The Galtee Bee Breeding Group was formed in the year 1991 with the object of conservation,
study and improvement of the native strains of dark European Honeybee Apis mellifera
mellifera in the Galtee/Vee
valley and surrounding areas of South Tipperary. In the first year we had only four members
and increased our membership only very gradually during the early years. After the BIBBA
Conference in our area in 1996 we decided to invite some more prominent and active Irish
beekeepers to join us and we have continued this policy up to the present.
We now have
about 70 members mostly in the provinces of Munster and Leinster and this year we have
been joined by a few members from Ulster. In all more than 20 Beekeepers' Associations are
represented among our members. We enjoy the full support and co-operation of the two main
beekeeping umbrella organisations in Ireland: i.e. the Federation of Irish Beekeepers'
Associations in the Republic of Ireland and the Ulster Beekeepers' Association in Northern
The Galtee/Vee valley is about 25 x 10 km and is situated between the mountain ranges
of the Galtees and the Knockmealdowns. Midway in the centre of this valley we have established
our breeding apiary and this is still the centre of our activities. A policy of displacement
breeding has been adopted from the start and this we call our Dun Aonghusa system. The
elimination of hybrids and other undesirable characteristics such as over-aggressiveness
and excessive swarming was our primary objective.
We have made extensive use of morphometry to identify hybrids especially in the early stages.
We are extremely lucky to have as a member of our group the eminent scientist Dr. Jacob Kahn
who is currently engaged in ongoing studies into the morphometric characters of our native
GBBG has devised a programme of evaluation, recording, culling and selection that has proved
very effective over the years. Each year selected breeder queens are brought back to the
breeding apiary. These are used for the production of queens and drones in the following year.
we use instrumental insemination to produce various combinations from selected queens and
drones each year and these are distributed to group members who keep records for testing
and evaluation. Group members are entitled to two breeder queens from our breeding apiary
each year at a nominal price. We encourage all members to keep records and submit summary
returns to one of our members at the end of each year. This information is being used to
establish and update our group stud book.
An offshoot of our activities is the fact that a number of smaller bee improvement groups are
in the process of being established in other places throughout the country and we hope
that this trend will continue.
The Department of Agriculture in the Republic of Ireland has co-operated with us so far by
maintaining a ban on the importation of bees and queens. Unfortunately the Northern
Ireland Ministry of Agriculture has seen fit in recent years to allow the importation of
queen bees under licence. These queens are imported from different part of the world and
are of a variety of races. If this trend continues it can have a deleterious effect on
the purity of our native bee which is the race that predominates throughout the island
With our cool, damp, oceanic climate we believe that the native Irish strains of Dark
European Bee are by far the most suitable for our climate. Unfortunately no effort was
made to improve our bees until the formation of GBBG in 1991. Even in that comparatively
short time our simple breeding policy has resulted in improvements beyond our wildest
dreams. We have identified docile strains that can be manipulated with the minimum of
protective clothing and even in shorts and tee shirt in fine weather.
Our next major objective is the reduction in swarming which is an important economic
factor in beekeeping. We had a significant breakthrough at the end of the current season
when we identified a number of colonies that had come through the past two swarmy seasons
without attempting to swarm. The ancestors of these queens had been selected for the
combined traits of supersedure, longevity, docility and productivity.
GBBG holds a variety of activities throughout the year such as outdoor demonstrations on
colony evaluation and recording, queen rearing workshops, and a winter discussion and
study group. There is an Annual General Meeting and we produce a quarterly newsletter
known as "The Four Seasons - Ceithre Ráithe na Bliana".
Micheál Mac Giolla Coda
Chairman, Galtee Bee Breeding Group
Past President of BIBBA