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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Italians

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Immigration and Emigration
Radio, Pokes and Marble

Italians today

Leo D'Agostino,a second generation Italian, who was born in Belfast, is the Italian honorary consul to Northern Ireland. Like many of the Italians in Northern Ireland his family are from the Cassalaticco region of southern Italy.

He lecturers in English literature at St Mary's University College on the Falls Road. He grew up above his family`s fish and chip shop on the Crumlin Road, in north Belfast, and was the first in his family to receive a university education.

Leo D`Agostino , Italian honorary consul to Northern Ireland
Leo D`Agostino
Leo D`Agostino
© BBC 2003
He helped create the Societa Italiana d'Irlanda del Nord, which holds cultural events and language classes, keeping Irish Italians in touch with their culture heritage. "The families of people who came here in the 19th and early 20th centuries, who are now second or third generation Italians, have become absorbed into the local Irish community, they've lost anything that really makes them Italian, apart from a name."

Mr D`Agostino describes the nature of Italians migration as 'pendolare' - meaning commuter in English - with people making many trips made back and forth from their adopted country to their homeland. His own relatives proved this theory well.

His grandparents eloped to Belfast, in 1898 where they were married in a local church and lived in York Street. But barely a year later when Mrs Fusciardi, became pregnant they decided to return to Cassalattico to have the baby.

However, when the baby who was conceived in Belfast grew up, he emigrated to Belfast, married an Italian girl working in Northern Ireland and lived in Belfast for 30 years, before finally retiring back to Cassalitico in his seventies!

Casalattico, Italy
Hills of Casalattico
Hills of Casalattico
© BBC 2003
A few years ago Leo D'Agostino travelled to Casalattico, where people returning from Northern Ireland have opened a fish and chip shop. "I visited a photographic exhibition of the history of Casalattico and was amazed to see photographs of York Street, Belfast City Hall, the seaside resort of Portstewart. Here we are in southern Italy and these places have resonance for Italians who still live here, who recognise these place names as being part of their family history."

Radio Waves

Another famous Italian link with Northern Ireland is the inventor of wirelsss radio, Marconi. Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Annie Jameson, whose family owned the Jameson Whiskey Distillery in County Wexford.

In 1898, Marconi and his colleagues carried out experimental transmissions, to test the ability of wireless communication, between the east lighthouse on Rathlin Island, off the coast of Ulster, and the White Lodge house near the harbour in Ballycastle.

After successfully testing his equipment, Marconi installed his invention in ships and major ports around the UK. It was an important safety feature which allowed operators to transmit distress calls in the event of an emergency.

The Marconi radio aboard the Titanic, which immigrant Italian workers also worked on, was the most powerful of any passenger vessel of the day. This meant that the number of survivors of the Titanic disaster could have been much higher, since ships many miles away picked up the distress call easily.

Desperation drove the southern Italians to Belfast, in search of a better life. Through hard work and determination, they eventually found it. The Italian immigrants may have had the strangest name in the class, but, amongst other things, they made sure that the Northern Irish were no stranger to a Fish supper and a poke ? Grazie!

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Your comments

1 Derek Simpson from Coleraine - 19 December 2003
"Enjoyed "The Morellis" very much - pity it had to be spoiled in the final seconds by that absurd illiterate book title on screen "The Morelli's" - cringe. "

2 William Roulston from Belfast - 10 October 2003
"The Ulster Historical Foundation has information on many Italian families who lived in Belfast in the nineteenth century, including birth, marriage and burial records. A number of Italians are buried in Friar's Bush graveyard on the Stranmillis Road in Belfast. These include Peter Angelenetta whose gravestone records that he was a 'slate merchant, a native of Italy'. He died in 1835. Also buried there is Mary Trabucco, daughter of Pietro Trabucco, a stucco manufacturer. She died in 1870 aged 22. "

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