Tom Shaw article - 2009: Thanks to the efforts of the Louth Beekeepers Association we can be assured that, whatever about jobs and money, we have plenty of bees and honey in the Wee County. The association has 120+ members, the youngest of whom is just 12 years old, and interest in beekeeping is growing, according to Tom Shaw PRO of the Louth Beekeepers Association.
Tom, a native of Mountmellick, County Laois, inherited his interest in bees from his father. 'I've always kept bees. My father kept hives until he lost them in an epidemic in the 1940s.' 'Up until the early 1900s every house in Ireland kept bees, but as we became a more 'progressive' society, people gave it up.' Tom himself began keeping bees in 1985 when he set up hives at his home in Ard Easmuinn. 'At the time Luke Leonard, who was one of the best beekeepers in County Louth if not Ireland, was getting rid of his hives so I bought them off him,' he recalls. 'Luke kept a watchful eye on me until I got set up as there were no courses in beekeeping back then. 'There has been a great resurgence in beekeeping in Louth in recent years,' he says. 'This is largely thanks to Sr Catherine in Ardee who runs classes in beekeeping so that people can follow a syllabus and even do exams.' 'There is no reason why anyone can't keep bees once they have an interest in it,' he says. 'You can keep bees whether you live in an apartment, a townhouse or a farm. You don't have to have a garden as the bees will travel to your neighbours' gardens.'
The earliest written records of bees in Ireland date back to Mellifont Abbey (which takes its name from 'the fountain of honey') in the 12th century and while bees survived without the help of people for thousands of years, diseases mean that good husbandry is needed to protect hives. In fact, Tom says that wild bees are in danger of dying out as there is no one to protect them from such diseases. This is the time of year when beekeepers are busy getting their hives ready for the 'honey run' or honey season which traditionally lasts from June 20th to July 20th.
'There would be around 10,000 bees in a hive this time of year and this increases to 40,000 plus when the hive is in full production at the beginning of the 'honey run'. The Cooley area, he says, is famous as being one of the few places in the world where 'Bell honey' is produced by bees which have gathered nectar from Bell Heather.
Most of Louth's beekeepers simply have hives to produce honey for their own needs although there are a few professional beekeepers who sell honey through specialist shops and farmers' markets.
Honey has long been renowned for its medicinal qualities and eating locally produced honey is supposed to help people affected by hay fever. And, Tom says that according to popular belief, bee stings are supposed to ward off arthritis, although he cautions that anyone working with bees should wear protective clothing as a bee sting can prove fatal to a susceptible person.
Besides helping those with an interest in keeping bees, the Louth Beekeepers Association runs an annual tree-planting ceremony with local schools, planting trees which are attractive to bees.