An Irishwoman in Sweden: It took time for me to feel ready to claim a corner of Stockholm just for me

Caring for babies and moving to a different country took priority over a woman’s love of theatre, but she found great opportunity in Stockholm

Three months after moving to Stockholm in April 2021, in the midst of a global pandemic with three small children, one question from people in Ireland kept coming up: “Have you made any friends yet?”

“Sure it’s no bother to you,” people said. “Aren’t you so social? Don’t you love making friends?”

I didn’t know what milk to buy, let alone how to go about making friends. I stood dazed in front of supermarket fridges for weeks – Swedes like their dairy.

Luckily, having a Swedish husband meant arriving into already-formed friendships. Having kids meant meeting mothers, some of whom I added to my list of people to invite around for evenings of wine, laughter and dance, usually in that order.


The friend department wasn’t lacking, but I was low in something.

In her book, The Well-Lived Life, 102-year-old Dr Gladys McGarey calls it your juice – I was low on juice. Your juice is something that sparks you, something that you exist for, your purpose for being alive.

It took time to recognise this, time to allow the kids to settle (one year and eight months to be precise) and time to feel ready to venture out beyond our neighbourhood and claim a corner of Stockholm just for me.

I reactivated my Facebook account (the main social media platform used here) and joined groups that sounded relatable. “Expat English-Speaking Moms” for instance, but chats about where to get new buggy wheels and which playschool is highly rated just didn’t do anything for me.

With my children taking their first baby steps into independence, I had some time to think. Where did I feel juiciest?

Next I tried “Creative People Meet-Ups in Stockholm”, but unfortunately me leaving my family on a Saturday afternoon to meet a group of 20-something-year-olds in the park to “Drink and Draw” didn’t sit well with my husband.

All the while, well-intentioned meddling continued from afar. “Have you found your own thing yet? Away from Philip and the kids? Would you try a pottery-making class or something?”

No, I’d be thinking, would you? Instead, I’d smile and nod. Yeah, that’s an idea all right. God, I missed their abrupt remarks though, the over-interest in other people’s lives. It pushed me to question myself.

With my children taking their first baby steps into independence, I had some time to think. Where did I feel juiciest?

Creating and producing New Fish A Musical with a group of geniuses in Smock Alley Theatre was one of the most personally rewarding experiences of my life. Its promising future was stunted by Covid. My own motivation for it was stunted by baby number three, and our move to Stockholm left me with an empty glass, not a drop, bone dry.

I had started writing again, which sparked a reminder of what it was to feel connected to a universal energy source.

An article I wrote was shared by the Irish Swedish Society, which led me to finding the amateur theatre group, Spuds and Sill, who were to tackle the great song-and-dance of the play Dancing at Lughnasa in all its complexity and charm for their annual spring production this year.

Caring for babies, moving countries – this had all taken priority over my love of theatre. Here was an opportunity to drink juice

It was a sign.

When I was seven, my Uncle Fergus [Linehan] took me to see Aunty Rosaleen in Dancing at Lughnasa on the Abbey stage. I was enamoured.

From that moment on, I wanted to perform.

My creative little soul found a way of expressing all its juicy outpourings of emotion and enthusiasm for life. Just like my Aunty Rosaleen and those five women whooping and hollering and kicking up on stage, I could let it all out.

Caring for babies, moving countries – this had all taken priority over my love of theatre. Here was an opportunity to drink juice.

We rehearsed on Monday evenings for three months, not nearly enough time, but we pulled it together and put on a show.

They were a mad bunch to be fair, different ages, some Swedish, some Irish, all there to put their trust in a group of people, to commit to something and see it through.

The National Theatre in London also ran a production of Dancing at Lughnasa in May. We shared pictures of the production in our WhatsApp group and joked about which production we would rather be in.

I was about to message, “I would leave you all high and dry for a chance to be in the National,” when a message from Maria arrived first.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Olympiateatern in Stockholm – a little black box theatre with exposed piping and mismatched seating where five sisters from Donegal whooped and hollered and let it all out – filled my glass full of juice.

If it runs dry again, just point me towards a theatre.

  • Grace O’Malley has now lived outside Ireland for more time than she has lived in it, and despite currently living in Stockholm with her children and Swedish husband, she still calls Dublin home.
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