Can anyone help me interview, a few of the Belfast Italian Diaspora, as I am studying this subject.
In the final decades of the 1800s, Belfast trebled in population due to the rapid industrial expansion in the town. People poured in – not only from all the counties of Ireland, but from many other countries also; journeying to seek regular employment and share in the new prosperity.
Among those who came to make Belfast their home were many Italians who settled in the then quite run down area of Little Patrick Street and the surrounding streets which were sandwiched between two rather ornate Catholic Churches, St Joseph’s and St, Patrick’s-perhaps this gave them a feeling of ‘home. This area was close to the Belfast docks which was the immigrants’ port of entry into Belfast. The accommodation was inexpensive and no doubt this would have greatly influenced their decision to settle in that district and the area soon became known as ‘Little Italy’. The neighbourhood in which they made their home was already peopled with those who knew what it was to have little yet not be afraid to work hard to provide for their families. Indeed, the Italians and the Irish shared a strong love for family life. They opened their arms to embrace Irish life and yet in doing so shared with the people of Belfast the traditions of “the old country”. Many of them arrived in Belfast without even being able to speak the language: they came to these shores with only a hope for a better life, an ability to work hard, and sheer determination to build a future equal to the dreams of their youth.
Before long names like Cheverine, Scappaticci, De Lucca, Meli, Augustino, Notarantonio , Morelli, Tragginti, Marcello and Saclio, Valente, Fusco, Forte, Vergatti, and Capitano, Pasquale, Dragonetti, became common place in the area and blended in well with the Murphys and O’Neills, etc. Most of these Italian people were of poor background and had turned their backs on poverty at home in search of a better life in Belfast which was at that time being spoken of around the world as "Linenopolis" due to its huge linen industry and all those contributory industries such as bleaching and printing. As if that weren’t enough, Belfast had received the status of being made a city in 1888 and was basking in the international limelight of housing the biggest ship building and rope works in the world, so this new environment must have been quite different from the rural areas of Italy which they had previously called home. Perhaps they found it easy to settle here because so many Irish families had themselves in earlier said farewell to sons and daughters of their own who had sailed to foreign shores in the hope of finding a better life. Many of the young Italian girls and women went to work in the linen mills, but many of the men had specific skills in sculpturing and other artistic abilities, they became much sought after in their adopted city for their skills in sculpting figures, their ability to lay beautiful terrazzo floors and plastering abilities. This was at a time when Catholic churches where being completed or refurbished to a more ornate standard of finish, and statues were much in demand now that the city had its own work force of those who could sculpt the most exquisite religious figures. The less skilled men and boys would create smaller ’holy’ statues, painted most beautifully, to be sold around the doors of catholic homes.
Not all the Italian immigrants were poor; some were already internationally accredited sculptors and artisans who had been commissioned to come to Belfast to exercise their craftsmanship with marble and mosaic to the many new Catholic churches that sprang up in the late 1800s. Many of these religious works depicted classical biblical scenes which could easily be described as master pieces.
However, it was not only churches that benefited from the skills of these craftsmen and before long, local business men also made good use of their talents. ’The Beehive Bar’ on the Falls Road had some beautiful ornate plaster work undertaken by these highly skilled Italian men, as did the then new ‘Clonard Cinema’ on the Falls Road. Evidence of their skill can be still seen to this day in the beautiful full sized crucifix which takes pride of place in the front garden of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, also on the Falls Road; and was presented to the Church by the Italian community many years ago. This crucifix in itself became quite an oddity to the people of the Falls when they noticed that the figure had its feet crossed and one nail was through both feet whereas they were used to seeing the feet of the figure nailed side by side with a nail through each foot. This drew such attention that it was decided a small bush be placed in front of the beautiful crucifix concealing the crossed feet, and so it remains to this day.
Another art form which was undoubtedly a great link in bringing the Italian families closer to the locals was music, for both they and the Irish had a love of the accordion and fiddle.
Over the past few years I have interviewed, on Camera, about 50 Half Bap Little Italy men and women whose ages ranged from 50 to 90 years of age to get from the horses mouths as it where , the peoples history of these two old Belfast districts. And in 2007 I completed my task. Everyone of these people lived in the Half Bap or Little Italy, most if not all of their lives, so this history is the authentic story of a people who's claim to fame is that they were "Belfast One people", BT1, being the postal code for the district. I have put their memories together on a 2 Hour DVD so that later generations won't just know where in Belfast the Half Bap or little Italy was, but they can hear the history from those who lived there instead perhaps some Joe Bloggs. Half Bap - Little Italy £5 UK Free Postage.
Also in Rushlight film archives I have 11 hours of DVD concerning Half Bap Little Italy former residents.
Hi I have a book Half bap,(Little Italy)
My uncle give it to me I need to no if it's true if only 1000 books published.
I would be grateful for any info.
My granny was Sarah Trainor.
Regarding your enquiry about little italy/half bap book its true that there was a limited edition dont think was 1000 as we i think had 500 and then had another print of maybe 300 dont know exact figure so they are rare and special to those who have copies!! Also you say your granny mrs trainor would that be no.32 as we lived in 24 and then 34 so would know her?
Is your uncle's name Liam I can give you some info on your grannie. My grannie was Trainor at #32 Nelson St. and I might be able to help you. John Trainor
I remember the Holmes , aren't you related to Eamonn?
I see more information has been added to the Half Bap little Italy page .
i too came from the half map i lived in academy st. my dad was verger of st.annes cath. i would love to hear from anyone who knew me
Remember ur brother Brian very well,used to play table tennis with him in the newsboys club,would have been in ur home a couple of times with Brian.Vaguely remember u,it,s been a long time ago.Hope Brian is alive and well,he will remember me by my nickname lobster.Let him know i was asking about him.
hi bert brian alive and well living in carrick he has 4 kids told him you were asking about him
Its good to hear he is alive and well,i think the last time i seen him was over 30 years ago and he was living in ligoneil.We both have had 4 kids.all of mine have wed and left the nest.My wife and i go down to Carrick sometimes for a walkaround so thats a bit of a coincidence.Had some great memories from the past living in Little Italy and the Half Bap.
were did you live what was your second name
yes i know your name now i see cecil sloan sometimes in dockers although have not been there for a while brian is always saying he would love to go to a reunion he has done well he owns his own buiness in fruit machines and his son another brian owns a chip shop me i just had to work all my life lol great to hear from you and brian is going to go on site too
Hi Maureen,glad to hear Brian and his family have done well in life.Our paths have probably crossed in the dockers at some time,i was a member for a very long time and used to go every week,but i only go now and again.See Cecil very regularly,was looking through our book again and came across a photo of Brian and his wife in it,don,t know who gave the photo in,looks as if it was taken in the 80,s.Maybe we will meet some time in the dockers,are u living in Belfast.Keep well and all the best.
i live in jordanstown had 2 kids all married 2 grandsons love ten to bits as they say they are the beat of my heart we proably have seen each other in dockers i myself do not drink never did but my husband does he drinks enough for both of us lollovely to hear from you take care
My two brothers both played table tennis for the Newsboys Club, we lived in Edward Street.
Maureen Forsythe.... I remember one night during the troubles your father took us all in to the Catherdal for the night, real gentleman.
Hi wondering if anyone can help me out i am researching family tree and am trying to find info on the pinisi family who lived in little italy edward street i believe, although I'm going back a long long time maybe someone can recall something