Larch Hill

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Larch Hill
OwnerScouting Ireland
LocationTibradden, Dublin
Coordinates53°15′14″N 6°16′54″W / 53.253885°N 6.281766°W / 53.253885; -6.281766
FounderProf. JB Whelehan
Center managerConor McKeown
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Larch Hill International Scout and Guide Centre is the national campsite, and administrative and training headquarters of Scouting Ireland. It was previously owned by Scouting Ireland (CSI).


Larch Hill was purchased in 1937 and has gone on to become one of the main hubs of European Scout camping. The estate has been revitalised in recent years with the creation of Scouting Ireland in 2004. The architecturally unique headquarters building remains the focal point of Larch Hill. At 226 metres above sea level, the site consists of camping fields, a small hostel, conference facilities (in the Millennium Room), hiking trails, a nature centre, a Beaver Scout playground, a (currently derelict) swimming pool and a large campfire circle.

Larch Hill is so called as it is reputed that it was the site of the first ever planting of the European Larch species in Ireland.

The warden staff of the site, or the Meitheal, are voluntary members of Scouting Ireland and wear an orange neckerchief with the Larch symbol. They were also entitled (under Scouting Ireland (CSI)) to wear unique orange epaulettes. In 2011, the centre's manager was James Usher. As of January 2014, Conor McKeown was appointed Centre Manager


Campsites & Facilities Support Officer Damien O' Sullivan wearing the orange neckerchief and Wood Badge beads

Larch Hill has been the home of several individuals over the centuries, the earliest known being a 'Mr. Smith', who is noted as living there on an 1801 map.[1]

The earliest existing buildings, however, were built as a summer house for a wealthy Dublin merchant, J.P., and alderman, John O'Neill (1768/9-1843) of Fitzwilliam Square, whose business premises were on Ormond Quay. He was at Larch Hill by 1821 at the latest, when he engaged in a charitable parish project of the Rathfarnham Free School "for Educating and Clothing Ninety-four poor Children". He supported the parish and helped the building of a church for the new Church of Ireland parish of Whitechurch,[2] where his family grave and monument can still be found.

John O'Neill's son sold Larch Hill in 1845; another tombstone exists in the graveyard which bears the inscription "Courtney Kenny Clarke, Larch Hill, Died 1873." Again, this owner was a wealthy businessman, and possibly an owner of one of the many mills which existed along the banks of the Owendoher River in Rockbrook. In those days Rathfarnham was known throughout Europe[citation needed] for its fine paper from the papermills. Many wealthy families constructed large houses in the hills around Rathfarnham. The family of Mr Clarke donated funds to the Whitechurch Church of Ireland Chapel which enabled a vestry to be dedicated in his memory.

Clarke married Frances Esther Penfold, a daughter of John Penfold, vicar at Steyning from 1792 until his death in 1840.[3] One of her brothers was Christopher Rawson Penfold of Penfold Wines, Australia.

Frances was born in 1803. Her first husband was John Walker, of Crow Nest, near Halifax, born in 1804. They married on Wednesday 29 July 1829 at Steyning (Leeds Mercury 1 August 1829). He died on their honeymoon in Naples, 19 January 1830 (The Genealogy of the Walker Family). On 10 October 1830 "in the ninth month of her widowhood" and at the home of Rev. John Penfold in Steyning she had a still-born child.[4] Frances died in August 1928.[5]

Courtney K. Clarke died aged 70, on November 28, 1873.[6]

Very little is known about the ownership from the 1870s until early in the 20th century. During the years 1914 to 1918 it is known that Larch Hill became a military sanatorium, and may have been used by soldiers affected by mustard gas, used during the First World War, to convalesce. The period 1918 to 1937 is also sketchy, but Sean Innes, the former warden, whose family occupied the now demolished Gate Lodge during this period, recalled that an American gentleman lived in Larch Hill with his mother during this period. In the period just preceding the purchase of the estate by CBSI in 1937, a Dublin businessman and bookmaker, John Coffey, owned the estate, but he found himself in financial difficulties, and the bank took possession of the estate. His father, William, was Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman and High-Sheriff.


