The bee is a most underrated species; without it our food sources would disappear and we would starve – and yet no native Irish honey bees survive in the wild, due to foreign viruses being brought in on imported bees.
NUIG has joined forces with NIHBS (The Native Irish Honey Bee Society) to breed a strain that will be tolerant to the devastating Varroa Destructor parasite.
“I have no doubt came it in on the back of an imported honey bee,” says Cleggan-based Gerard Coyne, chairperson of NIHBS.
“Connemara, due to its isolation, was one of the last areas in the country to get this Varroa mite.”
The parasite attaches to the body of the bee, and weakens it by sucking ‘bee blood’ or hemolymph. A severe infestation can cause the death of an entire colony.
When it was first discovered in Ireland in 1998, it played havoc with the native Irish Honey Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera), which has been devastated in its native wild environment.
“There are no honey bees living in the wild anymore – they can only live where they are protected,” Gerard adds.
“All the feral colonies have died out – one of last colonies was Connemara, as we didn’t get the mite until 2009. Two years after its arrival, all the wild nests were gone.”
Beekeepers treat their honey bees with organic products but, as in humans, the parasite builds up a resistance and the battle seems impossible to overcome.
While the importation of foreign bees continues, it will never be resolved.
“They do not suit our wet conditions, especially here on the west coast – when they cross-breed with our breeds, you have total confusion, and they get aggressive and unmanageable – people have drifted away from beekeeping due to the aggression in bees.
“The bee likes to go about in private, so they like a nice secluded spot that animals or people can’t interrupt. Bees do things by instinct – they’ve been doing it for millions of years, and they don’t like interference. Too much manipulation disturbs them, stops them working, and makes them aggressive.
“Honey Bees are not naturally aggressive, they will only protect when they feel their home is under threat, or when they’ve got lots of brood, honey, or stores to protect. When they are out foraging, they are totally docile, and are not interested in humans or animals.”
NIHBS, which represents beekeepers from the 32-counties – is lobbying the Department of Agriculture to stop importing bees – that is one of its main aims and objectives.
“The bee we have here is superior to any imported one, and why we can’t protect and conserve it is beyond belief.
“All the bigger beekeepers in Ireland, that produce honey, are using the native honey bee, because it fares out better. Importing bees is a useless exercise – you can’t keep them from going to the wild, and breeding with other bees.
“You must breed from your locally-adapted bees – our bee evolved after the Ice Age, and they have stood the test of time.
“But man always thinks that faraway hills are greener – there’s nothing wrong with bees from other areas, but they have a longer foraging climate; our bees only have a window of 4-5 weeks. When we cross-breed, we get mixed genes, the bee doesn’t know what to do, should I be in Connemara or the Mediterranean? That bee is confused, it gets aggressive, and is more prone to disease because its stressed.”
Evolution has made the Irish bee dark, to attract the sun, whereas the imported bees are yellower.
Our ancestors certainly recognised the importance of the bee for survival, which has sadly been largely forgotten by later generations.
“The honey the bee produces is minute compared to its other values – bees are important for pollinating, they are underrated for their value to farming and crops.
“Without bees, we would starve, our food would start to disappear slowly, and if the bees disappeared – and they are getting scarce – a lot of our food would disappear, and other animals would get weaker, and over time there would be less food, so it is vital for survival.
“Once something leaves the food chain, others will weaken, and after a while our immune system will break down as we won’t have a balanced diet.
“They are wild creatures, but we have domesticated them, and put them under pressure asking them to produce more honey – that’s their winter stores, they will always produce a surplus of honey, and that’s what we steal – we call it harvesting.”
A major aim of NIHBS is to eventually breed a strain of honey bee that will survive in the wild, which is their natural habitat.
With this in mind, scientists at NUI Galway, headed by professor Grace McCormack and PhD student, Keith Browne, have asked beekeepers to send samples of their bees – before any Varroa treatment takes place – to them by May 22.
Beekeepers use the sugar shaker method (the mites fall off) to count the percentage of Varroa mites in their hives. Then, they send a sample of 10 bees to NUIG for analysis.
As part of the breeding programme, beneficial traits such as grooming, temperament, honey production, and disease resistance, are selected.
A second count will take place at the end of August.
“If we can determine Varroa-tolerant bees, and breed from there, hopefully we will keep out other diseases – there is a pest in Italy (Small Hive Beetle) – if we continue to import bees it will arrive on our shores. Then that’s another problem on top of what we have.”
NIHBS and the Connemara Bee Keepers Association run courses and events to promote the survival of the native honey bee.
A ‘Queen-Rearing’ workshop will take place in Oughterard on Sunday, June 12, at Sean Osborne’s apiary (it will be signposted). There will also be demonstrations for beginners, who may be interested in taking up this hobby.
FF colleagues row in behind Crowe in bid at Dáil seat
Galway City Councillor Ollie Crowe has announced that he is seeking a Dáil seat, as a running mate of sitting Fianna Fáil TD, Éamon Ó Cuív, in Galway West.
And the publican from Bohermore has already received the backing of his four colleagues on Galway City Council.
Cllr Peter Keane, who was rumoured to be interested in running, and Cllr John Connolly, who was unsuccessful in the 2016 election despite a decent showing, have both indicated their support for Ollie Crowe.
At a meeting between the five last Friday, Cllrs Connolly and Keane threw their weight behind Ollie Crowe, as did his brother, Mike Crowe and City East newcomer Alan Cheevers.
His name will now go forward to a selection convention, which will be held before the end of September, when Deputy O Cuív returns for the US. A third canddiate could also be added for gender balance.
