Slide thumbnail







Honey (Ireland)

HoneyHoneyI never thought there was so much to keeping bees and making honey. Philip Macabe from An Grianan, which means 'the sunny place', took me through the whole process from start to finish. This included the keeping of the queen, smoking the bees, explaining the wax and honey production. Also why the workers get angry (at the convent they did, believe you me). How much honey they will produce and how the taste varies not only from different times of the year, but also which pollen is best for making honey.

Oil seed rape for instance, produces a very crystallised honey, whilst lime tree, has a softer runnier viscosity. Colour plays a big part also we tasted a port coloured honey that came from Ling heather, which had a very powerful flavour. Honey will not go off, and has no preservatives or additives. Honey was discovered in the tombs in Egypt, which was probably 4,000 years old, and is said to be still edible!

Most hives have around 20,000 bees, but can reach 120,000 this is when they are likely to swarm, basically the hive separates and off they go. They are non stop workers, going quiet in the winter when they have to be fed on sugary water. Pollen collection and honey making by the bees starts around April probably until August, Ivy being the last flavour they produce.

honeyLocal honey is widely available throughout Ireland and is found mainly in butchers' shops, health stores and delicatessens. Every pot carries the beekeepers own label with his/her name and address.

Phili MaCabe Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association

He has 30 hives but he is going to bring a special hive to put in the college gardens so bees can settle on the flowers.

Some Bee Facts

  • In Ireland honey was used to make mead (the drink of the gods) before it was eaten. Wax has always been used for candles and weather protection and an early example of a royal use is the King's seal.
  • Honey has also been found in caves in Peru that used to belong to the Incas. The caves were sealed with beeswax and there was crystallized honey in the there.
  • During the First World War when the antiseptic cream ran out, hospitals quite often used honey on open wounds to kill bacteria and the flesh recovered.

HoneyhoneyHis grandfather and father were both beekeepers. He has had bees since he was a child – he now donates his bees to the Federations Bee Garden at Am Grianan. He admitted that the beekeepers talk to the bees – why? They operate by scent and vibration so they can pick up moods e.g. if the keeper is angry or excited and they will detect it. If the bees are high up in the tree the keeper can encourage them down with vibrations by banging a tin and collecting them in a big white sheet spread on the ground. Keepers can also tame bees from the wild and encourage them into hives. 

He has 30 hives but he is going to bring a special hive to put in the college gardens so bees can settle on the flowers.
Whilst filming, Philip got stung a few times; the bee will sink his sting into the skin. Because our skin is so tough, and the sting has a tiny hook on the bottom, the bee cannot escape, just moving around in circles until eventually the stick rips out of the bee and the insect flies away leaving the sting to carry on pumping into the prey, very weird.

The bee will then eventually die, having done its job. Talking of death, the average life span of a bee is about 6 weeks.

More Bee Facts

  • A bee's life span is six weeks in the summer.
  • Bees make the honeycomb cells upside down so nectar doesn't drip out and enzymes are added to nectar to convert it in to honey.
  • The cells are sealed with beeswax - the bees eat honey and literally sweat wax. 

HoneyAt the Mercy convent, the bees are looked after by Sisters Catherine, Monica and ninety year old Sister Paul. Sister Catherine has been an authority on bees since 1985. Sister Paul up until a year ago made all the hives, but now oversees the operation. Their 4 hives have produced half hundredweight already this year (April-July) so it’s been a good year.

The honey is then extracted by centrifugal force, by machine with Philip, but by hand at the convent, strained and jarred. Combe honey is produced in perfect 1 pound packs and boxed as is.

We sampled the convent honey on cheese and tomato crackers, which was Sister Catherine’s idea and it worked very well I have to say. And on the tiniest of scones, the best I have ever tasted, by a long chalk. The lightness of the scone was unbelievable. I really need the recipe Sister Catherine!!!

The Mercy convent also had a fabulous rose garden, (great for hay fever sufferers as roses produce no pollen) and a huge walnut tree. And at one time was home to pigs, cattle and 70 chickens, all producing for the convent.

The An Grianan honey we sampled in about 10 ways all cooked up by expert chef and veteran television chef Marie Mcguirk. The dishes included honey cheesecake, a wonderful oaty brown bread and muffins, scones, fruit salad, chilli chicken and Boyne salmon, all very good.

We stayed at An Grianan whilst filming which is a college for all sorts of subjects, 100 harpists from all over Ireland were having a few days’ lectures. The well appointed purpose bungalows for hire are fabulous. They are very peaceful and the perfect way to relax.

Marie runs cookery demonstrations on great Irish cooking and they are always packed out, I can see why, she is very good.

All in all a great film to make, Philip, Marie and the Sisters were an absolute joy to work with, great sense of humour coupled with real warmth. I can’t wait to go back.


Philip Mcabe, Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association Tel 00353 (0)87 2554 854

Marie Mcguirk, Head Chef in An Grianan
Termonfechin, County Louth, Ireland

Tel: 041 982 2119 / 041 982 2478

For more information contact or


Share This

Follow Phil