Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Knocknarea Honey, Grange, Sligo, Ireland

I got this honey from my friend John. His wife is Irish and he often goes to Ireland to visit family. He was there this summer and brought me back this honey which comes from Sligo (SLY-goh) county, on the North West coast of Ireland in the province of Connacht.
Sligo, on the northwest coast of Ireland

Sligo, a town also in Sligo county,  is a coastal seaport and the commercial center of the county with a population of about 20,000 residents. It is in a beautiful region, located on the banks of the Garavogue river and surrounded by the Benbulben and Truskmore mountains to the north, the Slieve, Daeane and Killery mountains to the southeast, Cope's and Keelogyboy mountains to the northeast, the Atlandic ocean and Queen Maeve's Knocknarea to the west, and the Ox mountains to the south.

"Sligo" comes from the Irish: Sligeach which means "abounding in shells" or "shelly place." It is thought that this refers to the abundance of shellfish found in the river Garavogue and its estuary, as originally the river Garavogue was called "Sligeach." 

The area has been inhabited for a very long time and the area around Sligo has one of the highest densities of prehistoric archaeological sites in Ireland. Two of the most notable sites are: Knocknarea mountain capped by the great cairn of Miosgan Maeve and Cairns Hills, with it two large stone cairns. Sligo bay is an ancient natural harbor that has seen Greek, Phoenician and Roman traders in its time.
Cairns near Sligo, looking towards Knocknarea

The Norman knight Maurice Fitzgerald, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, is credited with the establishment of the medieval town and port of Sligo, and in 1245 he built the Castle of Sligo. Sligo was a strategically desirable port and many warrior clans fought to gain control of it. It was reported to have been burned, sacked, or besieged about 49 times during the medieval period!

In more recent history, the town suffered badly during the cholera epidemic of 1832, with the majority of the population dying from it. Some speculate that Bram Stoker, whose mother was born in Sligo in 1818 and experienced the epidemic first hand (and survived), was influenced by her stories of the epidemic when he wrote Dracula. Not long after the cholera epidemic came the Great Famine of 1847 and 1851 which also greatly affected the region. Sligo county, like many others in Ireland, was a center of emigration in the 1800s, with Sligo's port offering passage to New York, Boston, Quebec City, and St. John's. From 1851 to 1901, 75,660 individuals from the area emigrated, mostly to North America. If you are of Irish heritage and your ancestors may have come from Sligo county, there is a great website to help you trace your heritage.

Sligo country is also known as "Yeats" country after native son and poet, William Butler Yeats, who is laid to rest in Sligo soil in the Drumcliffe churchyard. Yeats grew up in the area and many of his poems are inspired by his childhood memories there.

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" is an example:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattled made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core

W.B. Yeats

Knocknarea showing Maeve's Cairn
Knocknarea (1,078 feet high) ("hill of the stripes," "hill of the executions," "hill of the kings," or "hill of the moon," depending on whom you ask) is a striking landmark in the area- a solitary flat-topped mountain with its ancient 200 foot long by 40 foot high cairn (Meascan Meadhbha or Maeve's Cairn), visible from all sides for miles around. The cairn is thought to conceal a neolithic passage tomb dating from 3,000 BC. Yeats referred to Knocknarea as "the Land of Heart's Desire." You can reach the top of the mountain and the cairn on a well worn path, and it is tradition to pick up a stone on the way and leave add it to the cairn.

The apiarist behind my Knocknarea honey is Keithe Clarke, and, if the internet is to be believed, he is a man of many interests and passions. He is a butcher, who took over his father's business in Sligo, a tour operator who gives offshore island tours (Inishmurray island Tours), and an apiarist. In an interview in 2010 he says that he decided to make his own honey because he liked honey but it was very expensive. "He bought two hives from a schoolteacher in Ballina who taught him everything about beekeeping." The rest, as they say, is history.

Mr. Clarke produces a number of varieties of honey: light flower, dark blossom, chunk, heather, granulated and creamed. On his website he states that this year was a good year for whitethorn suggesting that it was a significant flower source for his current batches.
Whitethorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Whitethorn refers to many different plants, but given the geographical preferences of each, it is likely that in Ireland it refer to Crataegus monogyna (aka common hawthorn), a native of Europe.  It is a shrub with a dense crown that reaches 5-14 meters. Flowers are produced in late spring, and are a favorite of bees. It is commonly planted as a hedge plant and it makes for good firewood. The fruit, which looks like a read berry and is called "haws," are edible raw but more commonly used for jellies, jams, syrups, wine or to add flavor to brandy.

If you are interested lists and descriptions of other flora of the country can be found on the Sligo walking club website and the Irish wildflowers site.

My Knocknarea honey is cold pressed honey that has a classic, mellow, clear, yellow-golden color. It has a subtle floral scent, and is very thin and runny. It is an uncomplicated honey with a clean taste of sweetness that has an delicate undertone of molasses and something else, something floral. The floral flavor is so delicate and fleeting that I can't easily describe it. Given its texture and consistency this honey would be a perfect for drizzling on plain yoghurt or on hot cereal. It would also be good in any tea where you don't want to alter the flavor but do want honey sweetness.

Knocknarea Honey

You can't directly purchase this honey from Mr. Clarke's website but there is a link on it to address any inquiries about it to him. Or, you'll just have to make a trip to beautiful Sligo and pick some up on the way back from laying a pebble on Maeve's Cairn on Knocknarea.

No comments:

Post a Comment