Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Exploring the world one country at a time

I’ve taught scuba diving in the Maldives, worked in Australia and built schools in India, and now, as I set up a new business linking Ireland and India, I’ve no intention of settling down, says ÁINE EDWARDS

Fri, Mar 9, 2012, 08:41


I’ve taught scuba diving in the Maldives, worked in Australia and built schools in India, and now, as I set up a new business linking Ireland and India, I’ve no intention of settling down, says ÁINE EDWARDS

Áine Edwards in the Taj Mahal.

AS A CHILD IN the 1980s I loved the old JWT travel brochures. I used to beg my parents to bring me to the place with the blue swimming pool and the white sandy beach where the sun shone all the time.

I was 15 when my cousin went to Germany, and the minute I heard about her trip, I wanted to go too. I wrote to her host family and asked if I could visit for a month that summer, which gave me my first taste for travel, and opened a door that has since taken me all over the world.

I graduated from a degree in IT in 1994 and after four years working in Dublin and Oxford, I headed off on a working holiday visa to Australia.

Having started to learn scuba diving in cold water in Ireland, this was my chance to continue in warm tropical seas. I ended up staying for three years, working as a German-speaking Padi diving instructor.

The lifestyle in Australia is fantastic, but eventually I began to miss home and the depth of Europe’s history, culture and architecture. I found a house in a tiny village called Nohoval near Kinsale on the internet, and bought it without even viewing it. It was by the sea, near nature, and not too far away from friends and family. I was granted a mortgage on the basis that I had a computer-science degree. I got a job within weeks of arriving back.

I was a different person then, to who I was when I left Ireland. I bought a surf board, bicycle and camera, and appreciated the beauty of Ireland more than I had ever done before. I saw sunsets and the moon in a whole new way. I was more positive, broad-minded and open to the world and the people around me.

But Ireland had also changed. The boom was in full swing, everything was so expensive, and restaurants were always full. I had a good job and a house, but something was missing in my life.

Áine at the Little Lambs School

My cousin’s wife, who died of breast cancer age 36, set up a charity to help a school in Chennai in India. The idea of doing voluntary work began to sprout in my mind, and a few months later I quit work, rented out my house, and went off with the intention of staying for six months.

I immersed myself completely in the community in Perambur where the school was based. I arrived with the intention of teaching the kids how to use computers, but soon I was helping to build a school, organise fundraising and source volunteers.

While there I met Sr Loreto, an Irish nun who has lived in the area for 70 years since she left Waterford at the age of 17. The Presentation Convent became an oasis where I drank Barry’s tea and talked about home.

The opening of the school was a huge achievement, and taught me that anything is possible.

After the school opened, I travelled to the Maldives for a five-day holiday, and was offered a month’s work in a dive school. I was in my early 30s then, and no one back home could believe I was going to work in this paradise place. When that contract was extended, it felt like I had won the Lotto.

I was still close to India, and was able to travel back and forth to Chennai, where I was coordinating my own school project. It opened in 2006 with 200 pupils and a full team of Indian teachers. By then, it was time to come back to reality and leave the Maldives. The place was heaven on earth, but it was a holiday world. My cousin had an IT business in Chennai, and a team from there were heading for London, so I moved to the UK and helped the Indian staff to settle in.

The company was bought out last year, by which time I was back working from home in Ireland. I was ready for a new challenge, and took a job with another Swedish friend who was running a business in India but looking to break into the Irish market.

Travelling to work in Chennai

I am based in Chennai now but travel back and forth to Ireland quite a bit. When I land in India I have an Indian accent, which is needed for communication, and I wear Indian clothes and bangles and bindis, but when I come back to Ireland I put on a pair of jeans and a jumper. I am very adaptable and the switch between the two cultures gets easier all the time.

My contract finishes at the end of the month, and I am hoping to start my own business to bridge the gap between Ireland and India for other businesses. I want to be able to utilise my connection with India to help Ireland to work with India. India is seen as a poor country, which it is, but things are changing very fast. There are opportunities not only for me, but for Irish business as well.

India is where I see my future. There is such a buzz and energy about the place. The minute you step off the plane you are instantly surrounded by smiles and nodding heads. There are smells and dirt and beggars and poverty, but that is only the surface. If you can look beyond that, the people are so easy-going, smiley, fun and pure.

If you had told me as a teenager that I would do all this in my life, I would have been amazed. People around me have thought down through the years that I would settle, once I bought a house, or the last time I came back to Ireland. But this is me. I don’t think I will ever want to settle, and with the whole world out there to explore, why would I?

- In conversation with CIARA KENNY

Going green for St Patrick’s Day


Friday, March 10th

Brisbane Parade departs from Elizabeth Street at 10.30am, kicking off the inaugural Brisbane Irish Festival, which will run until March 17th.

Sunday, March 11th

Brussels Parade departs from the statue of Le Chien Vert in Parc du Cinquantenaire at 1.30pm.

Birmingham Parade departs from Camp Hill at noon.

Manchester Parade departs from the Irish World Heritage Centre on Queens Road at 11.30am following a Mass as Gaeilge.

Auckland St Patricks Day Fair at Fowlds Park begins at 11am, with entertainment and activities for all ages.