Dún na NGall , the ancient name for Donegal translates into the very apt “Fort of the Strangers”. It is a town that has welcomed many through the years, some as simple tourists, others who have blended into the local community and made their lives here.
This week I met up with one of the most pleasant but also an extremely formidable person in her own right.
Rajni Singh Carney is a native of the Philippines of both Filipino/Indian descent but spent considerable time in the United States where she became a citizen.
Married to Sean Carney the General Manager at Lough Eske Castle Rajni is very much her own person and is carving out her own niche in Donegal.
Rajni spoke of her earlier days before coming to Donegal, “I studied Hotel Management in Switzerland and after a spell there I went on to gain experience in the United States and that’s where I first met Sean – we were both working together in management positions.
”It wasn’t love at first sight,” she joked “We matured well together like a good wine and after a year we started going out with each other.”
The couple travelled and worked in some of the most prestigious locations in the world – St John in the Caribbean, Alabama, St. Lucia and New York .
The life of an hotel manager is a nomadic one – one that can bring you to many parts of the globe but Rajni said “Sean is an Irishman deep at heart – he really was more Irish than the Irish here at home. In New York he was deeply involved in everything Irish – the GAA in Gaelic Park, rugby, if it was Irish, Sean was there. Deep down I alway knew that we would end up back here in Ireland.”
Rajni continued, “I had been to Cork and Dublin but as for Donegal, I knew absolutely nothing about it. An opportunity arose within the company at Lough Eske Castle and without too much consideration we jumped at it and there’s been no looking back since.”
What were Rajni’s initial impressions of Donegal? “You want me to be honest ? I was freezing for the first few weeks – the Caribbean to Donegal Bay is a rather dramatic move but in a very short time, I learned to love it.
“The air is just so clean and fresh and the land and seascapes are just so invigorating – around every corner you come across something different, it is a very inspirational country. I know it sounds like a cliche but the warmth of the people makes up for those wet and windy days – people are just so genuinely friendly.”
Your son Kieran goes to the local Gaelscoil in Donegal, what inspired that choice? “Simple – he is Irish but we also loved the openness that the Gaelscoil demonstrates. Even with the limited resources that the school has you can really see the dedication and genuine care for the children's development from the teachers. The children learn a second language which is great for their development and again because Kieran is Irish we only thought it appropriate that he learn his native language.
“At this stage I feel I have become part of the community- being involved with the Gaelscoil and being part of the Parents' Association has really made me feel part of Donegal. Of course through the hotel, which has also a good local clientele I have also made many friends.
“ I really can identify with a slogan I have heard about Donegal – “Only once a stranger, forever a friend.”
Like many here in Ireland cancer has impacted on Rajni’s life but has also played a major part in shaping her future.
She said, “You see, my mom is a cancer survivor; a warrior like no other who continues to fight the disease since being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 1994.
“Everyday since, in her opinion, has been a gift that she has taken advantage of, vowing to live life to the fullest and do good wherever possible. When one is diagnosed with a seemingly terminal illness, in reality they’ve got two options – give up or press on. My mom has always chosen the latter, in spite of everything this disease has taken from her, she’s never let it take her hope.”
Rajni, along with her business partner Christine, established a company which now operates out of the US and has partnerships in four countries and exports to both the USA and Canada and also has a number of outlets in Ireland in The Front Porch in Killybegs and Havana in Dublin but this is a company with a very different ethos.
“Since we established Une Écharpe –Une Vie, (One Scarf, One life) my mother’s enthusiasm has been contagious and her hope has become our hope.
“For me, I’m so happy to be part of this because I see the impact that happens at the local level when a scarf is sold. A living income is given to the weavers and a chain reaction of amazing things occur stimulating, at times, an entire village. I have added income myself because I make the pretty pouches that these scarves come in! What may seem like a small impact to most is actually quite huge when you see it through the weavers’ eyes.”
Continuing, “We exist as a company because we are driven by a desire to improve lives, not just days. We work with people not machines.
“These women have managed to turn their ashes into beauty…and the beautiful garments they make is a testament to that. We like to say all the time that “it’s more than a scarf” , because our scarves are made by women who previously had no hope--written off as being uneducated and deemed unable to effectively contribute to society.
“Whether coming out of situations of debilitating sickness, sexual abuse, extreme poverty or rescued from human trafficking these women are heroes, they refused to give up.”
“I suppose to a degree there are certain similarities to life in Donegal many years ago where Magee were famous for their hand woven tweeds and hand knits. This offered many local women the opportunity to work at home and gain a sense of independence and self esteem.
This inspiring woman, only sees a problem as a challenge adds: “When I walk around the lake here, or take to the hill and see so many colours and shades I know that we will soon be bringing an Irish flavour to many of our scarves. For those who would like to view these unique creations you can check them out at uneecharpeunevie.com”
Pictured: Main photo, Rajni Singh Carney and (inset) Rajni's mother, Mercedita, who goes by the name Nene and provided great inspiration for Rajni.