‘It is really worthwhile going beyond Munich, Berlin or Hamburg’

Wild Geese: Seanán Ó Coistín works in Luxembourg and lives in Trier, Germany

Founded by the Celts and conquered by the Romans, Trier is an amalgam of ancient cultures and new Germany, situated close to the border of France and Luxembourg.

By having a knack for languages, Seanán Ó Coistín is well placed in the small German city in the heart of Europe.

“I picked up a love of languages from my family. My dad is from the Gaeltacht in Waterford – yes there is one, while my grandfather’s first language was Irish and he spoke broken English.”

After a decade in central Europe, Ó Coistín has added French, German, Spanish and Portuguese to his tally – with varying degrees of fluency. “My German is coming along nicely. I love communicating with the local people in their mother tongue and they really appreciate it. Obviously not everyone in Germany is fluent in English, though many understand it.”

Originally from Kilcock in north Kildare, Ó Coistín attended Scoil Chearbhaill Uí Dhálaigh in Leixlip, where he picked up a love of Irish, moving to Scoil Uí Riada and Maynooth post-primary school.

“From 1999 to 2004, I went to the University of Limerick and earned a BA in history, politics and social studies, following it on with a graduate management course in Belfast.” But the lure of Irish was strong and between 2006 and 2007 he completed a Higher Diploma in Irish and translation in Carna in Connemara.

During the latter end of the noughties, when the recession hit, Ó Coistín says opportunities for Irish history experts were thin on the ground, so he applied for a post as an Irish language translator and proofreader in Luxembourg.

“I got a job at the Publications Office of the European Union, proofreading the official journal of the European Union in Irish and English as well as other documents such as manuals, brochures and websites in Irish and English.”

He returned home in 2015, to work as an Irish-language development officer in Galway and participated in a business innovation course in Trinity College Dublin before returning to Luxembourg to take up a position as a translator. “This time I worked at the the European Parliament, translating laws, declarations and other texts from English and French into the Irish language.

“EU laws need to be translated into the official languages of the EU. For legal reasons, any EU citizen should be able to read the law in their language and Irish is the first language of Ireland,” Ó Coistín notes.

In 2021, during the pandemic, a position as a press officer for Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency came up. “I translated press releases into French and disseminated them in English, French, and German to over 1,200 journalists around the world. It was amusing to see press releases that were issued from my dining room table becoming headline-grabbing news stories on the likes of RTÉ and Euronews. The press releases I sent out covered economic, social, trade, financial and environmental statistics in the EU.”

Despite working in Luxembourg, Ó Coistín moved in 2017 to the German city of Trier, a 40-minute train commute away.

“It’s not unusual for people living in border towns to choose to live in Germany, as it is much cheaper. I found an apartment in the middle of the old city, which is over 100sq m in size, with several rooms, a balcony, storage rooms, a cellar and lots of space for €880 per month, and just over €1,000 including heating. Before I left Luxembourg, I paid €875 for a room in a house with seven people.”

Ó Coistín says working from home inspired him to focus on a business idea he has been honing for a few years. “I founded a boxer shorts brand buachaill.com – referring to ‘young male’ in Irish.”

“I wanted it to be Irish made, with a strong Irish identity, but we don’t have many boxer shorts manufacturers in Ireland. I’m currently growing the brand, and am selling to Ireland but also to countries across Europe and North America.”

Germany offers a good base for a start-up, he adds. “I’m not far from home, and surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe. When family come to visit, they are always amazed by how beautiful Germany is. Trier is a small town with a population of just over 100,000 people. It’s very quaint and nice. There are so many small towns here in the area, which are stunning. The Moselle and Saar rivers and the mangroves along them are beautiful. It’s really worthwhile going beyond Munich, Berlin or Hamburg, and seeing the countryside.”

Also, he says, and this might come as a surprise to people, but Germans are “funny and definitely not boring”.

“I don’t know why they have such a reputation which suggests otherwise,” he says.

With a high quality of life in Germany, Ó Coistín is enjoying living there. “I’m happy in Germany. It’s so central and if I want to commute to France or Luxembourg, I could do that. My younger sister and her husband and their two children live in Luxembourg, so I see them often and it’s great to spend time together. On the downside, the Germans don’t know how to pronounce my name, but that’s to be expected.”

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