125 years of the Girls Brigade

By Kathrin Kobus

The Junior Senior A Team won third place in regional competition for modern dance. The Explorer A teamwork won third place in National competition, with Sharon Kinsella. Photos: Kathy Moylan.

Step and curtsy, lift and curtsy, on your toes, prepare, prepare and skip.” These are just some of the instructions Sharon Kinsella calls out on a Thursday afternoon to the group of girls from the 11th Company Sandymount-Irishtown Girls Brigade practising their skipping rope performance for an upcoming competition.

She is the current Captain of the Company. A respiratory nurse specialist (NSHI) by profession, she has always been interested in and practised dancing and choreography.

Sharon Kinsella took up her post in 2000 and after meeting some of her predecessors she was curious to delve into the history. One result of this was the celebrated 80th anniversary in 2012. How can another big celebration come along just six years later?

“Actually it was Margaret Lyttle who had started The Girls Brigade back in the last years of the 19th century, 1893 to be precise. They met at the Old Presbyterian Church at the corner of Tritonville Road for choir practise, but one day it was so cold and to keep the girls warm she introduced them to skipping and dancing routines.”

The old Presbyterian Church doesn’t exist anymore. These days the church hall at Sandymount Green is their home to practise. “We meet twice a week in the Christchurch hall opposite the Green, where we do a variety of activities with the girls: singing, musical theatre, dance, hip hop and choral speaking as well as activities for the badgework.”

At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1908, eight companies existed. In the following years and decades some closed and were later re-opened or different companies and groups joined their efforts.

The girls who attend regularly on Thursday late afternoons, Saturday mornings are from local schools: Lakelands, St.Patrick’s Girls, and St. Matthew’s mostly. The company is structured from the youngest girls, the tiny tots, junior explorers, senior explorers, up to the brigaders and the 12-13 year olds and elder.

While Sharon Kinsella as Captain is in overall charge, her helpers are called officers, with no further rank distinction. “There are seven volunteer commissioned officers and then two ex-captains who help out with uniforms and two 17-18 year olds who help teach and will be doing their officers’ awards next session.”

It takes two years preparation with projects, exams and interviews to achieve these international awards. Aspiring officers have to complete four modules.

“There is the spiritual aspect, a community service project, and two initiative tests,” says Kathy Moylan, one of the officers. Being with the Girls Brigade has become a family affair. “I think I was actually one of the first girls after the different companies merged decades ago.”

Her mum had brought her along and is still around helping out here and there, and Kathy’s daughter is with brigaders now as well.

All the officers are volunteers, heading to church hall straight after work, on Thursdays and early on a weekend morning when the youngest members, the tiny tots, start Saturday activities at around 9am.

It means an extra 10 to 15 hours extra per week, it probably is double that number now during competition time. “February and March is our busiest time, for all the groups. We have different teams in various competitions and levels. But we want all of the girls to get to perform their routines on a stage.”

The extensive training and paces Sharon and her volunteers put the girls through in the past few weeks showed success with some medals in the national competition.