Monday, 11 January 2010

Central Beekeepers Alliance : Irish Honey Lore for St. Patrick’s Day

Central Beekeepers Alliance : Irish Honey Lore for St. Patrick’s Day

Irish Honey Lore for St. Patrick’s Day

Posted: 12 Mar 2009 04:31 PM PDT

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Culture and Customs remind us that honey holds an important place in the history and traditions of the Emerald Isle:

Ireland has been described by many poets and story-tellers as the land of milk and honey, and there is little doubt that there was milk and honey in abundance in earliest times…

Honey was so important in early Ireland that a whole section of the Brehon Laws was devoted to bees and beekeeping. Tributes were paid in honey and no banquet table was complete without honey and mead, the legendary drink made from it. Honey was used not just for cooking, but also for basting, and as a condiment in which to dip meat, fowl and fish at the table.

The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and FolkloreThe Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore by Hilda M. Ransome (first published in 1937) explains that there’s a whole section about honey in the Brehon Laws, which date back to somewhere around 600 AD and probably much earlier — the “Bee-judgments” as the laws about beekeeping were called.

For example, under those old laws, anyone who kept bees was obligated by law to share the honey harvest with land-owners of the four adjacent farms, as that’s where the bees gathered nectar.

And if a man found a swarm in the faithche (the green surrounding and belonging to a house), three-quarters of that colony’s honey harvest at the end of the year was owed to the owner of the house. It certainly speaks to the value placed on honey!

We can guage what abundance of honey there was by the size of the vessels in which it was measured. The Brehon Laws mention four sized of vessels used when measuring honey in large quantities. A milch-cow measure was one which, when full, an ordinary person could lift as far as his knee; a heifer, one he could life to his waist; a small heifer to his shoulder; and a dairt or still smaller heifer vessel which he could raise over his head. It was a quaint way of measuring!

You can read more about the Brehon Laws on a fascinating website called Library Ireland, dedicated to sharing Irish culture and folklore.

For those who’d like to enjoy their honey in Irish culture with a bit of a “kick” to it, David Lee of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations explains how to make your own mead.

The potent honey-based beverage might go nicely with this gourmet menu from the Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers, drawn from the old legends of County Tipperary:

Wild Irish Rabbit Terrine, accompanied with hedgegrown brambles, Mead Chutney, garnished with Armagh Apple Crisps, accompanied with Guinness wheaten bread.

Main Course:
Crystallized pan fried Wolf fish, served with Colcannon potatoes served with a white butter sauce, infused with Field Nettle emulsion, garnished with Irish streaky bacon and deep fried leeks.

White Chocolate Beehive, filled with a Hazelnut & Irish Mist parfait, served with a rich raspberry & thyme compote, and a splash of fresh cream, garnished with Ling honey comb.

If that’s a bit much, just take a page from A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland, by PW Joyce (first published in 1906), which says:

A mixture of milk and honey was sometimes drunk; a mixture of lard and honey was usual as a condiment. Honey was sometimes brought to table pure, and sometimes in the comb. Often at meals each person had placed before him on the table a little dish, sometimes of silver, filled with honey; and each morsel whether of meat, fish, or bread was dipped into it before being conveyed to the mouth.

Or what about a broiled salmon steak, basted with honey, like the meal that was served by Ailill and Maive, king and queen of Connaught, to the young chief, Fraech, according to the old Irish tales. That sounds like a St. Patrick’s Day meal that would go down just fine here in New Brunswick!

Irish Honey Lore for St. Patrick’s Day comes from the Central Beekeepers Alliance of New Brunswick, Canada. For more information on Honey Bees and Beekeeping, please: * Visit * Subscribe to our RSS feed * Get free updates by e-mail

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