Welcome Sign at Larch Hill

In 1937 Professor J.B. Whelehan, the then Chief Scout, together with the National Executive Board of CBSI (later Scouting Ireland (CSI)), decided to purchase a campsite. Many venues were suggested, but eventually two options remained. One was Santry Demesne, part of which is now the Morton Stadium for athletics, near Dublin Airport, and the other was Larch Hill. The decision fell to the casting vote of Prof. Whelehan, whose foresight saw that the Santry site would become part of the city far more quickly than its south-side counterpart.

The funding for the purchase of Larch Hill came from the 3,000 pounds profit the association made from non-Scout fares on the 1934 pilgrimage to Rome, and a 500-pound donation from the Knights of Saint Columbanus.[7]

Larch Hill officially opened as a campsite on June 4, 1938. An outdoor mass was celebrated in the garden area by Fr. Leo Mc Cann C.C., and was attended by over 400 Scouts from the Dublin Diocese (which received considerable support around this time from John Charles McQuaid) who were participating in the inaugural camp over the Whit weekend.

The Meitheal also ran a series of Cub and Scout camps summer camps in the form of mini-jamborees including "Camp Millennium" in 1988 to mark Dublin's 1,000 year anniversary and "Hill 96" that included over 1,200 Cubs, Scouts and Venturers.


Camping fields[edit]

Taylor's Field is named after John Taylor who was the first warden on the Hill from the late 1940s to mid-1950s.

Potato Field is named for the ridges of long forgotten cultivation that are still visible, sometimes called "lazy beds".

Melvin Field is so called to commemorate the Melvin trophy which was the national Scoutcraft competition of the association (now the Phoenix Patrol Challenge). This trophy was presented to the association during the CBSI pilgrimage to Rome during the Holy Year of 1934 by Sir Martin Melvin. The profits made from this journey are believed to have provided the capital that enabled the purchase of Larch Hill, under the then Chief Scout Prof. JB Whelehan.

The Training Field was so called because it was the site of many of the early leader training (Wood Badge) courses. In the late 1950s and early 1960s an élite group of leaders formed a troop called the 1st Larch Hill (note the similarity with the 1st Gilwell Park) which wore a grey neckerchief and acted as a proto-National Training Team. Members included PJ Killackey (who went on to become National Director of Cubs/Macaomh, Camping and National Commissioner), Con Twomey, Seamus Durkan (later National Commissioner), Fr. Aengus OFM Cap and Patrick Bradley of the 37th Cork (who led the only troop ever to win 4 consecutive Melvin trophies). They conducted courses instructing leaders in the methods and aims of Catholic Scouting. The first Training Course took place on September 8, 1956.[7]

The Haggard Field is an old Irish name for a small enclosure that is used to store fodder for animals. Like many small fields in parts of Ireland, it's surrounded by stone walls

The Upper and Lower Dolmen Field are named after the ruined megalithic tomb that can still be seen in the field.

The Triangle field is so called since it is triangular.

The Cub Field is a large flat field which makes it ideal for the younger Scouts and Cub-Scouts.

The Kelly's Field named after Kelly's Glen.

The Crow's nest is so named because it is surrounded by tall trees which provide an ideal nesting ground for crows.

Camping at Larch Hill


The garden area is almost 1-acre (4,000 m2) in size and contains many exotic species of trees, for example the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana), and is reminiscent of the splendid walled gardens that were built on manor estates during the 19th century.

Other features[edit]

The present car park had been the stable and farmyard in the 19th century, and contained stables and outhouses, the remains of the foundations of these buildings can be seen adjacent to the existing toilet block.