Ollie Crowe has been a public representative for over a decade, and was elected to the City Council for the third time in May’s local elections. He said now was the time to ‘step-up’, having canvassed for others down through the years.
“I was a wingman for Michael John (Crowe) in 2007 and 2011, and again for John Connolly in 2016. I’ve been approached by a lot of people, including non-Fianna Fáil people, who have encouraged me to put my name forward and I’m heartened by that. I’d like to pay tribute to my four City Council colleagues, for allowing my name to go forward,” said Cllr Crowe, who has strong connections with Liam Mellows Hurling Club.
Fianna Fáil will have a city-based candidate, and Ollie Crowe has appealed for Fianna Fáil members to back his candidacy on the ticket.
He said Fianna Fáil has a ‘mammoth task’ on its hands to win back a second seat in Galway West for the first time since 2007 – but it was achievable.
“In the local elections, Fianna Fáil’s six candidates in the City Council won 4,849 first preference votes, and we took five seats and are the biggest grouping,” he said.
“Fianna Fáil won an additional 17 seats across the country in the locals, and Galway was exceptional in that we won an extra five – we went from three to five seats on the City Council and won three more on the County Council. It’s a huge constituency from Clifden to Clarinbridge, but I’m up for the challenge because I believe it is vital we put the people first.
“This is a Dublin-centred Government; and Limerick has benefitted from having a senior minister. In Galway, we don’t have a senior minister and if Fianna Fáil wins two seats, we will put serious pressure on the Taoiseach of the day to have a Galway representative at the Cabinet table,” he added.
Gardaí asked to monitor Tuam park for anti-social behaviour
Gardaí and Galway County Council have been asked to monitor a park in Tuam which has become a magnet for ‘unbecoming behaviour’ involving teenagers late at night.
One local councillor said he had been inundated with complaints over activities that are taking place in the Palace Grounds in Tuam after dark.
And Cllr Joe Sheridan wants both Gardaí and the local authority to monitor the area on a regular basis – specifically one of the park benches which has become a focal point for the teens.
“There are a lot of unsavoury antics going on,” the Fianna Fail councillor told the Connacht Tribune. “There are gangs of youths assembling there late at night.”
He said that there is a bench located within the view of those using the nearby swimming pool where a lot of the activities are taking place.
“There are teenagers who are assembling there on a regular basis and their behaviour is nothing short of shocking. I fear the worst for some of these young people that are involved.
“Even people walking the grounds are being harassed on a regular basis and that is why I want the area patrolled on a regular basis,” Cllr Sheridan added.
The issue also came before a meeting of Tuam Municipal Council when it was stated that the bench in question, located in one of Tuam’s scenic areas, has been described as an eyesore due to illegal dumping.
Cllr Colm Keaveney said that despite CCTV at both the Palace Grounds and at the bottle and clothes banks nearby, dumping persisted.
“It has become a domestic dump and I can’t understand why people are not being prosecuted. On Monday morning, it was overflowing with domestic waste. Surely we can find out who’s doing it and start prosecuting,” he said.
Cllr Sheridan supported his FF colleague adding that there was also a lot of anti-social behaviour and ‘unbecoming behaviour’ of young ladies and gentlemen taking place on the bench at the Palace Grounds.
He described this bench as the ‘centre point’ for late night gatherings and asked if this could be stopped. Council officials said that they would investigate the claims.
Galway author blessed with the write stuff!
A dark futuristic fairy tale about a woman and her electronic companions is the winner of a major short story contest by a former hardware salesman who only quit his job in Galway City to write 18 months ago.
Stephen O’Reilly won the RTÉ Radio 1 Francis MacManus Short Story Competition beating off 2,000 entries to take the gong.
His entry, Honey Days, is the story of a ménage-à-trois of a kind between Ava, Grace and James, only one of whom is human.
“It’s a little bit science fiction in that this woman who’s very isolated is living with two companions – I hesitate to call them robots – but they’re not quite human and they have an inability to understand just how lonely or isolated she is.”
“The idea has been bubbling away for a number of years. I suppose it took me a month to write it because I wanted to do it as well as I could but in a way nothing ever gets finished – I’m always having to revisit or tweak everything I write.”
Since his decision to write full-time in 2017, Stephen has been shortlisted for a previous Francis MacManus competition and the Seán O’Faoláin Short Story Award. He is also a recipient of a Molly Keane Memorial Award.
He is currently completing the first draft of a novel.
The native of Bundoran studied communications but left college early to emigrate to London where he worked in construction for 15 years. During a quiet spell, he took up writing and had a short story published in the UK – a year after he had submitted it.
“I always planned to write but you get so caught up with pay packets and chasing the money. We moved to Galway after my wife got a job here and I worked in B&Q for ten years but once I turned 50 I decided to have a second crack at it.”
He aims to write 800 words a day, spending between six and hours at a desk in the house the couple bought at Killeeneen outside Craughwell.
“I really work at it – I think that’s the nature of being older and being calmer and more considerate – maybe I wasn’t ready when I was young,” he reflects.
“I have lots of ideas – the beauty of having all this time to write is there is no shortage of ideas, it’s a matter of sitting down and writing them.”
Since his return to the art, short stories are his preferred medium.
“I love short stories – I think they are kind of undervalued. I feel short stories are leading me into longer pieces.
“I’m so happy the judges [Liz Nugent, Sinead Crowley and Declan Meade] saw something in this one.”
The ten shortlisted short stories will be broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 by some of Ireland’s leading stage actors.
Honey Days will read by Jane Brennan who starred in the movie Brooklyn and mini-series The Tudors.