It’s widely reported that Ireland, like the rest of the world, is suffering from a declining population of bees. The Government are making plans to open up designated bee corridors and experts everywhere recommend not cutting lawns or hedgerows in order to encourage certain flowers that help the bee population to thrive.
Beekeeping has historically been a favoured way to harvest by-products like honey and wax, while for others; it’s an interesting scientific hobby and a good way to protect bees from dying out completely.
One such beekeeper is Elizabeth Byrne from Claremorris, Co. Mayo who, at the age of just 13, has already been involved in this field for six years.
The youngster is just back from Slovakia, where she represented Ireland at the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers (IMYB), and at nine years of age, she was the youngest beekeeper in the country to pass the preliminary exams.
The IMYB takes place every year where selected participants travel internationally to discuss various methods of beekeeping and to transfer knowledge and methodologies from various corners of the world, but most of all, compete against each other.
Just three people were selected to travel to represent Ireland and Elizabeth was joined by a boy from Carlow and another teammate from Northern Ireland.
There were 29 countries represented globally by 87 contestants. The competition was taken by each member individually and marked.
Elizabeth scored 23rd overall, while her team came 5th and Ireland was positioned 10th in the final count.
“I met people from Egypt, Lebanon and Australia and I learned a new way of queen-rearing”, it was very interesting,” said the enthusiastic Mayo native.
Elizabeth first took an interest in the subject when her father Tom discovered that there was a Beekeepers Association in nearby Ballyhaunis and they went along out of interest.
She found that she thoroughly enjoyed the group, “ It was great because the association then helped us to start up our own hives and could show us how to get all the equipment”.
You don’t have to be an established beekeeper to join the association, everybody who enlists will start out as a novice and then there are a number of courses that have to be taken in order to progress to the highest level.
Elizabeth and her father did the beginners course that year and Elizabeth took to it naturally. She explained that there are a number of exams that must be taken, “First there is a theory test and then a practical, which involves finding your brood and a queen, there are more Intermediate exams that come after and they are broken into a further three parts, and so on,” she said.
Elizabeth is currently in the second phase of learning at intermediate level that is more focused on the scientific side of beekeeping such as studies on disease.
This is where the teenager shines; the course is not set up for any specific age group, so Elizabeth must take exams that would usually be taken by adults. “I used to find that difficult, but now that I’m going to secondary school, I will be better equipped to answer the longer questions”, she explained.
Listening to Elizabeth talking about her passion, you realise just how intricate the whole process is, how much study is involved and the amount of time that must be spent monitoring the hives, of which she and her father look after forty.
It seems to be one of those subjects that by asking one question, it opens the door to ten more, and you can only admire such a knowledgeable young lady, as Elizabeth discusses the answers in detail.
“We’re in the process of adding supers on to the hives, which is where the bees store all the honey,” she said as the impressive teenager explained that she has started making her own honey, which won third place in Phoenix Park last year.
Elizabeth is also no stranger to an odd bee-sting, “I’ve been stung loads of times,” said the youngster, who insists that “It’s not that bad,” and accepts that it is all part of the beekeeper's trade.
She has great plans for her future in beekeeping, “When we get to pick our subjects in school, I would hope to get into Ag. Science and connect farming with beekeeping, and hopefully, make the farmers' life easier with the bees and the beekeeper's life easier with the farmer”.
Elizabeth reminds people of how important it is to keep a patch of lawn or field growing long and letting the dandelions grow to help support the welfare of bees.
Her classmates and teachers are very interested in her work and perhaps the 13-year-old will inspire others to start their own hives in the future.
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