Latest Laois Event: World Book Day celebrated at Rath NS

Latest Laois Event: World Book Day celebrated at Rath NS

Rath NS celebrate World Book Day with visit from ‘The Last Beekeeper’ author

Alliteration, hyperbole, and onomatope were flying around the library at Rath National School last week as students and staff celebrated the occasion of World Book Day. 

Organised by teacher, Sinéad Murphy with the enthusiastic support of Principal Tommy Fitzgerald the event proved exciting, entertaining, engaging, and educational as Rath NS welcomed John Whelan also known as Johnny Renko to give him his penname, the author of the inter-generational story, ‘The Last Beekeeper’.

The writer was greeted by an enthusiastic audience of pupils from 3rd & 4th and 5th & 6th classes, all dressed up as their best loved characters from their favourite books, adding to the colour and atmosphere of the occasion.

The author delivered an introduction, reading extracts and question and answer session to the two different age groups. There were free raffles for copies of The Last Beekeeper, and a donation of a copy of the book to the impressive school library. 

The winners of the book raffle were Ryan Burke and Michael Behan.

Michael receiving his prize.

The author John Whelan aka Johnny Renko explained to the enthralled audience that similar to the River Barrow which flows nearby Rath NS, the story of The Last Beekeeper has its origins in the ancient Slieve Bloom Mountains. He also explained how a 2017 painting by the Canadian artist, Autumn Skye Morrisson entitled ‘Resilience’ came to feature as the iconic cover for the book.

The inspiration for the story comes from the Rainbow Gathering in Ballyhuppahaun, near Rosenallis in the Slieve Blooms thirty years ago this July, in 1993. The event went ahead over a number of weeks in the secluded part of the mountains as thousands of eco-friendly activists descended on the area from all over the world. News of the gathering was solely spread by word-of-mouth in a pre-internet age. It was facilitated by the accommodating attitude and foresight of local landowner Mick Clear and Mountmellick Garda Sergeant at the time Joe Marshall. The events of the time were captured in a radio documentary some years ago by Ann Marie Kelly for Midlands 103. 

Author John Whelan explained to the Rath NS pupils that the gathering in the Slieve Blooms had a profound influence on him, his subsequent journalism and approach to the environment and nature. The gathering in Ballyhuppahaun encapsulated the importance of how we all behave individually and take responsibility in relation to the landscape, wildlife, nature, and our environment. 

“What we all do next as individuals really counts. It has an influence, and impact on the outcome. The great thing is that the final chapter of this book has yet to be written. It will be written by you, it’s in your hands. You matter, and what you do matters and therefore I am confident that the future of our environment is in good hands,” he told the school children, adding, “Plastic waste, litter and pollution is caused by one person at a time and accumulates to a scale that seems insurmountable, but likewise it can be tackled, reversed and solved, by us all, one person at a time.”

Rath NS teacher, Sinéad Murphy explains, “Our motivation for organising the event was to enrich the children’s experience of books and of reading. They rarely get to meet the person behind the book and hear how the magic of writing happens. John’s talk about the importance biodiversity and taking care of nature is also something close to our heart in Rath NS. We have a native woodland planted behind our school and enjoy planting in our window boxes and poly tunnel each year.  We have five green flags one of which is for biodiversity, and we are currently developing an innovative outdoor classroom. We’ve also been involved in pollinator projects in the past. We hope that the visit by a Laois writer has inspired budding authors and the future caretakers of our world.” 

John Whelan said afterwards that it was an immensely enjoyable and fulfilling occasion and that he was in awe of the knowledge and engagement from all the children, along with the progressive extra-curricular activities available at the school.

Ryan receiving his prize.

“Mother Nature and the planet is in good hands,” he enthused. 

For more information on The Last Beekeeper go to