‘Irish people are very friendly but also quite closed’

New to the Parish: Sean and Tara Byrne moved from Taiwan to Ireland with their Irish father and Taiwanese mother and took a while to settle in

When Sean and Tara Byrne first moved to Ireland they would spend hours watching Taiwanese TV shows. Growing up with an Irish father and a Taiwanese mother in Taipei, the twin siblings spoke English and Mandarin at home. However, when they moved to Ireland in 2006 they discovered their English wasn't as fluent as they thought.

"In Taiwan our English was obviously really good compared to other kids our age because our dad's Irish," says Sean. "But when school in Ireland started it was a big shock. I think we thought we were pretty decent at English. I was good at listening, it was just the speaking part. I became a lot more shy and quiet than I would have been in Taiwan."

His sister agrees. “The biggest challenge after moving to Ireland was definitely the language barrier,” says Tara. “Although we did speak English in Taiwan to my dad, it was still not to the standard where we could converse comfortable on a day to day basis, let alone read and write.

“I think Sean settled in quicker because he started reading a lot of novels in English but I hung on to Chinese a lot longer.”


The young siblings used Taiwanese TV, music and films as a tool to grasp on to the familiar sounds of home. “For those first three or four years we would constantly watch Taiwanese shows,” says Sean. “I don’t think we watched much Irish or English television at all. We were very homesick but eventually, something just changed. Gradually you move on and start picking up new things.”

The siblings still speak Mandarin to their mother Jane whose Chinese name is Lin Show-Jen. Sean’s name in Taiwan is Lin Gin-Shen while Tara is called Lin Gin-Fang.

Jane, who comes from the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, and her husband Brendan had always agreed that once their children reached secondary school they would move to Ireland. When the family arrived in 2006 Jane stayed home and took care of the children. After making contact with the Taiwan Ireland Association and meeting members of Ireland’s tiny Taiwanese community, Jane began baking delicacies for Taiwanese celebrations. However, making friends with Irish people was more challenging.

“Irish people are very friendly but also quite closed,” says Jane. “If you come here young it’s easier because your kids go to primary school and you can meet other parents. But they were only in primary school for one year so after that, there was nobody to meet.”

“If you have a good conversation with somebody in Taiwan and they say ‘we should go for coffee’, it’s a serious proposition,” adds Sean. “When you come here you have an expectation when somebody says that and you’re disappointed when it doesn’t happen.”

Jane joined the International Women’s Club in Dublin where she met other women from around the world who had moved to Dublin. “Everyone’s so nice and we have a wonderful time. Our choir has a concert every year. But, I still don’t have many Irish friends.”

Tara is now doing a Masters degree in sociology and criminology while Sean is in the final year of his undergraduate degree in medicinal chemistry. Both siblings agree it took at least five years to feel completely at home in Ireland.

“It took me a really long time to settle,” says Tara. Even a few years later when I went into secondary school I still felt like Taiwan was my home and it felt like I didn’t belong here. It wasn’t until fifth and sixth year that I felt I had settled in.”

“I found the humour and general carry-on of the other kids different,” says Sean. “The Irish culture was just so different to Taiwan, like the way they’d make fun of each other. It was good sport but you wouldn’t have really done that in Taiwan

When they first arrived in Ireland the twins spoke Mandarin with each other. Ten years on, most of their conversations are in English with certain words breaking into Chinese.

One of the positive aspects of moving to Ireland as young teens was the twins didn’t have to face into 12-14 hour school days. “In Taiwan you’re in school from 7/8am to around 4pm, but then it’s the norm to go to a grind school and that won’t finish until 8/9pm,” says Sean. “The lifestyle back there is too different, it’s so busy. It would be really tough to go back and work in Taiwan.”

Each time the family visits Taiwan, Sean feels increasingly isolated from his former life in Taipei. “We try to keep in contact with our friends but it’s mainly just the four friends we grew up with. The school friends are more difficult. They kind of treat us like ‘you’re the guys who left’.”

Even though Tara has plenty of friends in Ireland, she still feels homesick for the comforts of her Taiwanese childhood. “Most of my friends’ parents would have been friends with my parents for years so we were all very tight knitted and close. I also miss the food and night markets. The food in Taiwan is amazing and everywhere you go you can find night markets where there are stalls selling food, clothes, bags, electric goods.

“I find that there are also more things to do in Taiwan, for example, night market, arcade, board game cafes, etc that you can’t find in Ireland.”

The family are still actively involved in Ireland's Taiwanese community and Jane prepares a Chinese New Year celebration in their south Dublin home in Greenhills every year.

“Family and community are very important to Taiwanese people and Chinese New Year is like Christmas for us if not even a bigger deal,” says Tara. “When I was young we would spend a week or more with my family where we would make food and travel around Taiwan.”

The past 10 years have been challenging for the whole family, but after a decade Jane, Sean and Tara are comfortable calling Ireland home. “There have been difficult moments,” says Jane, “but this is our home now.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast