Interview with Pete Kern, Beeswax Candles
by Garreth Byrne, Dromahair Community, November 2020

Beeswax candles Pete kern in workshop

Pete Kern of Rainbow Candles is a craft candle maker in Ireland living near Dromahair.  He is soft spoken, bearded, bespectacled with well-groomed long hair tied at the back. His childhood was spent in a German town of 35,000 inhabitants. His schooling was normal, but an impressive figure in his moral and social education was his grandmother. During her long productive life – she died in 1994 aged 98 – she attended to church matters and was active in educational projects benefiting children and young people as well as outreach to the elderly in the community. The German state awarded her a medal for outstanding Civic Service.

After leaving school, Pete spent 9 months working as a kindergarten assistant, but military service interrupted his training. Later he tried his hand as a Land Surveyor. He made candles as a hobby – in his Dromahair workshop is a collection of mainly German books on the subject.

But how did Pete arrive in North Leitrim?

“I met my brother’s friend who had bought a derelict cottage near Fawn close to Dromahair.  He invited me to spend a working holiday helping to renovate the cottage. Soon after my return to Germany I quit my job and returned to Leitrim.” Settling into a new social and physical environment was easy. “I felt I had come home. I was glad to quit the formal career-conscious society of Germany.” This was about 1983. He helped his friend in an enterprise called Spruch & Co. with 6 employees that renovated old dwellings. In his spare time Pete also did house repairs and other casual jobs to pay rent. Then in August 1985 Pete threw himself seriously into making candles as a stable source of income.

What kind of candles at first?

At the beginning he made candles from paraffin, obtained from Dublin. The wax is melted and poured into moulds to set. The wax shrinks and needs to be topped up continually. Then candles are removed from the moulds and the wick is inserted.

Did his skills develop?

As his work proceeded he innovated, experimented and developed in sophistication. He made chakra candles. Chakra candles combine color therapy with aromatherapy and are a great way to enhance energy healing sessions and meditations. Not all customers use candles for these purposes. Light, aroma and atmospheric ambience suffice for many users. Pete learned that Irish people don’t use candles at home or in the restaurant trade to the same extent as continentals.

And what about beeswax candles?

Pete prefers to make candles from beeswax because it is a more natural product. Unscented, these candles produce a pleasant, natural smell. Beeswax is a renewable resource and no chemicals are used in the production.

Lately Pete has been pleasantly surprised to learn that an Irish saint from Celtic church times is the Patron Saint of Bees. Saint Gobnait lived in sixth century Ireland.  An angel told Gobnait to search for the place she belonged by looking for nine white deer.  She travelled all around until she saw nine deer grazing on a hill in Ballvourny, County Cork.  She built a monastery, established a religious order, and kept honey bees, a sacred insect in Irish folklore.  She used honey from her beloved bees to comfort and heal the sick and wounded. People invoke Gobnait for healings of all sorts and the trees near her wells are covered with rosaries and other religious trinkets and gifts to thank the Patron Saint of Bees for granting special requests.  Her feast day is February 11, when pilgrims descend on Ballyvourney.

Not long ago, a County Cork woman who sells Rainbow Candle products arranged for a contact to buy a consignment of the Dromahair candles and take them to Knock for a special blessing. Then the blessed candles were despatched onwards to Cork.

What is Pete Kern’s business philosophy?

Be prepared to work 16 hours a day at critical times. Pay attention to details. Quality product and good service are essential. Beeswax must be correctly stored – mice need to be kept away as they might like a nibble. [Pete has a cat roaming inside and outside his dwelling.] Timing i.e. doing tasks at the right moment, is important in candle making.

Leitrim County Enterprise Board in the early years helped him to grow his business. Craft shows at the RDS in Ballsbridge raised his profile and extended his customer base. Pete was photographed with Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey in 1992 and in 1996 he posed for a photo with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

How does Pete use his spare time constructively? 

Music: he listens to the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Santana, Simon & Garfunkel and oldtime Jazz among others in his big collection of LP records and CDs.

Books have always been in his life. Herman Hesse’s novels like Steppenwolf; Science Fiction with philosophical messages [Star Wars and other robotic spectaculars leave him unimpressed – nein danke!] the works of George Orwell and spiritual enquiry books appeal to his intelligence. He sometimes returns to a German translation of a book by Jane Roberts: Seth Speaks – The Eternal Validity of the Soul (Von der ewigen Gültigkeit der Seele).

Movies: he watches Art House indie movies. Pan’s Labrynth impressed him. If weather permits, he likes staring into a starlight Leitrim sky to ponder nature’s immense mystery.

Pete admires handmade crafts and his home is adorned with interesting items bought in Ireland and abroad.

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