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Urban Beekeeping, Dublin

27 November 2016

Could homegrown honey become the Irish Capital’s new Guinness?

This may not be as outrageous as it sounds. In fact, so in demand is the thick and treacly stuff that Dubliners are starting to harvest their own, setting up DIY hives on small balconies, urban gardens and allotments.

Hong Kong and London – both hotbeds of urban-beekeeping – have proven that you don’t need a large plot in suburbia to be an apiarist. Not that there is a shortage of green space in low-density Dublin. On the contrary, it boasts Europe’s largest enclosed park: the Phoenix, home to the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, and some 15 hives scattered throughout its 1,750 acre grounds. It’s rumoured that President Higgins even sends his visiting dignitaries home with a jar of honey.

Over in Dublin 4 at University College Dublin, bees have a more educational purpose in the Bring Bees back to Belfield project. Here, pupils embrace a hands-on-role looking after the colonies (which happens to be in one of Ireland’s most expensive orchards). The brainchild of this venture is photographer-turned-beekeeper Kieran Harnett, who, along with fellow apiarist and architect Gearóid Carvill, is engaging millennials with their ambitious Dublin Honey Project, that aims to harvest the sweet stuff from every postcode in the city.

One such postcode is Dublin 1, a stone’s throw from bustling O’Connell Street and the location for their rooftop apiary at Belvedere College, co-ordinated by teacher Simon O’Donnell as part of the school’s urban farm project. Situated in a heat island that is three or four degrees warmer than the rest of the city, Belvedere’s bees yield a unique flavoured honey. Simon explains that the native black Irish bee tends to produce a honey with a citrus twist – owing to the huge numbers of lime trees in Dublin.

Another inner-city rooftop hive creating a buzz is pitched atop the Mendicity Institution – one of Ireland’s oldest charities. Set up as part of the Robert Emmet Community Development Project, disadvantaged youngsters living in the nearby Oliver Bond flats can visit the hive and experience beekeeping firsthand.

Grooming the next generation of budding apiarists is the The County Dublin Beekeepers Association, who run beginner courses and even set up residents with a starter colony. Secretary Liam McGarry explains why urban bees are more healthy and productive than their rural counterparts: “Fewer pesticides in the city and greater biodiversity equals happy bees and better honey”.

One of its members, hobbyist beekeeper Sharon Lally tells me “It’s a bit like having 35,000 pets”. Sounds time consuming? No, actually. “As long as you spend half an hour a week with your hive, that’s enough”.

With the Allied Irish Bank investing in a rooftop hive at their city headquarters and restaurants keen to visibly green their businesses with on-site apiaries, it seems the future of urban-beekeeping in Dublin is looking pretty sweet.

Words / Images: Sarah Freeman

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