by Claire Chavasse
This article was first published by the Co. Dublin Beekeepers Association who requested Claire to write the article for their Christmas Newsletter in 2005.
I remember very clearly the first time I heard Gormanston mentioned. It was 1990 and I had gone along to the AGM of our local beekeeping association, I wanted to keep bees and that seemed the best place to start. Of course I was quite out of my depth as the talk turned to the current 1990 worries and also the chat about the phenomenal honey crop that there had been in 1989. At the end of the evening our Chairman Micheál Moynihan thrust a piece of paper in front of me and said, "That's where you must go, Gormanston" With no members of my family even remotely interested in bees, I knew that my beekeeping learning curve would have to be a steep ascent.
I spent the Summer accompanying two members of our Association when they visited their bees, although I did little handling of bees I learned a great deal by just watching them. They were very gentle and their teamwork, smoking and handling the frames demonstrated perfect timing.
I don't know what I expected on arrival at Gormanston, I was not at all fazed by dormitory sleeping, I had spent too many years at boarding school for that to worry me and once I found that single elusive bathroom I was happy.
I know that I had not expected the high standard of lecturing that we received, and remember that was in the days before overhead projectors. Our lecturers had a blackboard and chalk, nothing else. Brother Kennedy brought in a wonderful array of beekeeping equipment to show us which was a great help.
I had one Beekeeping book then, "The Complete Guide to Beekeeping" by Roger A. Morse. We had seen it reduced in price to £2.99 from £4.95 in some bookshop somewhere when "we" were thinking of keeping bees when my husband retired. The other half of "we" dropped out very quickly and I was on my own. Although "The complete Guide to Beekeeping" was written by an American for the American market, together with the lectures it got me through my preliminary exam. I have no idea who examined me for my practical exam that day, but I remember as I turned away at the end of the exam the final remark made by the unknown invisible face behind the veil was "Enjoy your beekeeping". What a perfect piece of advice for a newcomer to the craft. For the last fifteen years I have been making sure that I do just that, enjoy it.
I didn't return to Gormanston until 1994 when I took my Intermediate exam, I had thought that all the lectures would be well above my head. I have never missed a year since then. Perhaps the exam years stand out most clearly when the adrenalin ran and I thought my hand would fall off from the unaccustomed writing. I survived the lecturer's exam as all lecturers do, however they may feel before it, and yes Dan Deasy had his extra rather more difficult question up his sleeve for me. Will the lecturer's exam ever be the same now without Dan?
I have watched Gormanston change and develop over the fifteen years since I first went there. What a brilliant idea it was to introduce the Workshops, Beekeepers are practical people and demonstrating hands on beekeeping is much more effective than talking about it. However I have enjoyed and benefited from listening to many guest lecturers, some of them experts in a particular field, others experienced beekeepers with the ability to talk on any aspect of the craft in a way that the listener can't fail to understand.
Since 1999 I have been looking at Gormanston from the inside as I have been lecturing there. I now appreciate the fact that Gormanston never stands still; each year there are changes to the programme reflecting the changes that are happening in beekeeping and catering for the changing beekeepers who attend Gormanston. In 1990 there were few if any visitors from overseas, now we have regular visitors from the UK who are as addicted as many of us here in Ireland. A couple of years ago I was delighted to see four beekeepers from South Africa at Gormanston, I would very much like to see more beekeepers from developing countries attending Gormanston. I think that we have a great deal to offer, excellent courses catering for every level and such good value. Where else can you go and stay for six days be housed, fed and learn so much? I have heard several English beekeepers say that they would not be able to run a similar course in England, they recognise the incredible amount of work that is done entirely voluntarily by a small core of organisers. Eddie O'Sullivan has been putting together the lecture programme since I started attending and Kathleen and Michael Woulfe have been sitting behind that table welcoming every arrival for I don't know how many years.
We Irish beekeepers are very fortunate to have such an institute as Gormanston available to us, it is worth cherishing.