Gormanston Index
  David A. Cushman logo  

A First Visit to Gormanston, by David Blackwood

David Blackwood at 2005 National Honey Show, Photo... Dave Cushman.
David Blackwood's article detailing his first visit to the FIBKA Gormanston Summer School, a conference for beekeepers of all ages and experience. It is published here with his permission and has also appeared in 'An Beachaire' (The Irish Beekeeper) magazine.

A First Visit to Gormanston

In one's and two's or maybe three's and four's beekeepers from all parts of Britain "Crossed over the sea to Ireland". When the words of the song that the above quotation comes from were written, it was often that it was a perilous journey by sea before one reached the destination. Now it can be different, although there are ferries that travel from Wales to Ireland, this correspondent flew from Stansted airport to Dublin.

Everyone were making their way to the Franciscan College at Gormanston in County Meath just north of Dublin to attend the Federation of Irish Beekeepers' Associations Annual Summer Course that commenced on Monday 24th July and continued until Saturday 29th July 2006. The Franciscan College is a boy's boarding school, but as the boys were on their summer holiday, beekeepers took it over. I was amazed at the facilities that were provided for the boys. There was a swimming pool, a sports hall, a golf course (these were used by the local population), tennis courts, cricket, football and rugby pitches. Also a large dining ball in which we took all our meals that were nicely cooked and with plenty of it to eat.

I understand that there were 270 beekeepers and their families in residence, which were twenty more than last year. Also in attendance was a party from Denmark and the person that had travelled the furthest, from San Francisco in California in the U.S.A. It was while attending Apimondia 2005 the international bi-annual beekeepers conference and exhibition that was hosted by the Federation of Irish Beekeeper's Association in Dublin that it was suggested to me by Claire Chavasse of Cappagh Co. Waterford that I would enjoy the 'Gormanston Course' and enjoy it I did!

Before I arrived I did not know what to expect I had heard from beekeeping friends that have attended that there is plenty to occupy one's time. When I was presented with the programme I realised what they had meant. Running concurrently during the first four days were lectures for advanced intermediate and preliminary students and also workshops. Whilst some of the advanced lectures were by Irish beekeepers, the visiting lecturer was Richard Ball from Devon. Richard is the head of the British National Bee Unit of the Central Science Laboratory at Sand Hutton in York although he lives in Devon, he commutes to Yorkshire when necessary. During the week he was kept extremely busy presenting seven different lectures on varied subjects.

When I saw the programme I decided to take part in everything that I was interested in and could successfully manage. The first task was to find my bedroom 69B. The room in the northeast block was divided into three cubicles and each had a bed and wardrobe in which to store clothes. The room also contained three desks that had their own reading lamps and double power points and a washbasin. All very comfortable and adequate for my requirements. Very soon afterwards I met the other residents of my room, Gerald Kelly from Co. Clare, Eire and Roger Patterson from Slinfold, in Sussex, England.

On Tuesday morning I took part in the Pollen Analysis workshop organised by Ruary Rudd, and in the afternoon the workshop on Websites With Dave Cushman. Wednesday morning again microscopy, but this time dissection with Dennis Ryan and Redmond Williams. In the afternoon in the company of a swarm of beekeepers we followed Michael MacGiolla Coda with his fishing rod and lure that had some queen attractant on it, all around the playing fields and over the golf course trying to locate drone congregations. Although the fishing rod was held as high as possible, drone congregations were not forthcoming. Wednesday evening I attended Richard Ball's illustrated talk concerning his visit to Malta. The honeybee respiratory system lecture by Denis Horgan on Thursday morning and the honeybee blood circulation system by Willie O'Byrne on Friday morning were very interesting and I learnt a lot, making notes as fast as I could.

Thursday afternoon most of us took part in a coach trip to Trim Castle, which was used as a location in one of the sequences of a film. I forget which although we were told.  [Braveheart, Ed.] The original castle was a wooden structure that was subsequently burnt down, but replaced with a stone keep at the time of the Norman occupation and was further developed in the l2th and early 13th centuries. It was the first castle to be built in Ireland by the Normans. Most of it is in ruins although we were able to climb up to the top of the keep to view the surrounding countryside. An attractive Irish colleen explained the history of the castle to us.

Clustered around hives in the grounds watching experienced beekeepers explaining to beginners the activities of the bees inside, I was gratified to note that reference was made to Ted Hooper and the five points to look for when opening up a colony. Ted taught this to me when he was county beekeeping instructor for Essex and is further explained in his book "Guide to Bees and Honey".

Other activities also took place during the week, as I wrote earlier in this article I had decided I would take part in everything that I felt that I could. When I read in the programme that there was to be a choir practice in the church I decided to 'have a go'. With Sean Barren at the organ we sang various chants and hymns and Margaret Johnston rehearsed her solo. This choir practice was in readiness for the annual Mass of living and deceased members that was held on Wednesday morning. For myself it was a very moving and enjoyable occasion because although I have attended Mass in the past, I have never actually taken part in one fully as I did on that morning. Later on during Wednesday, John Donoghue took a group photograph with everyone standing on the steps of the college.

During Thursday evening I took part with many others in the Social evening consisting of song, dancing and monologues. Another enjoyable occasion. One family took part in the song "These boots were made for walking" and were warmly applauded for their efforts. Not having attended previously I wonder wether those that performed actually learn new items to present at the sing-song or whether they do the same items every year.

On Friday with 31 other beekeepers I sat the written paper of the Preliminary examination that was followed by a practical session at hives. The written part of the examination consisted of 20 questions that had to be answered in 30 minutes and I found the time to be pressing and I was concerned that I had not written enough answer to each. As there were so many of us we were divided into groups and in turn we ventured towards a particular hive to be examined by a senior beekeeper. At the hive to which I was allocated I was disappointed to find that it was a queenless nucleus, there were no eggs not even laid by laying workers. I consider that at least a nucleus with a viable queen laying eggs, and having larvae in all stages of development ought to have been provided for examination candidates. On the Friday other beekeepers were sitting their Advanced and Intermediate practical and scientific papers and I trust that they did as well as I did in the Preliminary, which I passed.

Saturday saw the review of the course, the presentations of the certificates for the preliminary exam and the official closure of the course.

I would like to express my thanks through this column for a very enjoyable time. I have met some very interesting people and made many new friends. The catering was very good and more than adequate. I was glad that I was talked into coming and I look forward to coming again in the not too distant future. Thank you everyone for everything. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learnt a lot.

Next year the course commences on Monday 23rd July, so put the date in your diary and book.

David J. Blackwood, Hawkwell Essex, England.

  Transcribed... 27 September 2006, Revised... 22 August 2007,
Source Code last updated...
This page has actually been validated by W3C Javascript Navigational elements not used
favicon and link to G8MZY.co.uk