An article written by Email Chris Slade , originally intended for publication in 'Ireland's Own'.
AN ENGLISHMAN GOES TO GORMANSTOWN
As I drove towards the airport for my annual visit to the Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations' annual Summer School at Gormanston College my mind was on where I was going and not what I was doing and as a result I nearly wrote off the car and myself within 5 miles of home. But it was just a near miss and I proceeded more cautiously with both car and brain in gear and got to Exeter Airport safely.
I found a place in the car park, but it was about half a mile from the Departures area and as I arrived I saw that I had just missed the shuttle bus. So I started the long trudge with my suitcase, and then retraced my steps to lock the car. I should like to meet the man who had the idea of putting wheels on the bottom of suitcases and shake him by the hand.
The flight to Dublin was uneventful and I soon retrieved my case from the carousel. Usually a friend meets me but this year his car was sick so I had to catch a bus. I don't know whether I was looking particularly bewildered but two people came up and offered me guidance in as many minutes.
I had the bus timetable from the internet so I knew the number and route and the bus turned up only a few minutes late. This was my first time on an Irish bus so I welcomed the opportunity to gaze about me. There was a notice just behind the driver forbidding anybody to talk to her while the bus was in motion, but this didn't impair a lively and continuous conversation with a passenger near the front for most of the journey.
We drove through Balbriggan and this was the first time that I had seen it. My impression was that it is a bustling, crumbling Victorian town. Most of Ireland smells of fresh paint and new tarmac but the money doesn't seem to have got to the middle of Balbriggan just yet. It seems a friendly town with streetside window sills just the right height and width for a couple of neighbours to take their ease with a cuppa to watch the world go by and verbally set it to rights.
I made a mental note to walk to Balbriggan if time permitted to soak up some of the ambiance (which is liquid and black).
A wide black lady with an even wider smile and two charming infants struggled to get them onto the bus and the pushchair into the luggage compartment underneath it. A passer by came to the rescue, taking charge of the children but almost became an inadvertent passenger herself.
I got off the bus at Gormanstown Cross and started to walk the half mile to the College, towing my suitcase. After about 200 yards a van going the other way stopped and the driver asked me where I was bound, so I told him and he turned round and took me to the door. He was not a beekeeper himself but had heard of one in Termonfeckin who had tried for a World Record bee beard. I was able to provide the name, Philip McCabe, President of FIBKA.
I was just in time for a late lunch. The staff at the door sat beneath notices saying that lunches were to be had only on production of tickets with room numbers. I explained that I had none - 'No problem'- and so I was fed.
I know from previous visits that the Irish are determined carnivores, but they are not bigoted as there was also a notice to say that vegetarians could have their meals without meat upon payment of an additional 50 pence. Pence, mark you, not cents, so the notice must have been a concession to effete English.
Gormanston College is like Hogwarts in that new corridors and facilities keep appearing and disappearing. I was allocated one of three beds in a small dormitory at an upper stratum where I had never ventured before. St Antony of Padua in effigy stood at the entrance to the corridor. A small dormitory is fine for sleeping and for study but I missed the camaraderie and competitive snoring to be had in the 40 bedder on the lower floor where I usually stay.
I explored the facilities and, at the end of the corridor found showers! They are either very new or a well-kept secret, for in previous years I, with other people, have pretended to go for a swim during the day for ablutions, although I did once happen upon, and use, a power-shower halfway up a staircase, but which is gone now.
When, next morning, I went to use the facility I saw that a notice had appeared reading 'Ladies' Washroom', but I had learned by now the Irish attitude to notices and enjoyed my sluice and shave unembarrassed by the occasional modestly clad female drifting by.
I had an errand to perform. There was to be a famous international gathering of beekeepers, Apimondia, to be held later in the year at Dublin. A cohort of us had secured accommodation at University College but needed advice from a knowledgeable person about the local facilities: principally watering holes, sustenance providers and transport links. A girl who identified herself as Tom Kehoe's daughter came to the rescue via the Irish Beekeeper's discussion list. She has been a regular attender at Gormanston since she was 4 days old, but is now a student in Dublin and was able to provide a great deal of helpful information. She should be thanked in person but had to be identified first.
Maráid would know her. She, of the red hair, green eyes and great capacity for mirth has been to Gormanston for 36 years running and is now the wise woman who knows all. She has just taken on her family's allotted role of running the Irish National Honey Show in the stead of her more retiring mother, Dodie. I asked Maráid what Tom Kehoe's daughter looked like and was instantly given a full, but succinct description.
When I went to shower next morning I noticed a new notice had appeared allocating several time slots to men and being almost in time for the early one cleansed myself as usual. No problem.
It was on the Wednesday that during the men's early morning slot, when I had just cleaned my teeth and was about to return to the dorm, an elegant young lady entered, wearing a modest brown top and a skirt that revealed legs that went all the way down to the ground. 'You must be Tom Kehoe's daughter' I exclaimed and introduced myself to her, clad in my pyjamas. Claire, for that is her name, agreed that she is and we conversed. She asked me how I had recognised her and I explained that I had obtained a description from Maráid. 'What did Maráid say about me?' enquired Claire. 'Short skirts.' said I and retreated to the dorm.
Later that day Claire was besashed as the Irish Honey Queen and embraced by the unstung hero Philip McCabe, who is noted for having embraced Honey Queens from many countries during his term of office. She got her photo in the papers and later competed at Apimondia with Honey Queens from all over the World. I'll tell you about that another time.
This was the 6th year I have been to Gormanston and I have yet to find the village. According to the internet the population is about 400; double that in term time. I have been walking around the area and there is a light scattering of houses and bungalows, a small shop that no doubt provides necessaries for pupils and two pubs, the Huntsman and the Cock that straddle the crossroads by the bus stop.
To resolve the problem I purchased a 1:50,000 scale Ordnance map and made enlarged copies of the immediate area so I could improve the detail. I noticed that within a mile of the College were a Holy Well and a Megalithic Tomb.
I tried first to find the Holy Well as post-prandial exercise to work off a substantial lunch (all meals at Gormanston are substantial) and found the location without difficulty. However, thick impenetrable hedges surrounded the field in which it was situated and the only sign of the Holy Water was a muddy roadside ditch. There might have been a way in via a nearby farmyard but I didn't fancy explaining my errand to the resident dog, and, besides, lectures beckoned, so I returned whence I had come, defeated.
Later I checked with local residents who had lived close by all their lives and they knew nothing of the Well.
Next day I set out to find the megalithic tomb. I used the railway bridge as a fixed point and sighted towards a prominent building on the main road. According to the map, the monument should be a smidgeon to the right but all I could see was a field of cabbages unrelieved by tombs. Again the locals knew nothing of it. On the bus back to the airport I did glimpse from the reverse angle some earthy undulations so I shall try again next year. But it might have been a silage clamp.
It did briefly cross my mind that perhaps Osi is as reliable as any other written information I had found in Ireland, but I am sure that I would be doing them an injustice.
A favourite walk at Gormanstown is the mile to the beach, entering by the estuary of the Delvin stream then turning north along the usually deserted sands for another mile and along a track to emerge by the Cock with a healthy thirst.
At first I wondered why it is not a bathing beach, as it appears perfect for families with children equipped with buckets and spades. But then I remembered that on nearly every occasion I have been there I have seen stranded jellyfish. This might be the reason that the only people I have seen swimming there have been wearing wet suits.
My few days at the Beekeepers' Summer School soon came to an end, but I shall return next year and every year that I am able. In the meantime, to remind myself of my time in Ireland I have posted a notice on my office wall reading 'TAKE NO NOTICE OF THIS NOTICE'.