Where it came from…

Derry’s little known Italian connection spans back to the late 1800’s, when many people from deprived areas in Southern Italy decided to leave in search of a better life in Northern Ireland. Most of these families settled in Belfast, in an area which is still known now as ‘Little Italy’. But some travelled even further west and settled in Derry.

How it started…

The story behind Fiorentini’s began a hundred years ago when Ignazio Fiorentini decided to leave his poverty-stricken home town of Bassiano in Italy. He was only 13 when he travelled by land across Europe and then by boat to Northern Ireland. It was 1912 when a young Ignazio Fiorentini arrived in Derry to work for Iannarelli’s, an Italian ice-cream café on the Strand Road. In the early 20th century, ice-cream making was an exhausting job as the mixing was all done by hand. Work would often begin as early as 5am to ensure there would be enough ice-cream for the day. Ignazio worked hard for Mr Iannarelli and built a life for himself in Derry where he met his wife Mary-Ann. But when Ignazio was in his early 20’s he was forced to return to Italy to complete a compulsory year of military service, accompanied by Mary-Ann.

Ignazio Fiorentini and his son Sonny in Fiorentini’s in the 1960’s.Once he had completed his military service, he and Mary-Ann moved back to Derry and he decided to open an ice-cream café of his own. In 1933 Ignazio Fiorentini and his brother, Victor, opened the first Fiorentini’s on the upper Strand Road and a few years later Victor opened another Fiorentini’s in Moville. Ignazio and Victor would go to meet ups with the rest of Derry’s Italian community on Tuesday evenings in a hall off Bridge Street where they would play snooker and their children were taught Italian songs. These meetings were important to them as they didn’t want to lose their Italian identity. This group of Derry Italians would continue to meet for several years but as their children and grandchildren grew up in Derry speaking English as their first language it became more and more difficult to keep in touch with their Italian roots. The Fiorentini’s continued to be heavily involved in the Italian Society up until the 1990’s, holding events for people of Italian hertitage in Derry and in Belfast.

The Legacy…

In 1958 Ignazio’s son, Sonny, opened Fiorentini’s on Bishop Street. During the troubles, in the 1970’s, Fiorentini’s on the Bishop Street went out of business for a little while after being destroyed. However, Fiorentini’s stayed in business on the Strand Road but many of the other Italian cafés weren’t so lucky. The troubles saw the end to many Italian businesses, like Macari’s Café, that was on William Street.

In 1990 a bomb exploded across from Fiorentini’s on the Strand Road which blew up the front of the shop and smashed in all their windows. Whenever the Fiorentini’s began offering workmen coffee, customer’s started stepping through the broken windows assuming they were still serving! And so they continued business as usual even with the windows just blown in!

Fiorentini’s today…

Ignazio Fiorentini with his son Sonny and grandsons Michael and Stephen in 1985In 1985 Fiorentini’s reopened on the Strand Road at number 47 and then reopened in 1990 opened at 67 Strand Road, where Ignazio has originally worked at Iannarelli’s. Last year, Michael, Ignazio’s grandson officially took over. Michael began working for Fiorentinis when he left university in 1985. He now runs the café with his wife Kathy and two son’s Michele and Carlo, who is 13, the same age as Ignazio when he began to work for Iannarelli’s. All their ice-cream is still home-made in the café from the authentic Italian recipe that Ignazio Fiorentini learned from Mr Iannarelli a century ago.

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