How could I get children reading as Gaeilge for pleasure?

Laureate na nÓg Áine Ní Ghlinn on An Bosca Leabharlainne and Give Leabhar Gaeilge

Being appointed Laureate na nÓg/Children’s Literature Laureate in 2020 was – and still is – an incredible honour. It is also an incredible opportunity. As laureate, I could choose a project I felt passionate about, a project that would be delivered by myself and a team from Children’s Books Ireland (CBI).

The project I chose was an ambitious one – but one that could be carried out, at least in part, during lockdown.

Previous children’s literature laureates travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to deliver projects involving story, poetry and illustration.

In May 2020 it was clear that the early stages of my project would have to be delivered via Zoom from my box-room office and the home offices of all the team. Unlike Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea, I was destined to be the laureate who stayed at home!


As the first Laureate na nÓg to write exclusively in Irish, I wanted to lift the invisibility cloak from Irish-language literature for children. I wanted to create an opportunity for children to see reading as Gaeilge as fun and not just homework. This sounds all very well in theory. There are wonderful leabhair Ghaeilge out there for young readers. However, apart from designated Siopaí Leabhar Gaeilge, they often go unseen – sometimes hidden away on a low shelf, sometimes not there at all. It can be a vicious circle, of course. It’s a relatively small market and shelf space is costly. So how could I make these books visible? How could I get children reading as Gaeilge for pleasure?

Firstly, I wanted to find a way to gift Irish language books to children, to create the opportunity for them to see and explore the range of books available. This dream gradually grew legs, arms and a body and turned into a colossal project: An Bosca Leabharlainne, an Irish-language starter library for primary schools, a box of high-quality picture books, stories, novels to be read for fun.

I spent the first part of lockdown reading and re-reading every book available as Gaeilge for children. What's not to like about that?

With incredible hard work on the part of the CBI team, the laureate project manager and massive financial (and other) support from the Arts Council and Foras na Gaeilge, the dream has become a reality. At a cost of more than €440,000, 2,200 Boscaí Leabharlainne (containing 55,000 carefully chosen books) are on the road. Some have already arrived. The rest are on the way.

Enjoyable task

It was a huge undertaking, but from my point of view, a most enjoyable one. I spent the first part of lockdown reading and re-reading every book available as Gaeilge for children. What’s not to like about that?

Meanwhile, of course, others were doing the hard work. An application process was set up by CBI. Word went out on social media, schools were emailed, and hundreds and hundreds of applications began to roll in.

How could we encourage teachers and children to engage with and enjoy these books?

Books for An Bosca Leabharlainne were selected with absolute care – one set of 25 books for Gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht schools and a separate set for English-medium schools (where children have less exposure to reading as Gaeilge).

I read, I listened, I took expert advice and I selected books I saw as the best choices for a range of chronological ages as well as a range of reading ages. There were lists and back-up lists. Some books were no longer available, although most publishers were happy to pull out the stops and reprint where possible.

Was there a risk that a Bosca Leabharlainne might just sit in a corner? Not every school has a tradition of reading as Gaeilge for pleasure. How could we encourage teachers and children to engage with and enjoy these books?

Dr Claire Marie Dunne from Marino Institute of Education and I put our heads together and came up with about 80 games and activities to explore the bosca. These were compiled into a booklet by CBI, and there's one in every Bosca Leabharlainne. The booklet will also be available online on as will video activities with selected Irish writers.

Every school that applied will get their Bosca Leabharlainne. A small number will also get a residency. Between now and the summer, a team of authors and illustrators will visit 20 schools to work with children and staff on having fun with leabhair Ghaeilge.

At this stage, I can only hope that every book and every Bosca Leabharlainne will spark joy. I hope that the invisibility cloak will be lifted and that children will begin to enjoy reading as Gaeilge for pleasure.

Simple campaign

A second strand of the campaign to lift the invisibility cloak from leabhair Ghaeilge do pháistí is Give Leabhar Gaeilge, a simple campaign asking every adult to buy an Irish language book for a child. We ran this campaign in 2021 when bookshops were emerging from lockdown, and now, for Seachtain na Gaeilge 2022, we are rolling it out again. I have selected eight recently published books for young readers. These can be found in your local Siopa Leabhar or in Dubray Books. You could choose a book from my selection or, if you prefer, you could explore the various Irish-language publishers online.

If a reader has very little experience of reading as Gaeilge, there's no problem starting with a book for a lower reading age

Remember that the recommended reading age is a moveable feast. Depending on exposure to reading as Gaeilge, chronological age and reading age don’t always match. If a reader has very little experience of reading as Gaeilge, there’s no problem starting with a book for a lower reading age. Working in Spain many years ago, I frequently read children’s books. As well as improving my reading, these books opened up a window on Spanish culture. The same applies to reading as Gaeilge.

So, for Seachtain na Gaeilge (which tends to last a month nowadays), Give Leabhar Gaeilge. Give a child you know the joy of reading as Gaeilge.


Eoinín (0-3) by Muireann Ní Chíobháin, illustrated by Róisín Hahessy (Futa Fata)
Little Eoinín needs little children to twist, shake and create a puff of wind to help him get his kite flying high in the sky. Can you help?

Mo Chuid Amhráin Ghaeilge 2 (0-3) by Risteard Mac Liam , illustrated by Tatyana Feeney (My Irish Books)
A collection of verses from traditional songs. Toddlers will love the push button recordings, and parents may remember some of these from their school or Gaeltacht days.

Ríta agus an Fathach (3+) by Máire Zepf , illustrated by Mr Ando (An tSnáthaid Mhór)
Rita is a little girl with big ideas. Could a giant save the planet? Would she need help? What might happen if we work together?

Cluasa Capaill ar an Rí (5+) by Bridget Bhreathnach , illustrated by Shona Shirley Macdonald (Futa Fata)
An award-winning retelling of Labhraí Loingseach, the king with horse's ears. How long can you keep a secret like this? Spectacular illustrations carry us into a mythical otherworld.

Caoilte Caillte sa Mhúsaem (5+) by Gemma Nic Conchra (Éabhlóid)
When Caoilte's class visits the Natural History Museum, Caoilte ignores the No Entry sign and has a wonderful day with the animals nobody cares about any more.

Ó Bhó, na Beacha (5+) by Pauline Devine , illustrated by Róisín Curé (An Gúm)
Granny loves the bees and she doesn't want them to leave her garden. With help from her animal friends, she creates a temporary home for the bees while she repairs the broken hive.

Gairdín Mháire na mBláth (6+) by Tatyana Feeney (An Gúm)
Máire na mBláth helps fill the school garden with colour. She teaches the children to sow and care for the seeds. She teaches them the value and beauty of flowers.

Ó Am go hAm (8+) by Patricia Forde , Illustrated by Lauren O'Neill (Futa Fata)
When Aoife visits an old monastery at midnight, she is whooshed back in time to a world of monks, manuscripts and vicious vikings. Maybe history isn't so boring after all!

Áine Ní Ghlinn, poet and children's writer, is the author of 35 books and is Laureate na nÓg 2020-2023. Her most recent books include YA novel I Mo Chroí Istigh (Cló Iar-Chonnacht) and a collection of poetry, Rúin Oscailte (Coiscéím).

Laureate na nÓg is an initiative of the Arts Council. It is managed and delivered by Children's Books Ireland, and supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and the Department of Children