Help for First Timers
Just like going on holiday to a new destination Gormanston takes a couple of days to get into, find everything, know what to do, and what is expected. This page is intended to help the first timer find their feet and avoid making the same mistakes that we all made on our first visit.
It is a well run event that has been run continually by the Federation of Irish Beekeepers FIBKA since 1947. To the best of my knowledge it is the only week long beekeeping course in the world.
What is there for me?
Much of the time there are several events going on at the same time. These are for different ability/knowledge levels and include lectures, demonstrations and workshops. There are three levels - preliminary, intermediate and advanced. These are supposed to be based on the requirements of the Irish exams, but I have never found that obvious.
The preliminary is a course in itself and lasts all week - in theory someone who has never touched a beehive before can take the preliminary exam at the end of the week. The course is mixed theory in the classroom and practical at the hives. It covers much of what you need to know to become a beekeeper.
In my opinion there is virtually no difference in the level of the intermediate and the advanced - certainly as an outside lecturer I have never been told what level I should be speaking at, but it may be they assumed I knew. There can be intermediate lectures that have more content and at a higher level than some advanced.
The lectures are nominally one hour long with good breaks inbetween, so you can be refreshed before going to the next event.
The subjects of the workshops and demonstrations are quite variable, depending on who is available to give them. There are a wide variety of topics, some being repeated. The timing of these events doesn't always coincide with the lectures, so you will have to plan carefully.
There are usually four full colonies and six nuclei for demonstration purposes. There are a large number of native bee enthusiasts in Ireland and the bees are usually of that type. Those I have handled have been very docile, despite being constantly opened during the week by a variety of people including beginners.
The Irish National Honey Show is held at the same time. Judging is on one day when it is obviously closed. The standard is very high.
Who are the lecturers and tutors?
The vast majority are Irish. FIBKA have a lecturers exam and I have always understood that all Irish speakers at Gormanston must have passed it. The letters "CFL" after the lecturers name in the programme stands for "Certified Federation Lecturer". There is a well known guest lecturer from outside Ireland every year. Quite frankly on more than one occasion I have been disappointed at the performance of the guest lecturer and so have many others. Unless a speaker comes from an area where the bees are similar to ours, they often assume that our bees are very prolific. Some guest speakers, exactly the same as those who visit elsewhere, often misjudge the knowledge of the audience. In addition some foreign speakers seem unable to speak for the full hour, some well less than half an hour, which I find annoying. There are a number of speakers from England, Wales and Scotland and they are usually good. There are a lot of good lecturers in Ireland and there is rarely a poor lecture or workshop, though as with other events you may enjoy one more than another.
The FIBKA Lecturers Exam is taken in public at Gormanston and is always worth attending. The candidate speaks on their own subject, then is asked 6 questions by the panel of 3 judges who include the guest lecturer. They then have to speak for a further 10 minutes on a subject that is decided by them selecting one of three envelopes containing different titles. They are given a few minutes to prepare whilst the judges discuss their performance. As this is ad-libbed it is often amusing. You will need to find out if there is a candidate, but this should be on the notice board.
This is usually finalised in the spring and unless there is an unforeseen problem it doesn't get changed. There are plenty of speakers available and even if one falls ill at the last moment there are plenty who could take their place. I was in a lecture on one occasion on "Making Colony Increase" when the speaker became ill after about 15 minutes. There were at least half a dozen in the audience who could have carried on and one did.
One slight complaint is that some titles seem to be repeated with the same speakers in consecutive years. If you go several years you may need to do some shuffling. This is only to be expected, as there isn't too much new in beekeeping and there must be an element of recycling.
How do I find out more?
Have a look at the Gormanston Index on this website, the buttons on the top left and the FIBKA website for the official information. The date is usually fixed well in advance and is always notified on or before the previous event. Notice usually goes on the website very early with the name of the guest speaker and the dates, then the whole programme is displayed when it is complete.
In my view the programme tends to be published too late. Regular visitors will know what to expect, but I suspect some who have never attended before may not book because they don't know what they are getting. I feel this is a pity as beekeepers may miss out on a very informative few days.
What do I get?
The whole week is full board if you book accommodation. The food is plentiful and considering the number being catered for I find it quite acceptable. There is a choice including a salad bar. You won't go hungry! The rooms are dormitory and/or cubicle with male on one floor and female on another. Showers/washrooms/toilets are communal and what can be termed character building. If you want 5 star then forget it, but the cost is incredible value and it's only those with too much cash and no sense of humour that are likely to moan. Accommodation can be obtained outside and a day rate charged for the lectures, but speak to the organisers who will help.
