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Shane O'Neill and the Bees

Over the years, my father Shane brought some strange critters into our home, including spiders, birds, chickens, a full size donkey, ducks, raccoons, skunks, squirrels and an opossum that bit him when he held it up by its tail.

One summer day in 1957, Shane ordered three wooden beehives and five hundred bees from the Sears catalog.  Mr. Shane O'Neill had a great idea.  He was going to become a beekeeper.  He thought he'd have plenty of honey to sell and he'd make lots of money.


“We will soon be rich,” Shane said to my mother. “Maybe we'll be even richer than Oona.”  Then he said, “The bees will make our garden beautiful and the kids will have plenty of honey for cookies and oatmeal.”

In a week, the bees arrived.  Shane quickly got all the bees and hives ready with help from us kids.  Maura helped Shane put the wooden hives together.  Ted helped with the hammering and sawing.  Ted loved to make things from wood, but most of all, Ted loved to help his daddy.  I helped Shane get the bees out of the containers they arrived in and carefully put them into the hives.  This was a dangerous job.  Two year old Kathleen just watched the whole thing.  She was very interested and asked Shane a million questions.


Within no time, the wooden hives were all together and the busy little bees were doing their job making us a lot of honey.


Cathy and children, 1957

Later that week, Shane showed me the inside of the hives and how the worker bees took the nectar from flowers, brought it back to the hives and put it in the wax cones to make the honey.  Shane pulled out a wax cone so I could see the honey and bees on it.  The bees were interesting to watch – little bees flying and buzzing around, making honey all summer long.  There were hundreds of bees all over our yard, flying from flower to flower and making our garden beautiful.


“Oh, how busy the little worker bees are, and they're so cute,” I said to Shane“But that big fat lazy queen is ugly looking.

By October, the weather was changing.  It was starting to get too cold outside for the bees.  Shane noticed that some of his bees were dying, and most of the honey was not yet ready.


“How can I keep the bees from freezing to death?”  Shane asked Cathy.


“I don't know,” she laughed.  “Maybe you should take them all down south!”


“That would be nice, if I could get them on a train,” Shane said.

Later that night, it was very cold out.  Everyone was sleeping, except Shane.  In the middle of the night, Shane went out to the backyard to check on his bees.  He found that many of his prize bees were dead or dying.  Shane was desperate.


“What can I do for the poor little fellers?” Shane thought.  “Well, if I take the beehives in the house and up to the attic, the bees will be nice and warm and they can survive the long, cold winter.”


So Shane carefully took all three beehives full of bees into the house and up to the attic.  By the time he finished, he had lots of bee stings.  Shane was tired after all that work, so he went to bed and fell asleep.

Early the next morning, Maura and I were about to get up and get ready for school.  As I started to climb down from the top bunk, I heard a loud buzzing sound coming from the attic door.


“What's that noise?” I asked Maura.


“It sounds like a bee,” Maura said.


Then, all of a sudden, a large swarm of angry bees flew past my bed.


“Yeeeeks!” I yelled.  It wasn't one bee.  There were lots of bees Bees were swarming and stinging us, and dying all over our room.


“Eeks!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.  “There are bees in the house!  Oh, no!  They’re stinging me.  Bees are in my bed.  They’re bees on me.”


Maura yelled, “Gakie, bees are all over our room. How can we get ready for school?” Getting no reply, Maura said, “I think I can walk around the bees if I'm careful. Just watch how I do it.”


Maura stepped out of bed and started to walk around the bees. Within seconds, poor Maura was covered with bees.  She was getting stung all over.  She stepped on more bees as she tried to get back into her bed.  Maura was screaming, “Help! Help! Help!”



Maura ran into the front bedroom and jumped into Ted's bed, waking him up.


“Maura what are you doing?” Ted asked.


Maura was crying.  She was full of bees and they were now stinging little Ted.


Ted screamed, “Maura, get out of here! You got bees in my bed!”


Maura wrapped Ted up in the covers and told him not to move so he wouldn't get stung anymore.  Kathleen was still sleeping in her crib.  Bees were sitting on the railings and mattress, but they didn’t sting little Kathleen.

We were all prisoners in our beds, too terrified to move.


My mother Cathy, hearing all the noise, came running up to see what was happening.  When she saw our bedrooms full of bees, she screamed, “Shane!  What the hell did you do?”  She grabbed Kathleen out of her crib and said, “Don’t any of you kids move.


She ran downstairs with Kathleen and into the kitchen, where she put Kathleen in her highchair.  Then Cathy got a can of bug spray and ran back upstairs.


“Everyone get under the covers and hold your breath,” she said.  “I have to spray some poison on the bees.”


Cathy sprayed bug spray all over our rooms and soon all the poor little bees were dead or dying.


Maura and Kathleen, 1957


Maura cried, “I have an important test today.  How can I get ready for school?  Mr. Jones is going to give me an F.  I studied all week long.  It's not fair.  What's wrong with Shane?  He did it just so I would fail.  He hates me.”


Poor Maura had bee stings all over her body.  She couldn't go to school that day.  She went to the doctor instead.  While everyone but Kathleen got stung by the bees that day, Maura had the most stings, by far.

After my mother was done spraying the bees, I looked at the bedroom floor and saw we had a wall to wall carpet of dead and dying bees.  My mother got a broom and dustpan, and swept up all the dead bees and threw them out the window.  This whole time, my father Shane was sleeping.

Later that day, Cathy asked my father what had happened.  He told her he had brought the poor bees into the house and put them up in the attic so they wouldn't freeze to death.  He thought they would be safe there all winter.


“They hated it up there,” Cathy said, “so they went nuts and came down to the kids’ bedrooms and started stinging them.”  Then she said, “Poor bees my ass!  What about your poor kids here all full of bee stings?  I think this is the dumbest thing you ever did, and you've done some very strange things over the years.


Shane looked down at the floor, feeling guilty and ashamed, and said, “I'm sorry.  I didn't think the bees would come down from the attic.”  Then he walked out the front door and took a long walk.  I guess it was a very long walk.  He was gone for days.

By the time I finally arrived at school, I was almost three hours late.  When the teacher asked me why I was so late, I told her all about the bees and how they wouldn't let me out of bed.  She believed me, because how could a child of seven make up an excuse like that!


Shane in the Old Store


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