There is a school of thought (most thinly subscribed to!) that Cathair na mBeach rather than Cathair na Mart is the Irish translation of Westport. We know it as the Stone Fort of the Beeves (the old plural of beef) but some claim it is the Stone Fort of the Bees!
Today in Westport there are more beekeepers than beef farmers but that will not help any argument! Suffice to say that we have an abundance of local honey and local beef. All ‘Beef’ versus ‘Bee’ or ‘Mart’ versus ‘mBeach’ conversations are for another day with etymologists, linguists, translators, historians, farmers and beekeepers!
Beekeeping has seen a major revival recently with Westport becoming one of the fastest growing areas in Ireland for new beekeepers. There are many reasons for this newfound interest, ranging from a healthy curiosity to being able to assist in the preservation of bees, a species under serious threat across the world.
Social media regularly highlights ‘the plight of the humble bee’ (the title of a great tune by John Hoban!) Various campaigns seek support to limit the threat posed by products from transnational corporations, like Monsanto, which produces the well-known weedkiller, Round Up. We all know now that products like this kill more than weeds.
Many herbicide, miticide and pesticide products contain glyphosates which is extremely harmful to bees and other pollinators. The internet is full of studies on these products. Even some people in the medical profession are extremely concerned about their use, because of how they affect humans, especially in the immune system.
What is encouraging is that Mayo County Council has two presentations today in Ballina Arts Centre on ‘The Plight of Our Pollinators.’ The first presentation (11am-1pm) is geared at ‘those who are employed in managing and maintaining our parks and open spaces, road verges, etc. The event is particularly relevant to local authority staff, CE employees and elected members. It will also be of interest to businesses and individuals who are involved in maintaining open spaces or areas around their businesses’.
This will be followed (7pm-8pm) with a presentation aimed at ‘community groups, tidy towns committees, resident associations, farmers and landowners. Members of the public, beekeepers and indeed anybody that cares about their environment are welcome to attend’.
People will be informed why up to one-third of our 99 bee species face extinction and what they can do to help. It is part of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan with practical hints on steps one can take to help. Peter Gill, Parks Superintendent with Mayo County Council is the man behind the day and deserves support and praise for such an important and noble venture.
The ancient Brehon Laws enacted specific beekeeping laws called ‘Bechbretha.’ The ‘History of Ireland’ site (stairnaheireann.net) records ‘any bumble bee – ‘bumbóg’ in Irish – taking nectar from plants on a neighbour’s land could be accused of grazing trespass in the same way a cow or sheep would be if they strayed on to neighbouring land. This law was observed by allowing a beekeeper three years of freedom during which time his bees were allowed free reign but on the fourth year the first swarm to issue from the hive had to be given to the neighbour as payment. From all accounts this seemed to work.
Another law existed for the occurrence of bee stings. As long as the person stung had not retaliated by killing the bee he or she would be entitled to a meal of honey from the beekeeper. If, however, the person died from the sting then two hives were paid in compensation to their family.
Many beekeepers adopt the old notion of keeping their bees informed of family events. Even around Westport one should not be surprised at the number of Covies who talk to their bees!
In lauding rightful praise on Mayo County Council for the ‘Best County Council in Ireland’ award, a fitting support for Peter Gill’s work would be for the council to adopt the use of organic pesticides only. Exposing council outdoor staff and citizens to poisonous pesticides on our streets is not the future. Perhaps there is a stronger argument for Cathair na mBeach!