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The Irish-Italian job: selling tasty, traditional fish'n'chips

THIS country has a fish and chip fetish – and it's all thanks to the Italians.

While we are blamed around the world for exporting our love of drink, we can point our fingers firmly at the Azzurris when it comes to the chipper.

The traditional Irish-Italian chip shop dates back 128 years. Think all of our great chippers and their names – Macari, Borza, Cafolla, Marsellas and Aprile. The families all came here from the same part of southern Italy.

On what is National Fish And Chip Da - when many chippers will be offering half-price fish and chips, three of those families have been telling the Herald how they became household names here.

Peter Borza recalled how his father set up shop in Dun Laoghaire after spending five or six years in Scotland during the 1950s.

Many Italians who emigrated to Ireland in the 1950s brought their cousins and family members to work in the chippers.

"Ireland was a Catholic country and we felt a kinship," Peter said. "We're a friendly people like the Irish. We're temperamental and we also like our food and drink."

The takeaway food scene has "completely changed" since the 1950s, 60s and 70s, he said. There are now lots of other ethnic groups offering meal takeaways but Peter said: "We don't look at them as competition. We feel we are a different brand."

He believes that the Italians and the Irish have built up a solid link over the last century.

But one problem is that some newcomers have opened takeaways with Italian sounding names – but they are not part of the Irish-Italian community.

"In one way it's a compliment. We don't mind people taking part in the National Fish And Chips day, but to be honest it's a sore point with us," he said.

While some traditional Italian chippers have employed other nationalities during the boom, Mr Borza says it is coming full circle, with family members again becoming involved.

The tradition of Italian family members coming to Ireland to work in the chippers had pretty much dried up when work was plentiful, but now everyone has to work harder, he said.

One attraction for their Irish customers is that their shops are family-run and he thinks fish and chips are as popular as ever, despite the competition.

"We're not saying you should have it every day," he said, "but it is actually healthy and nutritious compared to some other foods."



Rita Macari, whose shop is the Central Cafe in Blackrock, said that while there are many Macaris in Ireland, they are all different families.

"It's not like a chain," she says, although many of the families linked with fish and chip shops have intermarried over the years.

Her own father came to Ireland when he was 14 and her mother came over when she was eight. Her grandparents had opened a shop in Dun Laoghaire and they had a brother-in-law who came over to work with them.

Her parents knew each other as they came from the same village in southern Italy and had even made their Communion together, she said.

Many of the young couples who became engaged in Ireland went back to Italy to get married. Her parents started with one shop in south Dublin but later moved to Stephen's Green and Dun Laoghaire, she said.

"They had a big family as well, and a couple of them went to college and then back into the business."

Mario Aprile, whose family runs takeaways in Clondalkin and Newcastle, said he was the first Irish-born in his family, a year after his parents and siblings moved to Ireland in 1958.

"There are a lot of links between the Italians and the Irish," he said. "Our businesses are family-run. We are part of the community. Our children have been reared in Clondalkin and went to school here."

"We have been looking after our Irish customers and Italians are known for their kitchen skills and cookery. No matter how much things change, the Irish connection with the potato and chips is still very strong, thank God."

Many of the Italian families involved in the fish and chip business are interlinked with around 6,000 in the Italian community here.

Today is the Irish Traditional Italian Chippers Association's Fish and Chip Day, which was started as a way of preserving the identity of Italian chipper.