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‘I feel I am in the centre of Europe. Once you live in a big city, it is difficult to move to a smaller place’

Wild Geese: Brian O’Farrell lives in Berlin and works in a recruitment agency to match applications with an employer

The fall of the Berlin Wall was to prove a turning point for former schoolteacher Brian O’Farrell. A UCD graduate, O’Farrell, who hails originally from Roscommon, had moved to the German city more than two years earlier, in 1987 following spells teaching in Dublin, Canada, Italy and France.

In the following years, he organised summer schools in Kerry for Germans who wanted to improve their English. That led to him arranging internships in Ireland for some of these students.

As the Celtic Tiger started to roar in the mid-1990s, employer demands changed. Companies in Ireland were looking for German speakers for “proper jobs” as he terms it and O’Farrell made the switch from teaching to recruitment in 1998, trading as O’Farrell Recruitment.

“I was in the right place at the right time. Big US multinationals like Apple, Xerox and IBM were recruiting heavily and needed German-speaking employees for their facilities in Ireland.


“It was relatively easy for me to recruit as there were a lot of candidates who had grown up in eastern Germany where they had been taught Russian instead of English as a second language and they were very keen to improve their English language skills and their long-term employment prospects when they moved back to Germany.”

Ireland was an attractive location for these candidates at the time as rents were considerably cheaper than they are now and accommodation was easier to find.

O’Farrell initially sourced candidates through newspaper and magazine ads, gradually moving to online sources as internet use increased and built up a base of client companies in Ireland. His base in Berlin along with his good German and background in Ireland proved invaluable.

“I remember talking to a HR manager in Dublin who told me she was having huge difficulty in sourcing German speakers in Ireland. I told her that it might be a long shot but had she tried Germany?”

Over the years, O’Farrell has broadened his scope, recruiting across a wide range of sectors and geographies, including doctors and midwives for Irish hospitals, dentists for the UK and engineers and project managers across Europe. Germany and Ireland remain the core focus of his business, however.

I certainly don’t miss the Irish weather having grown up in the west of Ireland with all the rain

Among his more recent clients are a number of Irish engineering companies carrying out big infrastructure projects in Germany while he has also tapped into a growing market for positions in the renewable energy sector.

His quarter century in business has seen shocks to the system, including the bursting of the dotcom bubble, the financial crash of 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic, all of which severely impacted business at those times.

“I have learnt that it pays to be flexible and not to concentrate too narrowly on just a few sectors,” he says.

Germany is now Ireland’s second-largest export market, having overtaken the UK, and O’Farrell sees huge potential for Irish companies, including SMEs. While English is spoken widely in Germany, speaking German to customers is vital for anyone trying to do business here, he notes.

While the German economy has slowed lately, with GDP shrinking by 0.3 per cent in the last quarter of 2023, O’Farrell says the bigger picture is that Germany is still a strong, vibrant economy with plenty of opportunities for those willing to work hard.

“It’s a rich country with nearly full employment and skills shortages across a range of sectors. Germany is the fourth largest economy in the world and the economic powerhouse of Europe,” he notes.

O’Farrell has scaled his business appropriately over the years, employing people as he needs them on either a full-time or part-time basis. He uses platforms such as LinkedIn and Indeed to source candidates.

He works out of a home office in his apartment in Berlin, which he shares with his long-time partner Christiane, a teacher who he met in Berlin. Christiane is an archaeology graduate who previously worked in that field and the couple have spent time visiting ancient sites in Greece, Italy, Turkey and Egypt.

The German capital is a pleasant city to live in and, as a keen cyclist, O’Farrell enjoys its cycleways and green open spaces. There is also a vibrant arts scene, with around 300 galleries and the city has become a mecca for artists around the world.

Relatively low rents, by the standards of large European cities, have added to its attractiveness. There is also a strong tech start-up scene in software and AI.

O’Farrell says Berliners are keenly looking forward to staging some of the key fixtures of the Euro 2024 championship, including the final in July in the Olympiastadion venue, notwithstanding that the national team has not been performing well lately.

Having spent much of his younger life travelling, O’Farrell says he has found contentment in the German capital.

“I feel I am in the centre of Europe. Once you live in a big city, it is difficult to move to a smaller place so I am happy and settled here for the foreseeable future. I certainly don’t miss the Irish weather having grown up in the west of Ireland with all the rain.”

“What I miss about Dublin is the laid-back ways you find there. It’s easier to get to know people socially in Ireland. Germans are more reserved and serious.”