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When Nanna knows best

Bianca Divito and her grandmother Maria are both missing their old neighbourhoods.

Then again, when you've lived in the heart of the capital, on O'Connell Street, for most of your life, as Maria has, or on the Main Street in Arklow, as in Bianca's case, it comes as no surprise that life anywhere else is a little less colourful.

The thing that strikes you about the close Divito family is the effusive welcome and hospitable warmth extended by them. This may be partly attributable to their background, as Maria is one of the famous Cafolla family. Many people of a particular vintage will remember going on dates to Cafolla's Ice-Cream Parlours, which were the romantic places to go, in the days before pubs and clubs.

Maria and her twin brother Leo were born in Dublin, along with their sister Nina and four other brothers, and their parents were Joseph and Nicolina Cafolla. The family lived over the shop on Capel Street, before moving to a couple of locations on O'Connell Street, ending up above their former business, the Boardwalk Cafe.

"Living above an ice-cream shop was a dream for a child, but we all worked very hard as well," says Maria. "It did us no harm, though, and we enjoyed it. It was lovely growing up on O'Connell Street, because it seemed very safe back then, and we didn't have to get a bus anywhere."

Maria worked in the family business after school, and married Ercole Divito. They have six children: Joseph, Nicky, Mario, Leo, Adriano and Rosanna.

Bianca, 27, is the daughter of eldest son Joseph, and the second of Maria's 14 grandchildren, whose ages range from 33 down to six.

"She was a very easy child," says Maria, "and she's a wonderful girl with a great talent for art. Bianca went to boarding school in Rathnew, and she was made head girl," she adds proudly, causing her lovely grand-daughter to squirm with embarrassment.

Bianca's parents moved to Arklow, where they ran the Roma Cafe on Main Street for many years. She has two brothers, Joe and Ercole, and, until recently, they also all lived above the shop.

"I had a very happy childhood," she says, "and I loved living on Main Street. Nanna often used to take us out to their holiday home in Brittas in the summer. She has always given me very good advice, and even though she's from a totally different generation, I could tell her anything, and she'd never be judgemental. Even when I went through a mad phase of piercings and stuff when I was younger, she was never critical in any way."

Bianca's parents were both artistic, and now that they have retired from the food business, her (Irish) mother Iris imports furniture, and makes lovely hanging crystals and jewellery (under the label, di Giuliani), working with semi-precious stones and Swarovski crystals. Her dad Joe did a course on working with glass, and it was these influences that inspired Bianca to embark on a career as a glass artist

Although she found it hard being away from her family, Bianca did an honours degree in Architectural Stained Glass in Wales. Her talent was recognised in 2005 with the Award of Excellence from the Glaziers' Trust, which gave her a 40-week training programme in top UK and German glass studios, including the Canterbury Cathedral Studios. While she was doing very well in the UK, Bianca wanted to come home and open up her own studio in Arklow, which she did in January of this year. Maria and her family were thrilled to have her back, and apart from her conservation and restoration work in stained glass, she also makes beautiful decorative art glass wall hangings, incorporating textured glass with slices of semi-precious agate, which she will be exhibiting at the forthcoming Art Ireland exhibition.

"Everyone in the family seems to have their own business, and they've been a great support to me in starting Divito Studios," she says. "My aim now is to gain more commissions, and I'd love to work on really interesting pieces of public art."

In 1997, the family made the news when a limousine drew up in O'Connell Street and a surprise visitor stopped by. Hollywood actor Danny DeVito was here to promote the film Matilda, and announced on the Late Late Show that he wanted to meet his Italian family here. A couple of phone calls later, the pint-sized star and his bodyguard were sitting in the delightful Maria's kitchen drinking coffee.

"He was such a nice, friendly person, and he was trying to find his roots," she recalls. "There are lots of Italian families here, but we were the only Divitos, although he spells his name with an e. He left his numbers, and invited us over to visit him."

Now aged 77, Maria moved to Donnybrook six months ago, sharing the house with husband Ercole, sister Nina, daughter Rosanna, son-in-law Peter, and four young grandchildren: Pierina, Livia, Nicoletta and Mario.

"I've always been a city girl, and I miss being able to pop to Eason's or going window-shopping," says Maria. "We've lots of people dropping in here, though, because we have parking now. We're enjoying the tranquillity, though, and also having a garden. I can't imagine Ercole and I living by ourselves, because we've always had our family around us."

Coming from a very close Italian family has made its mark on Bianca, and although currently single, her dreams for the future include a family of her own. Her own family have also moved out of Arklow town, and are planning to build houses side-by-side together in a village in Wexford.

"I'd love to have a nice brood of children one day, like Nanna and Nonno [grandfather Ercole]," she says. "Everything Nanna does is for the family, and even though she'd never tell you, I know she's made big personal sacrifices for the family over the years. I consider myself very lucky to have Nanna and Nonno in my life, because they're both amazing, and have been a huge influence on me."

www.divitostudios.com. Bianca will be at stand P8, Art Ireland, November 16-18, RDS.