Philip McCabe: Ireland’s Bee Man

Passionate protector of the world’s bee populations

Philip McCabe, attempting to break the world record for a “beard of bees” in a field near Cahir, Co Tipperary, on June 25th, 2005. The record is gauged by deducting the initial weight of the participant from the final weight. Photograph: PA

Philip McCabe, attempting to break the world record for a “beard of bees” in a field near Cahir, Co Tipperary, on June 25th, 2005. The record is gauged by deducting the initial weight of the participant from the final weight. Photograph: PA

 

Born: July 17th, 1945
Died: October 20th, 2018

Philip McCabe, who has died suddenly after a short illness, was the best known and most respected expert in beekeeping in Ireland. A third generation beekeeper, he was a passionate promoter of beekeeping through his courses at the Beekeeping Summer School in Gormanston College, his talks at Bloom, the Ploughing Championships and in schools and latterly through his work as president of Apimondia, the international federation of beekeeper associations.

However, it was his regular contributions to Mooney Goes Wild on RTÉ Radio One where he probably reached his largest audience. He kept listeners informed and entertained with his beekeeping tips and stories.

In his distinctive Monaghan accent, he spoke about his beehives and those he looked after for An Grianán, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association headquarters near his home in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, his father’s passion for beekeeping in his childhood home in Newbliss, Co Monaghan and his travels to international beekeeping conferences in South Korea, Iran, Kazakhstan, United Arab Emirates, South Africa and throughout Europe.

Declining bee numbers

McCabe was the main driver behind the successful bid to bring the Apimondia world conference for beekeepers to the RDS in Ballsbridge in August, 2005. At the opening of that event, he spoke about the direct impact of declining bee numbers to human existence. He explained how one third of all food produced in the world is pollinated and 70 per cent of that work is carried out by honey bees.

Derek Mooney, presenter of Mooney Goes Wild says that McCabe could tell you more about bees in one hour than you’d learn in a lifetime. “He had that gift of explaining things and – like other amateur naturalists – he never made you feel any of your questions were stupid. He was kind, thoughtful, generous and a wonderful storyteller.”

Wildlife expert, Éanna Ní Lamhna says McCabe would always tell you what you needed to know. “He wasn’t a bit selfish with his knowledge and was always fun to be with.” In his role as president of Apimondia, McCabe addressed politicians, presidents and princes explaining how we need to do all we can to protect the world’s bee populations.

He was outspoken on the damage done to bees by pesticides and genetically modified organisms. And, he served for many years on the executive of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations during which time members numbers grew from 1,100 to 3,300.

On June 25th, 2005, McCabe attempted to beat the Guinness Book of Records for the largest number of bees attached to his body in what is called a “bee beard”. Recorded live for the Mooney Goes Wild programme and later included in the RTÉ Radio One documentary on McCabe, The Bee Man, the feat saw McCabe dressed only in his underpants, protective goggles and a back brace (to support the weight of the bees) while beekeepers released thousands of bees which then attached themselves to McCabe. He didn’t beat the world record but he did raise funds for the international charities Bóthar and Bees for Development in his attempt.

In The Bee Man, McCabe spoke about growing up with seven brothers and one sister in the post office at Newbliss – where his mother was the post mistress and his father worked as a tailor.

Early retirement

Following his schooling, he moved to Dublin to work in a post office and later joined Telecom. He took early retirement from that job and worked for over 15 years as development manager of the Co Monaghan Citizens Information Service. In The Bee Man, he also spoke about how he and his family overcame the devastating loss of his eldest son’s first wife Tania and one of their twin babies, Zac in childbirth.

He shared his enthusiasm for beekeeping with all the family, buying bee-suits and bringing home honey from his international conferences

A religious man, McCabe was a member of the church choir in Termonfeckin for over 25 years. Devoted to his children and grandchildren, he shared his enthusiasm for beekeeping with all the family, buying bee-suits and bringing home honey from his international conferences for everyone to sample. His son, Aidan, daughter, Ciara and grandsons, Sam and Ben plan to keep up the family tradition of beekeeping – and honey making – into the future.

McCabe, is survived by his wife, Mary, his adult children, Aidan, Deirdre, Gregory and Ciara, son-in-law Martin, daughter in law Martha, grandchildren, Ben, Adam, Sam, Harry, Philip, Laura, Dylan, Max and Ivy, brothers Seamus, Declan, Kieran, Brendan and Padraic and sister Mary, extended family and beekeeper friends around the world.