February 11th 2013

Bee deaths ‘not down to pesticides’


New venture has Galway buzzing with possibilities 

LifestyDrle – Judy Murphy talks to local beekeepers about ambitious plan to spread their wings Beekeepers in Galway are buzzing about an exciting venture, which will see community groups throughout the county set up hives in their own areas, as part of a scheme called Educate to Pollinate.

Under the project, which started last Monday night, 20 people from 10 groups are being trained in all aspects of keeping honeybees and will be helped to set up hives Already groups in from places such as Kinvara, Gurteen, Abbey Duniry, Glenamaddy, Furbo, Inverin, Headford and Carroawbrone on the outskirts of Galway City, are involved in the course, which is being offered at a miniscule cost.

The aim is simple, says the Secretary of the Galway Beekeepers Association Michael Hughes. It’s all about educating people and increasing the number of hives in Galway.

That’s important because of the huge role honeybees play in pollinating flowers and plants while they are on the quest for food. That pollination helps ensure a supply of fruit and vegetables for us humans. Not to mention the honey they produce, which is valuable both from a taste and a medicinal point of view. Then there is beeswax, which is used to make a range of goods from candles to cosmetics.

A recent study from the Department of the Environment shows that bees are worth €85 million to the Irish economy. And that’s all very fine, but more people are needed to keep hives, says Michael.

A former rower and a board member of Irish rowing, who works with Valeo Vision Systems in Tuam, Michael only began keeping bees last Spring, when he got three hives. He has embraced his new hobby with enthusiasm and when the association was looking for a secretary, he was happy to oblige.

The Galway Beekeepers Association consisted of over 40 members last year, he says, but that has already increased thanks to the organisation’s work. He’d like to see a continuing “infusion of new blood”, which is where the Educate to Pollinate programme comes in. Michael might be a relative novice at beekeeping, but he describes himself as a creative thinker, who wants to broaden the appeal of this ancient pastime.

“Ninety per cent of our mission is education and getting people active. To protect this species of Irish bee, we need to get people involved and good husbandry.”

Funding for the Educate to Pollinate project is being provided under the Local Agenda 21 programme. This scheme, which arose from a United Nations initiative, promotes sustainable development and biodiversity, and is run by local authorities.

Michael first heard of Agenda 21 last summer and realised it could help the Galway Beekeepers.

“If this is about biodiversity, the bee is the very future of biodiversity, in terms of helping the landscape to flourish. So we ticked all the boxes [for funding]!”

The tutor for the Educate to Pollinate course, Breandáin Ó Cochláin, is “one of the most eminent beekeepers on these islands”, says Michael.

A retired professor of Physical Chemistry at NUIG, he has served as education officer of the Irish Beekeepers Association and prepared exams for the Irish organisation that were also taken up by beekeeping groups in the UK.

The full cost of the training has been provided by Agenda 21 and the Galway Biodiversity Action Plan funding. Participants must pay €40 to cover a member’s subscription to the Galway Beekeepers Association (for insurance).

The training, which consists of two hours over six evenings, will also involve a visit to an apiary. When it’s completed, the communities involved will be assisted in setting up a local hive with expert advice and some basic equipment if that’s required.

Galway Beekeepers’ Association Chairman Dr Breandán Ó Cochláin during the class at the Ballybane Enterprise Centre. Photos: Joe O’Shaughnessy. February 3, 2012 – 7:00am

Judy Murphy, Galway City Tribune February 2012


An Bechbretha: Old Irish Bee Laws

In Ireland during the early medieval period beekeeping was so important that there was a complete list of laws dedicated to beekeeping. The bee laws, called the Bechbreatha (Bee-judgments) were part of a set of laws that governed the country called the Brehon Laws. Of all the laws relating to land and agriculture, the most attention was paid to role and significance of the bee in Irish culture at the time. There were over twenty pages dedicated to bees and beekeeping covering swarms, hives and honey production.

One example of the Brehon Laws is as follows:

“It was known that bees gathered their honey from the surrounding district, so the law was that the owners of the four adjacent farms to the beekeeper were entitled to a certain small proportion of the honey: and after the third year each was entitled to a swarm!”

Further information on the role of the bees in early Irish agriculture and the Bechbretha will be added shortly.

Suggested Reading: Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law (Dublin, 1988); Early Irish Farming: The Evidence of the Law Texts (Dublin, 1997)