William McVicker was the young and enthusiastic Secretary of the Mission Sunday School, connected with St. Mary Magdalene Parish, in Belfast's Donegall Pass. In March 1888, he read an article in The Sunday at Home Family Magazine, entitled 'The Problem of the Poor', about the work that William Smith was doing in Glasgow with an organisation formed there in 1883 and known as the Boys' Brigade.
That summer, he sailed from Ireland to Scotland, to meet William Smith, with a burning desire to start such work in Ireland. He returned to Belfast, bubbling over with enthusiasm, to start a company of the Boys' Brigade. Application for enrolment of the first company to be formed in Ireland was made on 29th October 1888. Objections from Dublin Castle proved a delaying factor, and enrolment was not granted until the 31st December 1888.
By 1890, there were 12 companies in and around Belfast, and a Battalion was formed. In the early years, all companies in what was then the north of Ireland were members of this Belfast Battalion, and received a Belfast designation (e.g. 90th Belfast, which was in Millisle, 30 miles away).
By 1960 there were 160 companies in Northern Ireland with over 10,000 members.
Today there are 13 battalions and 307 companies in Northern Ireland.