The Irish BeeBecome a Patron!
Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle
The humble bee, an important part of ancient Irish culture
The Irish bee has been a beloved part of the culture and folklore as long as there have been people in Ireland, producing honey for cakes and mead as well as beeswax which has no end of uses. Many's the warm summer evening has been filled with their gentle humming above the beautiful flowers they help to pollinate.
And yet for all that, old stories tell that the bees are quick to take offence, and should be treated as you would your own family! Everything to do with people getting married and having children, as well as those who have passed away, should be whispered to them.
They don't go so much for the local gossip mind you as they're usually too busy and almost never read the newspapers, but they'll tell one another important tidings as they dance. Neither was it considered good to argue or curse near the beehive for fear they'd up and leave, and then they had to be followed by women and children banging pots and pans. Should they land on a dead branch, that meant death was coming to someone nearby.
If someone got married, a slice of cake was left near the hive, and in the event of a death, a black ribbon was laid across it before the wake was held, and they were to be told before sunrise of the next day so they could prepare to attend the funeral.
St. Modomnóc of Ossory was famous for his hives of loyal bees. Having been granted their care in a corner of his monastery in Wales, he made sure only the tastiest flowers were planted and he would speak to them as he walked among them, never being stung once, although great clouds of them would buzz around him.
When he decided to return to Ireland, thrice the bees came and landed on the ship's mast, and he set up more hives at his church in Bremore, near Balbriggan.
Other Saints were well known by their association with bees, like Saint Gobnait, who asked their help to protect her people!
“The English soldiers came and took a lot of stock in Ballyvourney, but on their way out the east road, Saint Gobnait released the bees from the bee-hive. They started to sting the soldiers until they were left without an eye or a nose and they were forced to leave the stuff behind them.”
If a bumblebee or bumbóg was to come to the window, it would be to tell those within of a visitor on the way, and if the bee had a red tail, it would be a man, and white, a lady. And if he came in, it was neither man nor woman but a nice bit of money that was on the way! Should you dream of being stung by a bee, it was believed a friend would betray you.
In olden times, it was the custom that only by the exchange of gold, gift, barter or loan could a beehive be bought or sold. The old people had many laws and beliefs to do with the bees, called "bee judgements". Under the law of the free Feni which was written and enforced by the poets who became Brehon judges, if bees took nectar from another person's land, it was considered trespassing!
If that happened you could keep your bees for three years, but on the fourth the swarm had to be given to that person on whose land they had been feeding, and so each year after everyone would get their own swarm, as sharp-eyed Gaels raced after bees to see where they were going, and covered the fields with flowers while they were at it. Hives could be given in tribute to a king.
If someone got stung they could get a pot of honey, as long as they hadn't killed the bee that did it, but if someone was killed by bees their family could claim two full hives.
It is said that the sting of the bee could help with the pains of old bones and other problems.
On the map below is marked the church of St. Modomnóc!
We now have an amazing Patreon page as well, where you can listen to the many myths and legends on the Emerald Isle! Exclusive to our Patreon, you can now hear stories of ancient Ireland, folklore and fairy tales and more, all professionally narrated. It's at times like these that it's most important to support artists and creative people whose income might be reduced, so if you'd like to support the work that goes into Emerald Isle, the Patreon can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/emeraldisle
More Tales from the Historical Cycle
The boy who was to be Saint Colman was born in the northern kingdom of Dalriada, which held both Northern Ireland and Scotland in its power at the start of the sixth century. This was the time of the dawn of Christianity in Ireland, and it was a time when great terrors and monsters from primordial epochs still swam in the deep lakes and lazy rivers ... [more]
Most people have heard of Ireland's famous title, “The Island of Saints and Scholars”, and the reason it was so well known was because of the many fine Irish Catholic universities and colleges that preserved and spread learning throughout Europe. Of them all, there were few finer than the one in Howth, and so wonderful was its reput ... [more]
Very often here in Ireland we walk past the most astonishing buildings, carven stone high crosses, ancient temples and many similar things, but rarely do we wonder who built them. Well as it turns out, legend has it that a surprising number of them were built by a man called Gobán Saor, whose name means “Gobán the Builder,&rdquo ... [more]
I. Once upon a time there was a High King in Ireland by the name of Conn the hundred-fighter, for so many battles had he fought and won to gain his kingship. At the end of his reign was Fionn Mac Cumhaill born. Long was Conn's lineage, although I won't trouble you with the details, but he reigned at Tara of the Kings as Lord of all Irela ... [more]
