The Irish National Foresters Organisation is a mutual aid society, established to help members in distress and the relatives of members who have died. It began in 1877 as a breakaway from the Order of Foresters, which was originally set up in England by medieval serfs. Because they could not meet openly, they gathered in dense forest and gave names associated with forestry to their leaders, such as Chief Ranger, Assistant Chief Ranger, Woodward and Beadle.
The I.N.F grew rapidly and soon became the largest friendly society in Ireland. It is non-sectarian, non-political and there are no class distinctions. When members were admitted to the I.N.F. they were required to sign a declaration stating that they were not 'aflicted with infirmity, symptoms of disease, or hereditary complaint' and that their wife was of 'good and sound constitution' to ensure that they were not likely to have to make a claim on the society's funds.
The ideas of the society are exemplified in the Chief Ranger's address given at the new members initiation ceremony: 'be a true member to members in distress...remembering that...the time may come when you may acquire their assistance and sympathy in return' and 'do not forget dear old-Ireland; teach...those under your care to cherish the memory of her heroes and heroines, her patriots and soldiers...and those who have left behind them so many beautiful and lasting memorials of love of country.' Although it spread throughout the world the I.N.F. retained close-links with Ireland and was a strong supporter of Irish nationalism. To the extent that the constitution of the I.N.F. called for 'government for Ireland by the Irish people in accordance with Irish ideas and Irish aspirations.'