Ireland’s first chipper
Legend has it that back in the 1880s an American-bound boat stopped off on the south coast of Ireland, in
Queenstown (as Cobh then was) and a young Italian called Giuseppe Cervi stepped off.
Giuseppe kept walking until he reached Dublin. He worked in the city as a labourer, earning enough to buy a
coal-fired cooker and a handcart, and started selling chips outside pubs.
His first fish and chip shop was on Great Brunswick Street – now Pearse Street – next door to Trinity College
Forget about Marconi with his
radios, or Charles Bianconi who revolutionised public transport in Ireland with his horses and
carriages, or the Italian artisans with their wonderful stucco work in Ireland’s churches and then
its great houses. Forget, too, those footballing legends Giovanni Trapattoni (currently Ireland’s
manager) and, er, Tony Cascarino.
No, the Italian who made the
biggest impact on Dublin life was Giuseppe’s wife Palma. Mrs Cervi struggled with English, and as
the customers in the chipper in Great Brunswick Street queued to pay, she would point to each
order to ensure she had it correct, saying “uno di questo, uno do quello?” (“one of this and one of
Hence was born “awananwan”.
It’s a phrase you’ll hear in the chippers of Dublin to this very day, and is roughly translated as
“a one and one” (i.e. “one cod and one chips please”).
1909, there were 20 Italian chippers in Dublin, though up in Belfast they still preferred oysters and shrimps
to fried fish.
Val Di Comino
OK, 20 shops may not sound like that much – not half as many per capita as in the
North of England, perhaps.
But the unique thing about Ireland’s Italian chipper families is that almost all of them come from one tiny area –
a handful of little villages in Val Di Comino, in the province of Frosinone in Southern Italy.
A growing population and
the subdivision of land at home led to mass migration from this part of rural Italy.
Many of those same names are still common in Ireland, and often still running chippers too.
The Macaris, the Fuscos in Limerick, the Borzas, Caffellos, Caffollas, Marsellas and Apriles.
Hundreds of these Italian outlets now provide fish, chips and the odd battered burger to the hungry masses of our
towns and cities, and the Italian community continues to have deep roots back in its homeland in Val Di
Irish Herault, March 4th 2010
Nino Tropiano made a short documentary about these roots in
2008. It’s called “Chippers”, and follows Barbato Borza (son of chipper legend Donato Borza)
on his journey back to Casalattico in Val Di Comino. There’s a trailer on YouTube Here