It was a gigantic
swarm - all the bees from all the hives
in the monastery garden had followed him!
The bees who would not be
(Bee Skep with Frog, artist unknown)
Before the establishment of the
great Irish monasteries, there lived a young man named Modomnoc
who was a descendant of the royal line of O'Neil. He wanted to
be a priest and so he left Ireland and went to be educated under
the great Saint David at Mynyw (Menevia, now Saint David's)
Monastery in Wales. All those who resided in the community were
expected to share in the manual work as well as the study and
worship; Modomnoc was given charge of the bees and he loved it.
He cared for them tenderly, keeping them in straw skeps in a
special sheltered corner of the garden, where he planted the
kinds of flowers the bees loved best.
Every time they swarmed, he captured the swarm very gently and
lovingly and set up yet another hive. He talked to the bees as
he worked among them and they buzzed around his head in clouds.
It was as if they were responding to his soothing words.
At the end of summer, they gave him a surfeit of honey ¡ª so much
that Modomnoc needed help carrying it into the monastery. Thanks
to Modomnoc and his bees, the monks never ran out of honey for
their meals or for making mead - their favorite beverage.
The good Modomnoc thanked God for this, and he also thanked the
bees. He would walk among the skeps in the evening and talk to
them, and the bees would come out to meet him. All the other
monks carefully avoided that corner of the monastery garden
because they were afraid of being stung. But he bees never stung
Soon his years of study ended, and Modomnoc had to return to
Ireland to begin his priestly ministry. While he was glad to be
returning home, he knew he would miss his bees. On the day of
his departure, he said good-bye to the Abbot, the monks, and his
fellow students. Then he went down to the garden to bid his
little friends farewell.
They came out in the hundreds of thousands in answer to his
voice and never was there such a buzzing and excitement among
the rows and rows of hives. The monks stood at a distance
watching the commotion in wonder, "You'd think the bees knew,"
they said. "You'd think they knew that Modomnoc was going away."
Modomnoc resolutely turned, went down to the shore, and boarded
the ship. When they were about three miles from the shore,
Modomnoc saw what looked like a little black cloud in the sky in
the direction of the Welsh coast. He watched it curiously and as
it came closer, he saw to his amazement that it was a swarm of
bees. It was a gigantic swarm - all the bees from all the hives
in the monastery garden had followed him!
They settled on the boat near Modomnoc who was very unhappy with
his friends. "How foolish of you," he scolded them, "you do not
belong to me but to the monastery! How do you suppose the monks
can do without honey for their meals or honey-wine to drink? Go
back at once, you foolish creatures!" But if the bees understood
what he said, they did not obey him. They settled down with a
sleepy kind of murmur, and there they stayed. The sailors did
not like it and demanded of Modomnoc what he intended to do.
He told the sailors to turn the boat back for Wales. It was
already too far for the bees to fly back, even if they wanted to
obey him. He could not allow his little friends to suffer for
their foolishness. But the wind was blowing the boat to Ireland
and when they turned back, the sail was useless. The sailors had
to furl it and row back to the Welsh coast. They were furious
but were too much afraid of the bees to do otherwise.
The abbot and the monks were very surprised to see a somewhat
embarrassed Modomnoc coming back. As he explained what happened,
the bees made straight for their hives and settled down. "Wait
until tomorrow," advised the abbot, "but don't say goodbye to
the bees. They will be over the parting by then."
Next morning, the boat was again in readiness for Modomnoc and
this time he left hurriedly without any fuss of farewell. But,
when they were about three miles from the shore, he was dismayed
to see that little black cloud rising up over the Welsh coast
The sailors turned back to shore immediately.
Once more, Modomnoc had to seek out the abbot and tell him what
happened. "What am I to do?" he pleaded. "I must go home. The
bees won't let me go without them - but I can't deprive you of
them. They are too valuable to the monastery."
The abbot said, "Modomnoc, I give you the bees. Take them with
my blessing. I am certain they would not thrive without you.
Take them. We'll get other bees for the monastery."
The abbot went down to the boat and talked with the sailors. "If
the bees follow Modomnoc for the third time, take them to
Ireland with him and my blessing." But it took a long time and a
great deal of persuasion to get the sailors to agree to this
arrangement. The abbot assured the sailors that the bees would
give them no trouble as long as Modomnoc was on board.
For the third time the boat set sail and Modomnoc prayed
fervently that the bees would have the sense to stay in their
pleasant garden rather than risk their lives at sea. But, for
the third time, he saw the black cloud rise over the coast of
Wales. This time the boat did not turn back. Resigned to the
will of God and the persistence of his faithful friends, he
coaxed the swarm into a sheltered corner of the boat. There,
much to the relief of the sailors, they quietly remained
throughout the voyage.
When he landed in Ireland, Modomnoc set up a church at Bremore,
near Balbriggan in Co.Dublin. Here, he established the bees in a
pleasant garden similar to the one in Wales. To this day, the
place is known as "the Church of the Beekeeper."
This story and many others gathered from
The Book of Saints ( Macmillan); Twenty Tales of Irish Saints by
A. Curtayne (Sheed and Ward); The Oxford Dictionary of Saints,
by D.H. Farmer (Oxford University Press); The Glorious Company:
Lives of Great Christians for Daily Devotion, vol. I. by F. C.
Gill, (Epworth Press); For All the Saints web site; and Celtic
Orthodox Christianity web site.
Why did the abbot agree to
give Modomnoc the bees?