How do I book?
Through the FIBKA website - they will probably need a deposit. There is usually a FIBKA stand at the BBKA Spring Convention where you can pay the balance or book if you haven't already done so. This is what I usually do to avoid paying in foreign currency, but I am well known and they know I won't pull out unless it's an emergency. The whole process is very relaxed.
For those from outside Ireland there are several ferry and flight options. You should do your homework on the various ways of getting to the college, especially if your flight is late, so you can operate plan B if needed. Travel for a first timer may be a bit tricky, but the course organisers are brilliant and will help out if they can. My suggestion if you don't know anyone else who is going is to ask the organisers who else is booked from your area and likely to be on your flight. It's sometimes better if two get lost than one!
I fly from Gatwick and have several options of airline and time, but others only have one flight a day and the timings may not suit. Many aircraft stands at Dublin Airport are a very long way from arrival and departure areas. If you have difficulty walking then take this into account. In order to get fed on the first day you need to be there by 5.0pm.
Gormanston College is some distance from the bus routes and station, but both are within walking distance for someone who is reasonably fit. The cost of a taxi is quite expensive, but better if shared. I find the bus is good and frequent. Board No 101 that stops at Atrium Road Zone 11, which is close to the front of the main airport building. Ask to be dropped off at "The Huntsman". The college can be reached by walking down the road by the side of "The Huntsman".
You will need a supply of euros for a key deposit, if you go to the pub, or for the oddment you may wish to buy. Equipment suppliers will be there, but you need to be careful what you buy if you are flying. There is also a collection for the staff and a raffle.
What do I need to take?
A veil if you want to get close to the bees. Some euros. Towel and soap. A sense of humour, as this really is a fun week. Most other things like notebooks are provided.
On arrival at Gormanston.
There are some things you need to do quickly. Book in and you will get a pack that includes programme and your identity badge. This must be worn at all times and is needed for all meals as they will check it. Your room key must be got from reception and they need a deposit.
The college staff are brilliant and will always help you. They will show you to your room and carry your luggage for you. There are lifts but I prefer the stairs.
There is a reception on the first evening that is usually attended by a Government Minister - yes, they have Government Ministers who are happy to speak to ordinary people! This can be a bit tedious for an outsider with everyone thanking everyone for thanking everyone else! It is useful though as there is wine and cheese afterwards and a chance to catch up with a lot of folks you haven't seen for a year, or to speak to new people.
Either on the first evening or the following morning it will pay to look at the programme and locate the various rooms. These may change and you will need to look at the notice board and screen regularly.
What to do in the evenings.
Look at the programme as there is something on each evening. It could be a lecture or entertainment. The Huntsman pub is about half a mile away and is popular with attendees. Everyone is friendly and it hasn't been unknown for there to be impromptu musical entertainment. There is little else.
The college grounds.
These are extensive with a walled garden that may be accessible. There is a large yew arch and some old specimen trees, including huge sweet chestnut and some cork oaks that have the reputation of being the ones that are growing the furthest north. There is plenty of opportunity for exercise including swimming and golf, but these need to be checked.
What isn't there?
There are no local shops, post offices, take-aways, hair dressers or beauticians! What a relief! This is a self contained unit with great company. You won't need any more.
There are usually 3-4 appliance dealers plus a variety of others that may include BIBBA, BeeCraft, IBRA, etc. You will need to make sure you don't buy something you can't get on the plane!
Whatever the programme says check the notice board at least once a day. Rooms change and so do titles. There is often an extra lecture or demonstration added. There is a screen with the programme on but slow readers like me have a problem reading it all before the next page comes up!
The food queues can be long, but don't worry as you can learn a lot if you stand next to an experienced beekeeper. Unfortunately you have to queue up in the hot food queue to get a ticket to use the salad bar. This is Ireland at its best!
The sessions in the pubs can be late affairs and it is reasonable to be quiet on your return.
There is a small area where you can buy drinks and snacks.
In general there is plenty of time to get refreshed and go to the next lecture, but some workshops/demonstrations overrun and this may cause a problem. Please be in plenty of time if you can to reduce disruption to the lecture and annoyance to others.
Photography is not allowed in the lectures, but that is now becoming general policy.
The Irish beekeepers are a lovely bunch and I can guarantee they will make you welcome. There is nothing they won't do for you and they have genuine twinkles in their eyes when they are doing it. I find many of them have a knack of knowing my name even though I can't remember seeing them before!