The Mass Lawn area was originally a tennis court and is referred to as such by the locals. The altar on the mass lawn was constructed from the granite steps that led to the front door of the original house. The house was demolished in the 1970s following the completion of the existing hostel in 1972. President Éamon de Valera performed the opening ceremony for the new hostel. The existing main entrance is not in fact the original entrance. That entrance to the estate was some 20 yards (18 m) inwards and the old gateposts can still be seen.

The Ice-House (bunker like building) on the lower avenue was the original "refrigerator" for the old manor house. The river would have been blocked during the winter and blocks of ice cut and placed in the pit at the end of the building. Food was then stored in layers of straw, and the building sealed up. The building was accessed during summer by way of a hatch in the roof of the building.

The dolmen or cromlech is one of three that can be found in the vicinity, the others being on Tibradden Mountain and at Mount Venus. A dolmen was a royal burial plot and is made up of two upright granite blocks supporting a third crossways (here it has slipped out of place) and backed by a solid upright some ten feet high. The dolmen is sometimes referred to by locals as "the druids altar" or the "druids seat". An inner ring of partially submerged boulders and an outer ring of sycamore trees surround the whole feature. It is uncertain if the dolmen was ever actually completed, or whether it once stood and the top stone slipped. Some experts credit an earthquake recorded in the area in the 19th century with dislodging the stones from all the dolmens in the area. The dolmen which is a megalithic tomb is also linked to the "Battle of Kilmashogue" involving Irish Chieftains and Danish marauders. This battle is recorded in the "Annals of the Four Masters" and happened in 916 AD. It is said that the Danes were defeated in this battle, however, King Niall Glin was killed in the battle. The river that flows through Larch Hill is called the river Glin.

Larch Hill International Scout and Guide Centre boasts two Adirondack shelters available for hire. Each shelter sleeps 8 people and they are located in the forestry above the Dolmen Field. This setting is ideal for backwoods style camping and indeed ideal for a place to sleep on an expedition hike. Larch Hill ideally located a short distance from the Dublin Mountain Way and the Wicklow Way.[8]

River and swimming[edit]

The River Glin, which is a tributary of the Owendoher River and so of the River Dodder, comes from the valley, known as Kelly's Glen, between Kilmashogue and Tibradden Mountains. During the 19th century residents of Dublin would travel to the glen to sample the waters, which were reputed to have a strong mineral content, at a spa which was situated in the upper part of the glen.

A pool on the River Glin, at the lower end of the estate, was built under the directorship of Paudge O'Broin, and lasted many years, though it is out of use as of 2018.

At the entrance to the Crow's Nest field is a great depression which is the venue of one of the earliest Scout attempts to provide a swimming pool at Larch Hill. This area is known as "Matthews's Folly", after the then Director of the campsite, Mr. Nicholas Matthews, who undertook the ill-fated venture during the 1940s.

Inhabitants, traditions and novelties[edit]

Among the many inhabitants of the extensive estate are badgers, squirrels and deer. The Whit weekend is traditionally a busy time of year at Larch Hill as Scouts from Dublin and surrounding areas make an almost pilgrimage-like escape to the national campsite. The aforementioned bookmaker John Coffey kept racehorses on the site, the most famous of which was named "Fast Pam". It is believed that "Fast Pam" is buried near the campfire circle.

21st century[edit]

"The Hill", as it is known, has seen many changes in recent years. The construction of the pyramid building which houses those who work for Scouting Ireland on a permanent basis has brought a new lease of life to the campsite. The glass building also contains a function room named the Millennium Room which acts as a multipurpose meeting place for Scouts and Scouters. It also holds the bust of Fr. Tom Farrell the founder of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (which came from the former national headquarters of Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland at 71 St Stephen's Green and later at 19 Herbert Place) and an extensive museum given over to National and International badges and mementoes from World Scout Jamborees. The Meitheal team ensure that the campsite is kept in top shape for Scouts with any given weekend likely to see campers from the farthest corners of Ireland and Europe visiting. It hosted one of the four national camps to celebrate the 75th year of Scouting Ireland (CSI) in 2002. It also plays host to the National Scout, Venture Scout and Rover Scout Fora every year. In Summer 2006 it hosted an international jamboree for Deaf Scouts hosted by the 191st Dublin [9]

