Irish is one of four languages our son speaks in Sweden

Seachtain na Gaeilge: Speaking Irish in… Stockholm


My two-and-a-half-year-old son is quite the celebrity at his dågis (Swedish preschool); he speaks Swedish with his classmates, French to his mother (her mother tongue), Irish to me (and his Mamó), and halting English to his “Dad-dad!” (who is always greeted joyously with this obligatory exclamation[!] and smile) on Skype.

I’m currently based in Stockholm, completing a research fellowship at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden. This fellowship is just the latest stage of a multi-fellowship research career, which started in Waterford and has included research visits to Curitiba in Brazil, Nice in France, and now Stockholm over the past three years. I have been lucky to share these research adventures with my wife and son.

We have been raising him through Irish (and French) with the help of a number of fantastic books, including Báidín Fheidhlimidh and Ící Pící. We hope he will learn enough English by interacting with friends.

Our circle of expat friends includes Americans, Germans, Canadians, Swedes, Brits, Dutch, South Africans and French and they have taken an interest in our approach, as many of them are also raising bilingual children. It has been useful to compare notes on how to get our children to distinguish between languages.

But our use of Irish has given rise to a number of interesting situations. For instance, our son’s head-teacher asked me whether I could write the numbers and a few other common phases in Irish for the classroom. I decided to go one step further. I decided to round off a caffeine-fuelled nuit blanche on an academic paper with a recording session, producing a simple language tuition for his class, hosted on Soundcloud. I doubted it would ever be played. Imagine my surprise when I called into an open day at his dågis a number of weeks later and saw Chinese, Kurdish, Swedish children munching away on their lunches in an orderly manner, listening intently to my voice boom out the numbers in Irish: “a h-aon, a dó...” This incident gave us great encouragement.

It turns out raising a child through Irish in Sweden is not that challenging, especially when you consider the Swedish words for a number of everyday items. For example, the Swedish words bord (table), ol (beer, but exactly the same as the Irish verb to drink), and go brea are not that far off in meaning from their Irish counterparts. Their pronunciation in Swedish is different of course, but you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Irish if you half-listened to the announcements on the metro system, given that the “music” of the language is also quite similar to Irish.

Our now eight-month-old daughter was born a number of months after our arrival, on the Swedish national day. The hospital celebrated the births by giving the children the Swedish national flag.

The fact that her birth fell on a Saturday, the Swedish national day, and that the following Monday was a bank holiday, allowed her to experience Swedish nationality for two days, until the Irish and French embassies opened for business and claimed her for their own. We will always remind her how close she came to being Swedish, and how close she was to being named Flicka (the Swedish word for girl) due to our inability to read the Swedish language version of the birth registration forms.

A short time after her birth we met another Irishman, the first I’d met in Stockholm. Not only did he grow up about a mile away from where I’d grown up, but he went to Scoil Lorcáin, Baile na Manach, the school we have registered our children for on our return. He too had a daughter that year (his first child), whom he intends to raise through Irish. Since then, we have instigated our own Swedish ciorcal comhrá/sugradh, which meets at least twice a week.

We have both drawn mutual support from each other. We have shared resources, including an excellent recording of Máire Mhac an tSaoi’s Oíche Nollag which transfixed my son in the lead-up to Christmas. In addition, our children can see that their parents use the language as a day-to-day medium, and that it has an equal status to English and French in social environments.

My son’s demands to our Irish friend are now always in Irish, which is fantastic - “Tá mé ag iarraidh briosca eile, le do thoil, brioscaaa, brioscaaaa”. When my son earnestly informs me, from time to time, after a period of intense reflection that Mammy speaks Francís, Dadaí speaks Gaeilge and that his Dad-dad speaks Béarla, I know that we are on the right track.

I’d like to finish off by mentioning my appreciation for just a few of the great things about Ireland as seen from abroad:

o The generosity of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who sent us Irish books and CDs to help us make Irish part of our children’s play.

o The Cúla 4 Cainte App development team, who have made the Dublin-Stockholm in-flight sound track “ROTHAR!!!”, “BÓ!!” “EITILEÁN!!!!!” possible.

o The passport control personnel in Dublin Airport who never fail to correctly pronounce our children’s names; no furrowed brows here, and no looks of intense concentration... just a cheerful “welcome back” which is greeted by a light skip in our hearts as we realise we’re finally home again.

This article is part of a daily series for Seachtain na Gaeilge about keeping a love for Irish alive in foreign places. For more see

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