Larch Hill

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Larch Hill
Larch Hill
Owner Scouting Ireland
Location Tibradden, Dublin
Country Ireland
Founded 1938-05-04
Founder Prof. JB Whelehan

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Larch Hill is the national campsite, and administrative and training headquarters of Scouting Ireland. It was previously owned by Scouting Ireland (CSI). It 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 hedquarters building remains the focal point of Larch Hill. 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 now 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 resident warden is Damien O' Sullivan. The warden staff, 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.


Resident Warden Damien O' Sullivan wearing the orange neckerchief and Wood Badge beads

The original buildings at Larch Hill were built as a summerhouse for a wealthy Dublin merchant, John O'Neill Esq. An exact date of the building of Larch Hill is unknown, however a gravestone can be found in the Whitechurch Church of Ireland [1] cemetery which bears the inscription "Erected by John O'Neill Esq., of Fitzwilliam Square and Larch Hill, J.P. for Dublin and Consul De S.H.C., to the memory of his good and beloved wife, Caroline, Died 1835 R.I.P". Thus it is possible to assume that Larch Hill was in existence prior to the 1830s

The ownership of Larch Hill changed sometime between 1835 and 1873 as 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 for its fine paper form 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.

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

Link with Scouting

Welcome Sign at Larch Hill

In 1937 Prof. J.B.Whelehan, the then Chief Scout, together with the National Executive Board (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 athletics stadium, 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 southside 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 Columbanus. [2]

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 where participating in the inaugural camp over the Whit weekend. The garden area is almost one acre 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.


the Melvin Field, Larch Hill

Camping Fields

Taylor's Field is so named after one of the local townlands which was known as Taylor's Grange. It is merely coincidence that a Mr John Taylor 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 Lord 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 50s and early 60s 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 Camping), Con Twomey, Seamus Durkan, 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. [2]

The Haggard Field is an old Gaelic name for a field that is surrounded by stone walls.

The Upper and Lower Dolmen Field are named after the ruined megalithic thomb that cann 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

Other Features

The present car park would have been the stable and farmyard in the 1800s, 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 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.

dolmen at Larch Hill

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 1800s 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. Interestingly the river that flows through Larch Hill is called the river Glin.

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 rejoices in the name "Matthews's Folly", so called after the then Director the campsite Mr. Nicholas Matthews, who undertook the ill-fated venture, which was undertaken during the 1940s. The pool that exists on the river Glin, which is a tributary of the Little Dargle, at the lower end of the estate, was built under the directorship of Paudge O'Broin, and was a much better and more enduring effort, though it is also now abandoned. The river Glin comes from the valley between Kilmashogue and Tibradden Mountains, this valley is known as Kelly's Glen. During the 1800s 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.

Inhabitants, traditions and novelties

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.

National Logo of Scouting Ireland

Larch Hill in the 21st Century

"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 Scouting Ireland (CSI) at 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 played host to the National Scout and Venture Scout Fora 2006. In Summer 2006 it hosted an international jamboree for Deaf Scouts hosted by the 191st Dublin [3]


Activities onsite include orienteering, hiking, archery and laser-tag. The extensive estate is perfectly suited for hiking. The Irish Tree Council 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. [4] 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 beneifts from a canopy of Norway Spruce trees while the Southern most wooded area is populated by robust Sycamores, Elms and Larches which provide the necessary shelter for survival camping.

Ties with local Scout Troops

Many local Groups have contributed to the establishment and development of Larch Hill. It was the 13th Dublin, one of the nearest Groups to the hill, who 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 by 24 feet 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.[5]

See also


  1. "Parish of Whitechurch history". Whitechurch C of I. 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gaughan, Fr. J Anthony. "Scouting in Ireland." Kingdom Books. 2006. ISBN 0-9524567-2-9
  3. "Deaf Scout Jamb Larch Hill 06". 191st Dublin Scout Troop. 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  4. O' Sullivan, Damien. "The Larch Hill Tree Trail." Scouting Ireland CSI Publications. 2000. ISBN 0-9540267-0-5
  5. "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