Scouting Ireland will host the 16th World Scout Moot at the site in summer 2021.[10][11][12]


Activities onsite include orienteering, hiking, archery, high ropes course, and a zip line.[13] The extensive estate is perfectly suited for hiking. The Tree Council of Ireland in conjunction with An Comhairle Oidhreachta, The Irish Heritage Council, has produced a booklet called the "Larch Hill Tree Trail" which details 25 of the tree species which are part of the campsite, including the main inhabitants, the Larch, Sequoia and the Sitka Spruce.[14] Following the "Tree Trail" takes walkers to every corner of the site, taking in each camping field in turn.

The proximity to the Dublin Mountains and indeed the Wicklow Mountains allow Scouts the chance to explore some of Ireland's most scenic hike routes, including the Wicklow Way, the monastery of St. Kevin at Glendalough and many other attractions.

The extensive forest is perfect for bivouacking during the summer months. The forest in the North Eastern corner of the site benefits from a canopy of Norway Spruce trees while the southernmost wooded area is populated by robust Sycamores, Elms and Larches which provide the necessary shelter for survival camping.

Ties with local Scout troops[edit]

Many local Groups have contributed to the establishment and development of Larch Hill. The 13th Dublin gave Larch Hill the first forms of motorised transport, a truck chassis and engine. They were also involved in the project of widening and damming of the stream to create a swimming pool. The construction took several years in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1963 a pool 50 feet (15 m) by 24 feet (7.3 m) was constructed. Photographs of the pool when it was still functioning are on display in a permanent exposition in the den of the 13th Dublin.[15]


  1. ^ Alex Taylor, Royal Irish Engineers (1801). "Dublin" (Map). A sketch of the Environs of Dublin. South Dublin County Council libraries. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  2. ^ "Parish of Whitechurch history". Whitechurch C of I. 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-10-09. Retrieved 2006-08-20.
  3. ^ "Married". Leeds Mercury. Leeds, Yorkshire. 15 September 1832. p. 5.
  4. ^ "births". Hull Packet and Humber Mercury. 19 October 1830. Retrieved 9 November 2019 – via
  5. ^ "Births, Deaths, Marriages and Obituaries". Freeman's Journal. 1928. Retrieved 9 November 2019 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  6. ^ "Deaths". Pall Mall Gazette. 5 Dec 1873. p. 3. Retrieved 9 November 2019 – via
  7. ^ a b Gaughan, Fr. J Anthony. "Scouting in Ireland." Kingdom Books. 2006. ISBN 0-9524567-2-9
  8. ^ "Larch Hill website".
  9. ^ "Deaf Scout Jamb Larch Hill 06". 191st Dublin Scout Troop. 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-08-19. Retrieved 2006-08-20.
  10. ^ "World Scout Conference 2014 - Invitations to host Future World Scout Events" (PDF). WOSM. May 2014. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  11. ^ "The 16th World Scout Moot 2021". World Scout Conference Slovenia 2014 twitter. 13 August 2014. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  12. ^ Schildböck, Rupert. "Today is the last day at the World Scout Conference: let's look what has happened so far!". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  13. ^ "Larch Hill International Scout Centre | Tibradden, Dublin 16".
  14. ^ O' Sullivan, Damien. "The Larch Hill Tree Trail." Scouting Ireland CSI Publications. 2000. ISBN 0-9540267-0-5
  15. ^ "13th Dublin Rathfarnham Unit, Looking Forward, Looking Back. 50 years of Scouting in Rathfarnham." Criterion Press Ltd. 1992. ISBN 0-9518982-0-5

External links[edit]