Blast from the past
The inaugural meeting of the Irish Beekeepers Association was held on Friday, 22nd April 1881, in the Committee Rooms of the Royal Dublin Society. The association was founded as a result of the increased interest in beekeeping at that time.
There were many discoveries which were transforming the craft.
Langstroth had recognised the significance of bee space and movable frame hives were replacing skeps.
Extractors, smokers, foundation, queen excluders, various bee escapes and other appliances were also now being manufactured. The effects of the industrial revolution was considerable on nineteenth century beekeeping. Without machinery and the conversion of trees into useful planks, the production of wooden hives would not have been viable.
The IBA enjoyed success and steady growth. Honey shows and beekeeping demonstrations were held, and an examination system was established to further raise standards and encourage the adoption of a modern humane beekeeping system.
It was hoped that it would no longer be necessary to kill the bee colony to harvest the honey.
The Association acquired a large "Bee Tent" with which it toured the country, attending county shows and making contact with rural beekeepers.
Brother Joseph from Loughrea, and the Rev. J.M. Aldridge, rector from Eyrecourt were prominent at that time lecturing and doing demonstrators. Bee driving competitions, which sound very curious today, were a common feature of many of these demonstrations.
The Irish Beekeepers Association continued to grow.
Several counties founded their own associations and affiliated to the IBA. It had become the first countrywide association for organised beekeeping in Ireland.
Poverty and deprivation were widespread in Ireland at that time. The Congested Districts Board was established in 1891 to help provide assistance for these issues.
The CDB initiated many schemes for the betterment of those living in impoverished areas along the west coast and parts of the coast of Ulster. One cottage industry which they promoted was beekeeping. This was in conjunction with the IBA.
In 1894, Irelands' most iconic hive, and the first standardised hive here and in the UK, was manufactured. It was the CDB hive and it has never been surpassed for the production of section honey.
The CBD hive is still manufactured commercially today, by a firm in Donegal.
The Congested Districts Board employed a number of beekeeping instructors, the most famous of which was undoubtedly Turlough O'Bryen (The Beeman from the Co. Clare). He was renowned for his knowledge and enthusiasm. Turlough traveled incredible distances on a bicycle in all weathers to help beekeepers across Ireland. Turlough was a member of the Irish Beekeepers Association and for a time was the chairman.
In 1897, the Rev. J.G.Digges (The Father of Irish Beekeeping), joined the Irish Beekeepers Association and was promptly co-opted onto the committee.
The Rev. Digges was the author of "The Practical Bee Guide," which over the decades ran to seven or more editions. It was unsurpassed as a manual of beekeeping, and still is an interesting book to read.
He was also editor of the "Irish Bee Journal" and "The Beekeepers' Gazett". He was known worldwide as a beekeeper and a man of great intellectual ability. He died in 1933, and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin.
The Isle of Wight disease was first detected in Ireland in 1912, in an apiary near Dublin.
Over the next few years it spread throughout the country with devastating effect. Records show the Irish Beekeepers Association petitioning the government for assistance, and Watson in his history of "Beekeeping in Ireland" refers to "the country being swept clean of bees".
Dan Deasy; a respected writer, beekeeper and a past president of FIBKA, wrote in "Bees, Hives and Honey" (2000), "By the years 1924/25, the Isle of White disease was so prevalent in some counties that it resulted in the complete loss of all bee stocks. Dutch bees were imported and when these were crossed with the native black bee, more stocks survived.
The infestation continued to increase, being very prevalent from 1924 to 1927 when a virulent form of the disease appeared.It completely destroyed all stocks in some counties. Restocking with Dutch bees began in earnest in 1927, when fifteen county committees of agriculture adopted a scheme for restocking."
Dan Deasy lived through most of the twentieth century and so would have first hand experience of what he described.
The impact of the Great War, the Irish War of Independence and the Civil war on beekeeping must have been considerable.
Now with the I.O.W. disease to contend with as well, it is quite remarkable that the Irish Beekeepers'Association continued to exist. But it did, and despite diminished numbers of beekeepers, it continued working and lobbying the department to get support for beekeepers andencouraged research to find a cure for the I.O.W. disease.
It had sixteen lecturers, or as it preferred to call them "experts".
It organised honey shows and presented the Digges memorial trophy.
The arrival of WW2 before recovery from WW1 was anywhere near complete, proved too much for the IBA.
After 1939, the Irish Beekeepers Association ceased to function. By 1943 the tide of war was beginning to turn, the I.O.W. disease was no longer decimating bee stocks, and so a beekeeping association was formed in Dublin.
There were a few different associations before the founding of FIBKA.
"It is noteworthy that in an era of acute religious intolerance and political intolerance The Irish Beekeepers Association attracted members from all religious denominations and political persuasions, it truly was non-political and non-sectarian and long may that ethos continue
References:Digges Practical Bee Guide,Beekeeping in Ireland, A History by Watson Bees hives and Honey by FIBKA,Various leaflets and Pamphlets from Dept. of Agriculture,Encyclopedia of Beekeeping..Hooper and Morse.