In typical Irish fashion, bees are closely associated with folklore and saints.
St. Modomnoc is credited with bringing bees to Ireland in the 6th Century, when his hives resolutely followed him across the Irish Sea as he returned from Wales.
St Gobnait, whose feast day is 11th Feb, is the patron saint of bees. She is portrayed by Harry Clarke in the luminous stained-glass windows of the Honan Chapel, University College Cork.
This old orchard is now being restored. 50 new apple trees have been planted, some raised beds introduced to the open spaces in the orchard and there are plans to restore the Head Gardener’s House nestled in the corner of this walled, peaceful space. The hives are being constructed by FOTA and Apple volunteers and will play an important role in providing bees to pollinate the apple trees.
To get technical for a minute, pollination involves transporting pollen from the male part of the flower (called the stamen) to the female part (the stigma and pistil), where the ovum is fertilized and seeds and fruit are then produced. Although many plants will set flowers and fruit when self-pollinated, apple trees aren’t very successful at this. They require cross-pollination, which means receiving pollen from other apple trees. Although wind and birds can perform pollination services for apples, bees are by far the most effective.
According to The National Biodiversity Data Centre “There are 101 bee species in Ireland. Nineteen of these species are bumblebees and more than half of these bumblebee species are in decline. Ireland has one native honeybee species. Most of the other 81 bee species in Ireland are solitary. Nearly half of these solitary species are in decline.”
We hope our new bee colonies will be happy in FOTA. The walls of the orchard could no doubt tell many tales. Folklore tells us that we should talk to the bees, tell them of major events such as deaths, marriages, births. With the birth of this new project, we look forward to many interesting conversations in the future.
More reading on the State of Ireland’s Bees:
C.I.T/ The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association (FIBA) joint research project. http://www.irishbeekeeping.ie/index.php/about-us/education/bee-health/current-beehealth-issues/bee-research-project