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The Formation of The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations

The inaugural meeting was held at the Royal Dublin Society’s rooms, Ballsbridge at 12 noon on April 21 1881. There were thirty persons present.

In 1887 Mr. H Chenevix J.P. became Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the I.B.K.A. and continued in that position for a period of thirteen years. He was mainly responsible for its continued progress. He introduced a monthly circular of notes and hints, which was supplied free to all members. The I.B.K.A. was now well on it’s way to maturity.

The 1881 Land Act gave much assistance to the majority of Irish tenant farmers but it did not improve the plight of small farmers in the west of Ireland.

Eventually the British Government established the Congested Districts Board in 1891. It decided to provide this board with adequate sources of revenue. The idea was to give the families in the poor law electoral divisions of counties Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, and West Cork, a better reward for their labour.

The board continued its activities for a period of thirteen years from 1891 to 1904 when it was taken over by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction.

In its first annual report for the year 1892, laid before the House of Commons on February 24 1893, it was recommended that beekeeping be included in the board’s work in future, as it deserved encouragement.

The secretary of the board immediately appointed Mr Turlough O’Bryen to be instructor in beekeeping covering the respective area. He proved to be an outstanding success in this assignment and remained in the post until 1924.

In 1894 a special committee under the technical advisor, Mr C.N. Abbott, designed a hive, at the office of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, to suit the requirements of the congested districts board.

It was a tremendous success and became known as the Congested Districts Board hive (C.D.B.). The Abbott Brothers, 23 Merchants Quay, Dublin, supplied approximately one thousand of these hives to the board. It was the first standardised beehive to be put on the market in these islands. It was an outstanding hive for the production of section honey.

1897 American Foulbrood outbreak

This disease is as old as time. Aristotle described it as an inertness, which seized the bees and caused a bad smell in the hive. Von Schirach in 1769 was the first authority to give the disease the name of Foulbrood.

It was the introduction of the movable frame hive that showed up its existence in Ireland. It did not readily appear in skep beekeeping as the bees in the skep were destroyed on a regular basis and the honeycombs were all removed.

1901 Cork Beekeeping Association founded

The initial meeting was held at the Assembly Rooms, South Mall on July 5 1901. Mr William Deely, Whites Cross was elected Hon. Secretary, and the Chairman was Mr. R.M. Martin, V.P.

The Cork Exhibition 1902

This was an agricultural exhibition and the members of the newly formed Cork Beekeepers’ Association played their part in urging the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction to erect a large straw skep focusing public attention on the beekeeping craft.

The skep was twenty feet high. It was constructed with straw ropes wrapped around a frame of timber covered with canvas and felt. The D.A.T.I. flagpole was placed on top.

Inside it had three circular shelves on which exhibits of honey and beeswax were accommodated. In addition a wide shelf was placed around the perimeter to provide for the display of hives and other beekeeping appliances. This was the largest exhibition of the beekeeping craft ever seen in Ireland. There were exhibits on display from all thirty-two counties. The exhibition lasted from May to November 1902.

1904 The Irish Bee Guide Published

The author of this Bee Guide was Rev. J.G. Digges MA and he also wrote the revised edition ‘The Practical Bee Guide’. It ran into sixteen editions, totalling seventy-six thousand books published.

In an obituary on his death in 1933, the great English commercial beekeeper and author of three books on the craft, R.O.B. Manley, stated, “It was a beautifully written book judged merely as a book of literature. In addition to this, it is undoubtedly by far the best of the general guides to beekeeping published in the British Isles.” Its sales are sufficient evidence of the truth of this statement. Rev. Digges also published The Irish Bee Journal that continued until his death.

1907 Special Course in Beekeeping at Albert Agricultural College

This special course in beekeeping for horticultural instructors was arranged between the department of agriculture and the county committees of agriculture with whom the instructors were employed.

There was a full attendance of the required instructors at the course, at the end of which a stiff examination was held. Following this course every county committee of agriculture in Ireland had qualified instructors in horticulture capable of giving instruction in the beekeeping craft.