In the time of High King Lugaid Luaigne, that is around the age when Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his Fianna fought in defence of the great land of Ireland, a dispute arose in the northern Kingdom among the men of the Ulaid, for instead of there being only one king of Ulster, there were two! Well, as anyone who knows anything about kings will tell you ... [more]
St Colmcille is one of the three patron saints of Ireland, and his life is the subject of story and legend. It was by his efforts that Christianity spread not only through Ireland but also Scotland, England and parts of Europe too! He was a tall and powerfully built man with a rich and melodious voice which, it was said, could be heard from one hil ... [more]
From the earliest times and in every corner of the world, mead was held in reverence. This sweet tasting fermented honey drink was especially loved by the ancient Irish, who shared fireside stories about rivers of mead in mystical lands over the edge of the ocean's horizon, ruled by Mannanan Mac Lír, and even in the place where the dead ... [more]
Ancient are the hills and mountains of Ireland, and ancient are her trees, something that the old people who lived here knew well. To them a tree was a mystical thing with its roots reaching down into the underworld of the sidhe mounds, and its branches lifting up high into the heavens towards the sun, moon and stars. Well over ten thousand places ... [more]
The Irish bee has been a beloved part of the culture and folklore as long as there have been people in Ireland, producing honey for cakes and mead as well as beeswax which has no end of uses. Many's the warm summer evening has been filled with their gentle humming above the beautiful flowers they help to pollinate. And yet for all that, old ... [more]
As Saint Patrick travelled across Ireland, spreading Christianity and the light among the pagan tribes, he saw many wonders and defeated many evils, but always more rose up to challenge him. So he took himself to prayer and saw a vision that he should travel to Croagh Patrick – although it was not known so at that time – and spend the L ... [more]
During the darkness of pagan times, the High King of Ireland was a man known as Laoghaire, known for his merciless fury and great strength, and he sat upon the seat of the High Kings in Tara. However, unknown to him, Saint Patrick had landed in a little boat at Colpe in the Boyne estuary, travelling to a place called Ferta fer Feic, or the burial p ... [more]
One of the three patron Saints of Ireland, along with Patrick and Colmcille, St Brigid of Kildare was a devout Catholic in the very first days of the faith in Ireland. Her feast day is the first of February, which previously had been the pagan festival of Imbolc, halfway between winter and spring. Brigid herself was the daughter of a baptised Ch ... [more]
Through many an ancient legend and tale rings the name of the fierce and powerful druid called Mogh Ruith, meaning “slave of the wheel”. Older legends make him out to be the king of the Fir Bolg, or a druid gifted with many lives by the fairies, or that the name was but a title passed down through generations. Some say he had one eye ... [more]
Ireland has had many high kings, some were wise and kind and others cruel and the holders of grudges, but there were few as great as High King Cormac Mac Art, grandson of Conn of the Hundred Battles and son of Art and Ectach, the daughter of a mighty blacksmith. In his youth he stayed at the hall of the king of the north, Fergus Dubhdedach, but ... [more]
Back in the days of Ireland of old, in the times when legends walked the earth and before the light came to drive back the shadows of ancient times, the word of a bard was much feared, for the people had no writing, so all of their words and histories were stored in songs and poems by bardic masters. As you can imagine they were very wary of get ... [more]
In ancient days there was an Irish King whose name was Labraid Lioseach, known also as Labraid the Sailor for a long voyage he took into fairy seas, and when he came back from that voyage he was never seen without a deep hood over his head, except by one man. That man saw him once a year to trim his hair, and after the King's hair was cut, t ... [more]
It was the custom in Ireland of old to lay geases upon champions, heroes and warriors. These were magical forbiddings, deeds they must not do or disaster would follow, and no disaster fell so hard upon a man who broke his geases as upon Conaire Mor! His mother was a woman of the Sidhe called Etain, who had been married to King Eochaid, but disco ... [more]
Tierna the Historian was one of the many chroniclers and monks who wrote the tales of ancient Irish legends, telling us of strange and notable events in the almost forgotten past, the deeds of heroes and kings, and in one case, the disappearance of the High king himself! For it was by Tierna's hand we know that High King Cormac went missing for ... [more]
In the time between the Tuatha Princes and St Patrick, there rose over the people of Ireland mighty High Kings, who held power by force of arms, wit and wisdom. One of the greatest among them was Cormac of the wide purple cloak, whose hair was as golden as the heavy torc around his neck, with teeth like a shower of pearls and skin as fair as snow. ... [more]
Long ago when the fierce Milesians invaded Ireland and defeated the De Danann after many wars and battles, despite their sorceries and all their courage, skill and sciences, the folk of Danann made for themselves eldritch amulets and charms by which they and all their possessions became invisible to mortals, and so they continued to lead their old ... [more]