SHE may be 91, but nobody could accuse Violet Warner of being a shrinking violet.
“I swim 20 lengths in the pool three times a week,” she says.
The Cork woman is also still part of the largest organisation for girls in the world, The Girl Guides — the Global Guiding family of more than 10 million girls and women.
“I was honoured and privileged to receive the 50 years service pin from the Irish Girl Guides President, Maureen Dillon,” says Violet, who became a Brownie in 1932 at the age of seven, and who has been involved in the Guiding organisation for 71 years.
“I never expected it. I loved meeting old friends. Time flies when you are enjoying yourself,” adds Violet of her seven decades with the organisation.
“I wonder where the years have gone. I think of all the leaders I have worked with over the years, especially those who have passed away. Those people and Guiding have made me the person I am today.”
Violet, a leader with Arbutus Guides, who then joined the Trefoil Guild, is well able to fend for herself.
“Guiding offers girls personal development in a safe environment as well as self-confidence,” she says.
The Trefoil Guild is the Irish Girl Guides section that caters for women who want to be involved in the Guides, but who are no longer active leaders.
“We had great fun learning skills for the outdoor life, complementing the girls’ formal education,” says Violet.
“Often you’d leave your watches behind at camp while you went forth into the forest, creating a canopy from top to ground with the cover of pine trees where you pitched your tent.
“You’d have hiked a fair bit to find the spot to camp in the backwoods. A fire would be lit to frighten away wild animals and then we’d fend for ourselves; eating berries and sourcing water. We often cooked in a biscuit tin over the camp fire. We’d make our way back to base for 11am.”
And come back hungry?
“Yes, but satisfied,” says Violet. “The fun and camaraderie we had was just fantastic.”
So Guiding is not all about tying various knots from ropes and toasting marshmallows over the camp fire?
“Apart from the outdoor experience and a wide range of life skills including cooking, budgeting, planning and caring for themselves, Guiding offers girls self-confidence, leadership skills, friendship, and self-discipline,” says Violet.
Young girls get a sense of independence and self-esteem from Guiding.
“It gives girls the opportunity to try new things and meet other people from every walk of life,” says Violet.
“Beliefs and values are part of the programme, but so is caring for themselves and helping others.”
Girl Guides learn about the world in a fun way.
“I value how Guiding has allowed me to travel, “says Violet. “My first international camp was in Beaconsfield outside London in 1956 when I took 30 Guides abroad. I travelled to Switzerland the following year and then to Belgium, Finland and many other countries.”
It was a road well-travelled.
“I saw most of Europe” says Violet. “Then, when my husband and I retired, we travelled to New Zealand and we came back the other way.”
Violet was in good company.
“My husband, William, is a sea captain,” she says.
Where did her journey begin with Guiding that has enriched her life so much?
“I lived in Millsborough on the Lee Road,” says Violet. “I was in the Brownies from the age of seven to 10. I moved on to Guides in 1936. I studied Arts in Trinity College, Dublin, to become a teacher. I joined the Cadets there.
“I trained as a Guide Leader and I went on to teach at Armagh School. On returning to Dublin, I got involved with the Hillscourt Company.”
Violet came full circle.
“I eventually moved back to Cork to teach at Ashton School. I was keen to get back to Cork to do my H-Dip.
“I started up St Luke’s Brownies and later Arbutus Guides and St Finbarr’s Rangers.”
Violet, a great lover of the outdoors, didn’t let the grass grow under her feet.
“I served as the first South West Regional Commissioner for 11 years and was the Irish Girl Guides head of campaigns. I forged friendships all during this time that lasted a lifetime.
“I was a founding member of the joint association of Guiding and Scouting in Cork and a committee member for 44 years.”
Violet has always loved the great outdoors.
“Because of my great love for the outdoors, I was a Camp Advisor and served as Head of Camping. Being on the committee of Leigh Dale cottage, I acted as warden there for many years, welcoming Guides there from all over the world. The cottage was opened in 1960. It was called after two former Girl Guides; Mrs Leigh White and Miss Dale,” says Violet.
“It was named in memory of them. It was wonderful to see the delight on the faces of Girl Guides from all over the globe when they arrived at Leigh Dale Cottage. There is a huge international dimension to being a Guide.
“It gives many girls the opportunity to go on trips abroad to various camps and events. It also offers the opportunity to participate in home hospitality to Guides from other countries where they can get to know the culture and way of life of that culture.”
Another lady of note started the Girl Guides in 1910.
“Robert-Baden Powell had recognised that girls could make good scouts,” says Violet. His sister, Agnes, started the Girl Guides in the UK in 1910. A year later the Irish Girl Guides started in Ireland.” What are the highlights of Violet’s illustrious Guiding career?
“The highlights would have to be leading the Girl Guides groups abroad,” says Violet. “There was no instant way to communicate with the rest of the world, only by phone or by writing.”
Helping out is a big part of the Guides ethos.
“In 1991, when the Tall Ships came to Cork, we were asked to help out with the catering,” says Violet.
“We set up shop in premises behind the City Hall. I remember we estimated that we made 7,996 sandwiches. And we gave breakfast to the night watchman.”
Many bonds were formed.
“The great friendships made are really special too,” says Violet. “A Guide is a sister to every other Guide. No matter what creed or class; the other belongs.”
Another famous Cork woman belongs.
“Whenever I run around Fota, I run past a little cottage near the railway station,” says Silver Olympic medallist, Sonia O’Sullivan, who was also a guide, growing up in Cork.
“That was where I had my first weekend away with the Girl Guides.
“I clearly remember the ghost stories that we were told during the night and the toasted marshmallows while sitting around the camp-fire.”
So the toasting of marshmallows by the camp-fire was almost a rite of passage?
“There was always huge fun and enjoyment involved,” she says.
“The exercise from the expeditions involving activities like kayaking, rock climbing and hiking was a great bonus.
“It gives me great enjoyment to see girls getting on in life.
“I have always said that Guiding is complementary to their formal education; they learn things in Guides that they don’t learn in schools.
“There is a lot of talk these days about teenagers not getting enough exercise, but the outdoor life in Guiding gives them the exercise they need.”
Violet is a Head Brown Owl and a Wise Owl. Her contribution to the Girl Guides has been phenomenal.
“The pin I was presented with is very beautiful,” she says showing me the jewel in the velvet box.
“I shall treasure it always.”
And Violet will wear the pin with pride, just like she wore her Badge of Honour as a Girl Guide.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN THE GUIDES
For more information about the Girl Guides contact the Girl Guides National Office: 01-6683898, or Cork Office: 1, Lower Glanmire Road, Montenotte, Cork. Phone: 021-4500414.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, (WAGGS), was formed in 1928 and has member organisations in 145 countries.
Girls are eligible to join the Guides between the age of 10 and 14. Age limits may differ in some organisations.