1908 The Bee Pest (Ireland) Bill

This Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. T.N. Russell vice-president D.A.T.I. on June 18 1908. Second reading July 10, third reading July 13 passed through the House of Lords, received Royal assent and became law in Ireland.

1912 Discovery of Isle of Wight disease (Acarine) in County Dublin

Mr. T O’Bryen, Beekeeping inspector, on the instruction of the Department of Agriculture visited the apiary of Mr. Wm. Scaly Gossett, Woodlands, Rochestown Avenue, Blackrock, Co.Dublin and took samples. Within a couple of days a bacteriological examination had been made and it was confirmed to be Isle of Wight disease. It was believed that the disease was introduced into Ireland by means of second-hand appliances from a diseased district in England.

A sub-committee was appointed by the I.B.K.A. to co-operate with the Department of Agriculture in handling the situation. It was too late to contain the outbreak because within the week a second outbreak was discovered at Mr. McDonalds apiary at 1 Burdett Avenue, Off Sandycove Rd., Dunlaoghaire.

The introduction of the I.O.W. (Acarine) was catastrophic, both for the Irish beekeepers and their organisation. D.A.T.I. had no statutory powers to deal with any bee disease except Foulbrood.

The Acarine increased rapidly. Thirty-nine cases were reported in 1912/13. By the years 1924/25 it was so prevalent in some counties that it resulted in a complete loss of all bee stocks.

As a result of this degeneration some county committees, especially County Wexford, decided to import Dutch bees which, according to the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, were free from the disease. In some cases they proved not to be immune. It was discovered that where Dutch Bees were crossed with the native black bee larger numbers of stocks survived.

The infestation continued to increase, being very prevalent from 1924 to 1927, and then a virulent form of the infestation 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.

April 20th 1939 Committee Meeting

Mr. M.H.Read was in the chair, also present was Miss Morgan, and Mr. M.J. Bruton. The sole business of the meeting was to consider the advisability of winding up the I.B.K.A. It was therefore decided that this matter be placed before the annual general meeting on May 4 1939 and that the ordinary business of the AGM be made contingent on a decision to continue the I.B.K.A.

This was the last meeting recorded in the minute book. So ended the first phase of the I.B.K.A.

The Federation is born

In 1942 Robert N. Tweedy decided to give a series of talks on beekeeping in the Country Shop, St.Stephen’s Green, Dublin as he felt there was a need for a beekeeper’s organisation in Dublin.

These talks were very well attended and as a result twelve of the leading enthusiasts met on 14 January 1943 in the offices of Arthur Ganley, 20 Lincoln Place, Dublin and established an association. R. N. Tweedy was elected Chairman and A. Ganley, Honorary Secretary both pro tem. A week later on 21st January 1943 at the same venue the County Dublin Beekeepers’ Association was formally launched.

As time went by the membership gradually increased to over two hundred and as a result two other branch associations, Mount Merrion and Balbriggan, were formed.

A short time after this R. N. Tweedy suggested that an effort be made to contact any other beekeepers’ associations, which may be still functioning throughout the country including the six counties of Northern Ireland, with a view to forming an all Ireland body.

These associations were located with the assistance of the County Committees of Agriculture and were invited to assist in forming a Federation.

In June 1943 the honorary secretary of the newly formed Ulster B.K.A. informed the County Dublin B.K.A. that there were 23 local associations in the Six Counties and intimated that they would welcome the setting up of an All Ireland Federation. However, when this body was formed they did not associate themselves with it.

On the 9th of August 1943 the officers of the County Dublin B.K.A. with Miss E. Thompson, Dr. W. Sexton and Mr. E. Lemass were constituted a Federation Sub-Committee with power to inaugurate an All Ireland body.

After a lot of effort the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations was duly established on St.Patrick’s Day, 1944 at 20 Lincoln Place, Dublin. Such was the birth of the present Federation of Irish beekeepers’ Associations and it has stood the test of time right down to the present day with a membership of approximately 3000.