explorer, is the icon for Scouts and Venture scouts, who can choose from exciting challenges such as rock climbing, canoeing or sailing.

“They match their talents with their adventure, and come up with a journey. Several will choose something together, so in the New Year we are going rock climbing in Kilkenny,” explained leader Susan Fulham from Portarlington.

Susan was “roped in” by her younger brother Michael, 15, a venture scout. Last summer he took part in the Shield competition in Athy, when groups compete at setting up camp independently over a weekend, judged from afar. The Port group came a respectable 4th out of 12.

Having scouting interests on a CV is much respected.

“You would be more inclined to get an interview, it shows you have skills, and your head is well screwed on,” said Susan, a childcare worker in her day job.

Laura Pierce is in Port scouts for the past eight years, her sister and brother are also scouts. A student at Coláiste Iosagáin, she agrees that being a scout is a refreshing change from the pressures of life.

“I just love it. I started in cubs. I love camping, nobody judges you on your appearance, there’s no make-up, the hair is tied up. It makes you really prepared for life. I am in TY and the only scout, when we went hiking, I was the only one who had proper boots and raingear,” said Laura, who hopes to become a child psychologist.

The old Scout prayer still ends every meeting, but is now followed by a new promise too.

Port Scouts hold their biggest annual fundraiser, a Sale of Work, this Saturday, November 3 all day in the Scouts Den. The money raised will pay for the Scouts and Ventures’ expedition to Kilkenny.

It doesn’t cost much to be a scout. The weekly sub for Beavers is €3 and €4 for others, but the club will do their best to help out.

“Money is not a problem, we can help,” said Donie, who added that they particularly welcome more adult leaders. Email portarlingtonscouts@eircom.net