bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, April 02, 2004

Why Turlough?

Turlough is not my real name. Turlough O'Bryen is the name of one of my favourite characters in the bee world. Born in 1853, he became interested in the natural world and fascinated — some say obsessed —by bees, and combined this passion with another — cycling. There are some very colourful descriptions of him in James K Watson's book, Bee-keeping in Ireland: A History.

In the 1890s Turlough cycled up and down the west of Ireland from Cork to Donegal promoting beekeeping as an agricultural diversification for hard-pressed agricultural communities still suffering after the Potato Famine of the 1840s. Employed by The Congested Districts Board, he was held in very high esteem: “He combined the enthusiasm of a missionary with the sagacity and endurance of a commercial traveller. ... He was utterly unofficial, but most businesslike and successful in his work.”

On a bike (28" front wheel and 26" rear wheel) that was almost as well-known as himself, he pedalled in all sorts of weather and somehow managed to transport frames and all manner of equipment to far-flung places where there might be clover or heather for bees to work. In later years, he took to a motor cycle — apparently another bizarre machine. Beekeeping statistics of the time are hard to come by, but it seems he made quite an impact. He retired, with no pension, to farm ten acres in his beloved Burren in County Clare and died in 1928.


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