The Italian Colony in South Dublin
U 16.865-9: On the contrary that stab in the back touch was quite in keeping with those italianos though candidly he was none the less free to admit those icecreamers and friers in the fish way not to mention the chip potato variety and so forth over in little Italy there near the Coombe were sober thrifty hardworking fellows […]
There were "Italian colonies" throughout Europe at the end of the nineteenth century – congregations of first- and second-generation Italians living together in a particular district of a town or city. The best-known "Italian colonies" (or "Little Italys", as they came to be known) could be found in New York (south Manhattan) and London (around Clerkenwell). Charles Dickens’s son Charles refers to London’s "Little Italy" in his continuation of Household Words:
Dublin had its own "colonies":
Joyce tells us that the "italianos" are "over in little Italy there near the Coombe", a district of Dublin just south-west of the centre. Don Gifford says "there was a relatively small community of Italian immigrants in a tenement district just south of the Coombe in south-central Dublin". In fact, as the Irish Times says above, the "Italian colony" lay around Chancery Lane, a tenemented area in towards the centre from the Coombe (rather than further out). Both are in the same Wood Quay ward.
G.W. Bacon’s map of Dublin (1893), showing Dublin radiating south-west from Trinity College and Dame Street, past the Castle, on through Chancery Lane and Golden Lane, out to the Coombe and beyond. (Map provided by courtesy of Ian Gunn, Edinburgh)
The Italians who lived in Chancery Lane, Golden Lane, Ship Street, and in other streets nearby, were known to Dubliners primarily as street musicians – organ-grinders and hurdygurdy men. Each New Year the newspapers would report the high jinks in Chancery Lane, when Dubliners assembled to listen to the carnival music and the colourful displays which went on long into the night:
The annual carnival was beginning to run out of steam as the 1890s progressed, and by 1897 the Freeman’s Journal (1 January) reported that, despite favourable weather, "there was an almost complete absence of either music or musicians on the part of the Italian colony" - "not to the dissatisfaction of the constables of the local [police] station", the Irish Times added on the same date four years later. Half-hearted attempts to revive the custom around 1907 ultimately proved unsuccessful.
We hear from the Freeman’s Journal that the street musicians consist not only of the Italian-born immigrants themselves, but also of their Irish-born descendants:
This is borne out by consulting the Ireland Census for 1901, where – for example – amongst the one hundred or so Italian families in Dublin the musician Peter Valeris lived with his family at No 11 Chancery Lane. Although he was born in Italy, his wife (a musician) was from Dublin City, as were his three sons (the eldest a musician, the others at school) and three daughters.
Joyce refers to the familiar Italian organ-grinders (U 8.721-2: "[...] it stinks after Italian organgrinders crisp of onions mushrooms truffles [...]"), and in "Eveline" (Dubliners, 4.120-9):
But Joyce has more truck with the marginally more economically successful tier of Italian immigrant – the ice-cream seller, the fried-fish merchant, and the chip vendor. Antonio/Anthony Rabiaotti (U 10.229, 15.5 and 150) was, according to the 1901 and then the 1911 censuses, first an ice-cream seller and later a fish merchant. By 1910 he was running a "fish and chips business" in Wexford Street (Irish Times 17 November). These are the types of people Joyce associates slightly later with the Italian colony: “those icecreamers and friers in the fish way not to mention the chip potato variety and so forth” who push their hand carts into the city each day, or gradually set up businesses in shops in town.
In an article of 1897 about ‘city hawkers’ – always popular with the readership – the Freeman’s Journal of 6 October notes "we have scarcely any fried fish shops, so popular in London". In the same year we find chip vendors setting up their carts in southern Dublin – in the Coombe/Chancery Lane area:
‘The Great Northern Dandy’ purveyed fried fish and chips that Christmas in the centre of Dublin, probably manned by Italians:
The 1901 Ireland census records the Dubliners’ indebtedness to their compatriot Italians for ice-cream. Of 23 people listed as involved with the ice-cream trade as vendors or makers, all but seven were born in Italy. See also the related article Hokypoky hocus pocus by Harald Beck.
The Irish Times of 2 January 1940 commented on the death of "Little Italy", as Italians became more fully integrated within the life of the city:
Joyce remarks with or without conviction that the Italians are "sober thrifty hardworking fellows". In this he was echoing a contemporary phrase found, as it happens, in the Westminster Government’s Royal Commission Report on "Alien Immigration" of 1903. In this case it is applied to the Jewish population of London:
Joyce's Environs >