An Italian Mountain Retreat

From Lazio to Tibradden Lane, the Italians came.

As the twentieth century rolled on, they arrived in Dublin, leaving the heat of the Province of Frosinone and the municipalities south of Rome.

Some of them established Ireland’s earliest chippers: the Morellis, the Borzas, the Macaris. And Dublin’s Italian community grew throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1971, Club Italiano came into being. In Rathfarnam, its clubhouse down Tibradden Lane, remains the focal point for three generations of Irish-Italians.

A Retreat

The tight mountain path in Rathfarnam, overgrown with greenery, leads to a large, inscribed granite boulder, letting visitors know they’ve reached Club Italiano.

Past the entrance stone, a gate opens onto 13 acres of landscape with views across the city. At the centre, past swings and picnic benches, is a single-storey clubhouse.

The shutters are down on a recent Saturday, but pre-match commentary plays through the speakers and at a small bar near the entrance, Rita Macari attends to those gathered to see if Italy will make it through to the semi-finals of the European Championship.

Macari has been president of Club Italiano for four years. It was her parents’ generation who founded the club.

“When they came over first they just worked the whole time, they’d no recreational time,” she says. “They only had Sundays off.”

They grappled to learn a new language and to keep their businesses afloat, and would find support among others who had also travelled from provincial towns like Casalattico and Picinisco.

When Fr Francesco Cellini and the Consolata Fathers arrived in Dublin in 1970, they opened a mission house in Stillorgan. Each Sunday, the Italian community attended Mass in St Kevin’s Oratory, to the side of the Pro-Cathedral, says Macari.

Monsignor John Moloney was pastor to the Italian community and introduced Fr Cellini to those gathered each week. Later, the Fathers formed a committee to organise gatherings for the community and in 1971, Club Italiano was formed.

At first, they would meet in the grounds of the Consolata house. In 1983, they bought the 13-acre site in Tibradden. The clubhouse was completed in 1987.

“[The club] was part of our lives growing up, it was more used in those days,” says Macari, as the football match gets underway.

On Sundays, families would meet after Mass for picnics in the Phoenix Park and head from there up to the grounds for a day out, she says.

Inside the entrance door to the clubhouse, a foosball table and a pool table sit unused. To the right, steps lead down to a railed-off wooden dance floor where the football match is projected onto the wall. Around 10 spectators in blue jerseys watch from the railings.

On the walls of the clubhouse are newspaper clippings and photographs of the Italian community, collected over the decades, some dating to the 1970s.

There’s Silvana Socci, a young child dressed in traditional Italian clothes. She’s now a parent with two children, and part of the club’s organising committee.

“As a kid I always mixed in with the community here. Now it’s making friends for my kids,” says Socci. “It keeps the Italian traditions alive. We’re from a different village [in Italy] and the girls wouldn’t know many from here, but now they’ve made friends and can go over there and would know people.”

Socci and Macari’s parents, like many of the earliest generation, come from Casalattico, a commune of villages south of Rome in the Lazio region of Italy. Each summer, the families leave their businesses in Dublin for several weeks to gather back in their home towns.

“[Club Italiano] is about trying to keep the kids near the culture and the community together,” says Macari. So by the time summer rolls around, she says, the Casalattico homecomings have a tighter community spirit with bonds forged up a tight mountain lane in Rathfarnam.

“It’s like Dublin over there during the summer!” says Macari.

Bocce and Beyond

At the Central Café in Blackrock on a recent Friday, Silvano Macari sets down his frying gear and joins me at a small table near the entrance to the restaurant.

He is married to Club Italiano President Rita Macari. The pair were friends in their youth and married in the 1980s. Silvano’s father was a founding member of Club Italiano. Today, his son is still involved in community events.

“I do a bit of the clay-pigeon shooting up there still,” he says. “When I used to play [football] as a teenager we used to have to change in the back of car most of the time but up there, we’d the luxury of showers and proper amenities.”

The grounds in Tibradden are home to the Consolata Gun Club, which was founded in 1970 by Rodolfo Caira, and Lazio FC, which was set up in 1968, he tells me.

The football club, founded by Donato Borza with the help of his friend Domenico Vella, made its home ground in Tibradden after the land was purchased with donations from the Italian community.

Back in the clubhouse, Germany have scored the first goal. Two visitors from Venice wave their hands in frustration, and roll their eyes. Three children in tiny Italy jerseys fly in and out of the clubhouse from the grounds.

Giovanni Borza remembers the early picnics in Phoenix Park, he says.

Mothers would make lasagne to bring along and men would play bocce on the grass, says Borza, whose parents were members of the original committee. He is now vice president of the club.

These days, the committee still organises bocce and scopa tournaments. (The first is a game similar to petanque, and the second is a card game.)

This Saturday evening is a quiet one in the clubhouse. After all, says Macari, it’s the busiest night for the chippers.

In the 1990s, the club was neglected, says Macari. People were busier and community spirit faded. But there’s been something of a revival in the last decade.

Fundraisers have brought more members together.

By the entrance door, there are giant cheques. One for €26,707, written out to victims of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, which struck the Abruzzo region of Italy.

The club usually tries to raise money for causes that affect their community, says Macari. In April, they raised €9,600 for Straight Ahead and last year they raised €7,500 for the cystic fibrosis unit in the children’s hospital in Crumlin.

“[The charity] part only started about seven or eight years ago,” she says. “With the refurbishment and money coming from our sponsors, we felt it was time to give back to charity.”

The football match across the room intensifies.

Italy scores an equaliser, but continues to lose the ball to the German side. One of the visiting Venetians yells at the screen. With only five or so minutes remaining, it looks like extra time.

The Charge

The future of the club seems safe for now, says Borza.

The next generation of Irish-Italian families are taking over from their parents and many of the young parents want their children to learn about their culture.

Borza and Macari both involved their children in the running of the club. “We want to keep it going. They come up all the time,” he says.

Times have definitely changed though, says Macari. “Everybody kind of married out. Before it was very much you married an Italian.”

The first generation of Italians could only speak their mother tongue and were expected to have Italian boyfriends or girlfriends, and then husbands and wives.

“There are people now who’ve gotten married who would have Irish husbands or wives who bring them along,” she says. “Some would even come back to Casalattico during the summer.”

Macari says she recently brought a friend over to Casalattico during the summer. When they first arrived, her friend asked: what was with all the Dublin accents?

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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