The Italian Community in Ireland
Italians are one of the largest foreign communities in Ireland. My Nonna came to Ireland during the 1960s to work, leaving the poorer south of Italy - many Italian emigrants from the Val di Comino region would have left for the same reason. Chain migration played a huge role in the vast number of Irish-Italians today. One person would get settled in Ireland by securing a job, then their family would follow after them. Today, there are more than 6,000 people of Italian descent living on the east coast of Ireland alone. Over the years, we have become integrated into Irish society and, by establishing unique industries, there was little conflict between us and the Irish.
Italians came to Ireland in search of work and, quite literally, had no choice but to succeed. Coming from an impoverished background, they were motivated to work hard to prosper. Many Italian emigrants set up their own businesses, the most prominent being fish and chip shops. Fish and chips were relatively cheap and easy to make, thereby allowing Italian emigrants to thrive alongside the Irish, rather than competing against them. Fish and chip shop owners were faced with early mornings and very long days, though they brought with them an astonishing work ethic. My great-aunt, Loreta Marrocco, ran a chipper in Raheny. She and her husband, Carmine, were affectionately known as ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ by the locals. Another industry that was brought to Ireland by Italian emigrants was ice-cream shops. My great-grandfather ran Cafolla’s Ice-Cream on O’Connell Street for many years. His original gelato recipe was famous around Dublin. Similarly unfamiliar to Irish people at the time, the business flourished.
Though it was not easy for Italians to acclimatise to life in Ireland at first, they have become integrated members of Irish society. Life in Italy was very different to what they would have experienced here. The weather, for one, was foreign to them, as well as city living. Those who left the Val di Comino region were used to small villages and working on the farm. Community and family were important, and so, when they came to Ireland they naturally found each other. My Nonna would attend Sunday mass every week in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. A special mass was conducted in Italian by Monsignor John Moloney. Afterwards, they would go to Clery’s for coffee and a chat. As more and more Italians came to Ireland, there was a need for a place to gather. In 1971 the Club Italiano Irlanda was set up in Tibradden, Rathfarnham. It served as a place for Italians to meet, keep up traditions and maintain their cultural ties. Football camps and barbecues are still organised there to keep the community together.
The added difficulty of not speaking English, meant that the Italian community was even more tightly knit. When they first came to Ireland it was difficult to adapt to an entirely different way of living. However, today the Italian collective here is as prosperous as ever. We have expanded considerably, in terms of business, with people of Italian descent in every industry. Italian people have settled in countries all over the world, such as Argentina and the US. Perhaps this close connection to the Irish diaspora is why the Italian community was accepted so openly in Ireland. Family and culture are so important for Italians, so their ability to establish organisations for this to be facilitated contributed to their prosperity here in Ireland.