I’m 14 now, but I was about eight years old when I started beekeeping. I first got interested when Dad (Tom) was talking about it and I wanted to go to one of the meetings with him – it just started from there really. We didn’t have any hives or anything, so we decided to go to a meeting for beginners with the Ballyhaunis Beekeepers Association, as it was the closest one to us. We live in Claremorris, Co Mayo.
We started going to the meetings regularly. We met other people who were interested in the process too and we learned all about beekeeping. You have to start off slowly, so you wouldn’t get hives straight away. I was the youngest beekeeper in the Ballyhaunis association at the time.
I love learning about the bees and how they work. I also enjoy meeting people and going places with the association as well. We’ve gone to a lot of open days and honey shows around the country. I went to the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers (IMYB) in Slovakia. It happens once a year, and young beekeepers from all around the world meet up.
There were 29 countries represented at the meeting and there were 87 contestant
It’s like a competition, but that’s not the whole reason for it. There are awards and medals to be won, but you’re mainly there to meet people and to represent your country in beekeeping. There were 29 countries represented at the meeting and there were 87 contestants. I was one of three representatives from Ireland.
In beekeeping, there are three exams you can do to progress in levels
There were two other boys and their dads – my mum (Annette) came with me. I met people from Egypt, Lebanon and Australia. I learned a new way of queen-rearing, it was very interesting.
In beekeeping, there are three exams you can do to progress in levels. Preliminary is the first level, you have a written exam and a practical to do for that.
I was the youngest beekeeper in the country to pass that exam at the time. I was only nine. There’s a theory test for the second level, but it also includes a practical and a scientific exam. The final level is for expert beekeepers, but I haven’t got that far yet. I’m on the first part of the second level.
At first, Dad and I got two hives – one was a backup in case there was a problem with the other. We got the kit at that time too, through the association. We had a friend, Gerry O’Neill, who already had hives, so we just watched and learned from him until we were ready.
My friends don’t really talk about my beekeeping. It’s not something that’s brought up all the time. There are some people who are interested and like hearing about the bees, but it’s not for everyone.
My classmates are too afraid to come and see the hives because they know that I get stung a lot. My dad and Gerry don’t seem to mind it much, but it still hurts when it happens.
We have around 50 hives now, including nucs. Nucs are different to hives, they’re smaller. That’s where bees start off, and where they develop into a hive.
The hives are bigger and that’s where we get all our honey from. The honey we make is from a mix of wildflowers. The bees get it from trees and any flowers growing around the area.
They usually fly up to a 3km radius around their hive. The honey can change slightly, depending on what type of flowers the bees have visited, so technically, our neighbours gardens can influence the way the honey turns out.
Bóthar Dubh Bees
Last year, the Lord Mayor of Dublin invited young beekeepers from all over Ireland to visit. I was one of the few people chosen because I did a presentation for my primary school about beekeeping and biodiversity. I decided to give him a pot of honey and show him some of the produce from the west of Ireland. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of beekeeping. It’s one of those things where you learn something new nearly every day. The bees are so interesting you never really tire of it.
I’m in second year now and I don’t think that I would like to go into the area of beekeeping professionally. I will definitely keep it up as a hobby in the future. We do sell the honey we make from home. It’s called Bóthar Dubh Bees, named after where we live in Claremorris, Co Mayo.
I would recommend to anybody interested in beekeeping to find your local association. That is where you’ll get the building-blocks for beekeeping. If it wasn’t for the Ballyhaunis Beekeepers Association, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. They set you up with the kit, their knowledge and the bees themselves.
It’s a great place to meet people and learn about everything. They told the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations (FIBKA) about me, and that’s how I got to meet the Lord Mayor of Dublin.