The snow lay softly across the plains, between the trees, and over the peatlands for as far as I could see from my window as I made my way south through the countryside. At that moment, the land shone brighter than the skies, as the impenetrable grey clouds grew darkers with the dying of the twilight. As the train sped through some smaller rural towns, every soul appeared to be in hiding; either seeking sanctuary in their homes, or in the warmth of the local pub.
The views from my window, seeing nothing but snow despite the springtime, made me imagine that I was travelling through the countryside of Sweden, Norway, or Finland. As if I would quicker see the names of Växjö, Hässleholm, or Malmö, instead of somewhat more familiar Thurles, Mallow, or Cork. The last time I had seen such snow, I was travelling through Þingvellir, the national park of Iceland. Winter had arrived for an unexpected encore, upstaging the Celtic spring.
For over a year, as I worked on my latest book, I had been thinking the meaning and value of that powerful word, home. Despite being in Ireland, the fresh snow of March reminded me of where my soul feels more at home with every time I visit: Scandinavia. Since my first trip to Copenhagen as a teenager some fifteen years ago, I’ve felt like my entire being or spirit vibrates at the same frequency as the energy of the Nordic countries, like a singer who finds their right place in a choir. I love to travel, yet there nowhere else I have felt as right or whole as whenever I am in Denmark, and I’ve felt a similar way whenever I visited Sweden, Norway or Iceland.
That being said, what does home mean when I feel so connected to Skandinavien, despite being a proud Dubliner?
Danish academic Carsten Schjøtt Philipsen studied the meaning of home for his doctorate from the University of Roskilde, and the newspaper, Kristeligt Dagblad, published his seven reasons why we feel at home in a particular place. The fifth one stood out to me:
Det betyder meget for hjemfølelsen, at man føler sig velkommen. At man kan mærke, at man er ønsket, der hvor man er. Det kan både være hos forældrene, kæresten, på den lokale café eller på bodegaen.
The feeling of home mostly comes when one feels welcome; that one feels that they are wanted wherever they are. That can be at the parents’ house, with a partner, at a local café, or in the bodega.
The recent concept of hygge has transcended its Danish origins to become a cultural phenomenon, spreading to hotels, coffeehouses, and holiday apartments across the world, adding to that “welcome home” feeling aimed at tourists. A warm welcome is certainly an important part of feeling at home, but what’s also important to note is that such a feeling is connected with one’s self-image and aspirations. Personally, I’ve definitely felt that in several places in Ireland, Britain, and across the Nordic nations.
As a teenager, I was inspired by my first visit to Copenhagen, and thought all the kids there were the epitome of cool. I have returned plenty of times since then, and each time I’ve felt more confident, more grounded, and more secure in myself, almost becoming the cool and cultured Københavnere who surrounded me. I’ve never lost that admiration for the Danes, and yet not once has it ever diminished my love for my own language and culture. However, that common ground of being a (western) European is what also makes me feel at home in another EU country, especially one which crossed paths several times with Ireland. How apt that I should feel a connection with the Danes, one might think, when I grew up on their old battleground, Clontarf.
Another Scandinavian scholar has written about that feeling of home, Norwegian sociologist Nina Røkkum. In a university blog article titled Hva er hjem? (What is home?), she wrote:
“The feeling of home can be connected to countries, places, and houses. [Even] other people and objects can make you feel home.”
Indeed, that plurality of home is the same conclusion I came to when I wrote my book; that my childhood home will forever be Clontarf in Dublin, and I feel just as ‘at home’ in parts Belfast, Cork, or Nottingham. And then, there’s my spiritual home, calling me to revive that forgotten term, the Gall-Ghael, or Norse-Gael. I am Irish, and proudly so, but my spiritual home is the city of writer H.C. Andersen, philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the Little Mermaid, and many more: Copenhagen.