Photos by Conal Thomas

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If you look at it from another bee’s perspective, the honey bee gets all the limelight, says Kaethe Burt-O’Dea.

It produces the goods and so enjoys celebrity status. “But in fact if you look at the solitary bee, some of them are better pollinators than honey bees,” says Burt-O’Dea. “Nobody’s talking about them.”

The name of her new Stoneybatter store, Equality for All Pollinators, isn’t just about bees though, it turns out.

“We’re talking about people too,” she says. “We really feel that people pollinate ideas and so this is a space where people can pollinate, come together, inspire ideas.”

And they’re welcome to sell a few bits and bobs.

The Spark

Once the smoke had cleared, the building’s owners realised for the first time just how far back the space went, says Burt-O’Dea.

Before she took up residence at No. 3, a fire had ripped through what had earlier been a dry cleaners. Burt-O’Dea saw an opportunity, and signed a lease. She had the place whitewashed and decked it out as simply as possible.

Burt-O’Dea is a serial entrepreneur, best know for the Lifeline Project, an urban-renewal initiative on disused lands in northwest central Dublin.

Recently, though, her efforts have been focused on her new shop, and on raising awareness about bees through her Bí Urban spin-off.

Burt-O’Dea’s store is many things at once: an exhibition space, a mini record store, a factory, and a second-hand store.

To the front, there are goods made with the help of local bees: soap with honey and pollen, an oil blend designed to emulate the scent used by the queen bee to communicate with the colony, and bee balm containing beeswax and honey.

Burt-O’Dea produces each product batch at the back of the shop. “The idea is that everything here moves,” she says. “These [the appliances] are all on casters so if we wanted we could move everything. If people need space for a workshop this could be that area.”

In the front window is a copy of Thomas Seeley’s Bee Democracy, and alongside are several of Burt-O’Dea’s bait hives.

Bees’ flights can be arduous and risky, so the hives are intended to attract swarming bees in flight, says Burt-O’Dea.

“What we’re trying to do is help those bees and help beekeepers help communicate,” she says. “Beekeepers know quite a lot, and the public are very interested in helping bees.”

Word to the wise, she says: don’t fear a swarm of bees. They’re stuffed with honey for their journeyand mostly sedate.

Near the shop’s entrance, Nikki Moans explains the project to a potential customer.

Last year, she took part in a beekeeping course that Burt-O’Dea ran in association with Spirasi, an organisation helping torture survivors. Since December, she’s helped Burt-O’Dea get the word out about Equality for All Pollinators.

“I’ve experience in retail and had always been interested in green space, the environment and what people are making,” says Moans, who also helps Burt-O’Dea look after an apiary in Phisboro.

“I came across this article a couple of years ago about tending bees up on Arbour Hill. I was dying to get up there,” she said.

On the front desk, four small jars of honey sit neatly in a row. They are from the Dublin Honey Project, which plans to produce honey from each of Dublin’s postcodes, “to showcase the amazing range of honey flavours available from our city and suburbs”.

Alongside those jars is a tin with the face of Prince Philip on it.

Beyond Bees

“Some of it I’ve had for thirty years at least,” says Gregory Dunne, a local collector who has cleared out his attic and put it up for sale in the store.

“There’s a reason why I have all this stuff, but you’d be probably be better off coming to my house,” he says.

Dunne’s collectibles, jumbled together across four shelves near the shop’s rear, range from the practical to the obsolete. There are royal coronation tins, creepy religious icons, empty match boxes, and a tiny, plastic statuette of Ranger Smith from the Yogi Bear cartoon series.

Dunne travelled extensively in his youth, from New York to Egypt to Eastern Europe – hence the still-sealed cigarette packets with Cyrillic lettering.

On the lower shelf is a statue of the Virgin Mary in blue. It seemed kitschy to Dunne, who is originally from the UK.

“I came here in 1990 and I’m not Catholic so all that bleeding heart Jesus and Virgin Mary I thought was really groovy,” says Dunne. “My fireplace is full of just religious nonsense.”

On a table near the entrance, there are vinyl records, 45s lined up in a plastic box, and vintage sheet music which transpires to be what remains of late Pogues member Philip Chevron’s collection.

The LPs flew out the door pretty quickly, says Burt-O’Dea. “His sister gave us his collection,” she says. “He was a real eclectic.”

Near Dunne’s shelf of bizarre collectibles is a rail with dozens of vintage ’80s T-shirts from another local.

Somewhere between a Francis Street antique shop and a slick, minimalist design store sits Burt-O’Dea’s enterprise. She hopes it will soon becomes a community focal point.

They’ve already put on film screenings – another is around the corner – and held a trad session for locals. Burt-O’Dea says they’re more than open to suggestions.

Cónal Thomas

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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