Revd. J.G. Digges

St. Dominic is said to have first brought bees to Ireland but it is another holy man, Revd. J.G. Digges (1858-1933), who is considered to be the modern day father of beekeeping in Ireland. I am a keen bee-keeper myself and was even a member of the Digges Beekeepers Association of South Leitrim when I was doing my beginners course. 

In 1885, he had his first bee-keeping lesson and also became the private chaplain to the Clements family (the Earls of Leitrim) at their Lough Rynn estate at Mohill. He served Farnaght and Mohill churches and from 1933 the parish of Cloone. He joined the Irish Beekeepers Association and was chairman from 1910 to 1921. He was editor of the Irish Bee Journal, (from 1912 called The Beekeeper’s Gazette) published from May 1901 to October 1933.

Becoming proficient in bee-keeping, and anxious to promote the method of removing the honey crop from the hive without killing the bees, by using moveable frames. Contrary to the popular belief that people of the past had more respect for nature, the only way most beekeepers knew to get honey was to first kill their bees by gassing them in their straw skep (hive). Lucklily bees were far more common at that time but  he started travelling extensively throughout Ireland on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, attending agricultural shows and lecturing to stop this practice and promote other more modern methods. He promoted the “Congested Districts Hive”, designed to be made and used in the poorer areas of Ireland to provide an income where the land was poor.

He also published a book: The Irish Bee Guide, later renamed The Practical Bee Guide. This was a manual of modern beekeeping, a book which came to be regarded as the standard book of beekeeping in Ireland. The book went through many revisions and reprints following its initial publication in 1904. It was self published in 1904 (by Lough Rynn Press) and republished many times and again in 2004 to celebrate its centenary of publication.

He is said to have died dramatically during a confirmation service in Farnaght in 1933 and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin. Very fittingly a stained-glass memorial window by Ethel Rhind was placed in the church at Clooncahir, which shows St. Dominic bringing the bees to Ireland. (Stephen Rennicks)

Location of Clooncahir church on map


Down with Jazz

Long before illegal downloading was such an issue, music piracy of a sort was being practised in Co. Leitrim. It all started with the famous ‘Down with Jazz’ protest in Mohill in 1934 led by Fr. Conefrey and his parishioners. At this time the seemingly improvised jazz represented an extreme form of free-thinking and the Nationalists in the Gaelic League, Catholic Church and elsewhere were threatened by this and wanted it banned. This was very much part of a wider Nationalist agenda of the powers that be at the time but a protest with such a specific target as jazz only happened in Co. Leitrim.

Consequently many would say that in the county a stigma was attached around new and improvised music which only really dissipated in the 1980’s. By 2011 things had moved on so far that an annual festival dedicated to improv, noise and other cutting edge experimental music could be successfully staged at The Dock arts centre in Carrick-on-Shannon called Hunter’s Moon. Prior to this however, when new music was difficult to come by and compromising if discovered, some young people from the county decided to make their own records inspired by tales of ‘Bones’ records (primitive flexi disc records illegally pressed on x-ray’s) in Communist Russia.  Examples of these illicit and easy to conceal one-off and usually one sided pressings still turn up in charity shops and car boot sales in the region (often inside the pages of a book).  They are always just straight copies of an album by experimental groups of the time such as Neu!, Captain Beefheart and Silver Apples. Anyone doing this for themselves or friends at the time would have first needed access to an original copy (someone might have to go to Dublin or abroad for this), access to used x-ray charts or any similar flexible film (some discs have the text ‘Sligo General Hospital’ on them). They would then need to cut the film into the size and shape of the record, play the original on an ordinary player attached to an altered record player with a wax disc cutter or a machine like a ‘voice-o-graph’ to produce the grooves on the disc. Each record would have to be done one at a time and in real time. As one-offs they don’t really have any value to collectors but they are pretty cool to come across and many can still of course be played but the sound quality is very poor. (Stephen Rennicks)