Derry bee keepers are buzzing

The Derry and District Bee Keepers' Association, pictured from left Jennifer Simpson, Cyril Maguire, John Aspal and Billy Chambers.
The Derry and District Bee Keepers' Association, pictured from left Jennifer Simpson, Cyril Maguire, John Aspal and Billy Chambers.

Billy Chambers has just been stung by a bee; ‘sure getting stung is all part of the fun’, he says.

Billy is chairman of the Derry and District Bee Keepers’ Association and in recent weeks the Big Lottery Fund awarded the group with just under £10,000 to raise awareness of bees and bee keeping locally.

“If there are no bees, you and I don’t eat,” says member, John Aspal.

“Bees play such an important part in our lives. Not many people know it but that’s what we are hoping the money will help us to do - get the message out there.”

Billy, who has been keeping bees locally for more than seven years, helped to form the group two years ago. Billy says the local interest in bee keeping is going from strength to strength and added that the group is keen to recruit new members.

“I remember the first time I saw an apiary (bee hive) up close. Fr. Paddy O’Kane took me to see one in Culdaff. Afterwards, I remember thinking to myself, I have to get one of those,” he smiles.

“I find bee keeping so relaxing and therapeutic and how can I forget the honey? It’s got the most amazing taste. We want to hear from anyone interested in bee keeping. It doesn’t matter if you are a complete novice or experienced, we will look after you. As long as you’re interested in bee keeping - that’s all we care about.”

The Derry Bee Keepers’ Association meet once a month in Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin in Great James street.

“We are all in constant contact with one another but the best thing about meeting up once a month is that it gives us the chance to exchange tips and advice,” says secretary, Jennifer Simpson.

Jennifer, who first started keeping bees two years ago, is a certified Intermediate Bee Keeper and said forming the Derry group has been great for bee keepers locally.

“In the beginning the only way I could get involved in a bee keeping association was by travelling to the Roe Valley Bee Keepers’ group in Limavady. But now we have our own local group.

“We have a few apiaries locally and the interest is growing. Where there is a will there is a way,” she smiles.

In the beginning, the Derry Bee Keepers’ Association was assisted by Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin when the organisation gave it space for an apiary on its roof garden.

“Gerry O’Hara has been very supportive of our group and so has everyone here at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin,” says Billy.

“Unfortunately, the apiary on the roof garden hasn’t worked out as well as we would have liked but plenty of wild flowers were planted in the garden recently so we are hopeful things will work out.”

The grant awarded to the Derry and District Bee Keepers’ Association by the Big Lottery Fund will go towards raising awareness of bee keeping locally. The group will host an event, called ‘The Culture of Bees and Us’ in the Guildhall on September 27 and 28 this year.

“The ‘Culture of Bees & Us’ celebrates and explores our relationship with bees (and their honey) from a historical, spiritual, symbolic and cultural perspective,” explains Billy.

“In partnership with Roe Valley Beekeepers’ Association, the Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers and Derry City Council we will raise children’s awareness of the importance of bees through a local Schools Education Programme and an Irish Folklore/Story Telling Programme.”

For more information on the Derry and District Bee Keepers’ Association contact Billy Chambers on 07711755818, email: derry.honeybee@gmail.com or visit www.derry-beekeepers.co.uk