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The Italian Job - Across the ocean to Wales
Sunday, 11th Jul 2021 12:00 by Keith Haynes

Many Italians emigrated to South Wales in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and set up cafés, restaurants and ice cream shops. Doing so, they brought a new eating style to the country. It’s hard now to imagine a time before we could grab a coffee or go out for food in the evening - but this is a relatively new phenomenon and much of it started in the 1950s with Italian families like those in the South Wales valleys down to the wilder west sharing their passion for food and drink.

Wales has an affinity with Italy, a strong link and family bond that is most definitely the reason why there is a cultural mix across south and west Wales. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. During the Second World War, Welsh Italians without British citizenship were declared enemy aliens, and a number were interned on the Isle of Man or in Canada. 53 Welsh Italians lost their lives in the sinking of the passenger ship Arandora Star in 1940. A memorial was placed in Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral in 2010 to commemorate the tragedy. A memorial chapel is in the cemetery in Bardi. Before the war 300 italian cafes and restaurants were dotted around South Wales, the brothers Berni who started their empire in Merthyr eventually founded the Berni Inn chain. A remarkable story of success.

The Bernie brothers

Welsh Italians became a feature in the principality earning themselves a declared ethnic grouping, and recognition in Welsh history. Names such as Lusardi, Massari, Bracchi and Sidoli. Calzaghe and Maccarinelli are clues as well in the sporting world. Visit the bay of Naples and if they find out your nationality or team of choice and they will shower you with friendship ( Not on a match day, as we know though ) Giorgio Chinaglia is the strong Swansea Italian link, memories are long when it comes to Italian heroes. And he was.

Connections between the two countries are increased with every arrogant comment on Wales from the union of the union kingdom. The incessant barking of patriotism from millions of pseudo football fans for the day will drive non England believers increasingly together. Today’s final is a fantastic achievement for England, it’s now down to the fact that win or lose they are heroes, it no longer matters, the result will be dressed up even if England lose. Football has come home, England have played all their games bar one at Wembley, not bad for a multi host tournament. Millions will mingle, drink and celebrate, and you can’t blame them. The excuse will always be “ We deserve it after all that we have been through“. In England half of the male population aged 18-24 are not vaccinated, there will be vaccination points at Wembley this afternoon and evening. They will target the most evident group of football fan that you will see today in groups, together and celebrating.

The mass media blitz over the past few days has been beyond reasonable at every level. The English press now wanting us all to be patriotic and follow the script not dissimilar to one Sam Hammam stating the same when it came to “ His little cousins down west “ The belittling comments to the perceived weaker foe biting him so hard it must still hurt. Very much indeed.

Our Italian ancestors who brought with them their culture and creativity, and planted them in to Welsh culture forever will hardly care who you support today. If anyone chooses anyone at all. Welsh born Italian families in their thousands still remain in the country today, I guarantee you nearly every town has a memory of the time. From Haverfordwest and the Malvisi owned Continental cafe to Marenghi’s in Newport there remains many and numerous businesses today. The afforementioed may well be in differing guises or gone forever, but their imprint is still with us. As time passes the link and cultural identity between the two countries may well be diminishing, or should we say failing due to the passage of time and the immediacy of life as it is today. Mention it today and eyebrows are raised. “ Wales and Italy ? Really “ However then why don’t you talk to us about Patagonia and Welsh speaking conscripts in the Falklands war, how high can your eyebrows go then ?

We are a proud country, many do have long memories not unlike our Italian counterparts, politically at the height of the two countries links you couldn’t get two ethical beliefs more further apart. Yet it didn’t affect the affection that remains today. Today may well be a time to support the dominant and perceived better and more skilled larger country for some. Conversely then we have to accept that when a Welsh person chooses their side today we have to understand that blood is thicker than location. The thousands of Welsh families with Italian bloodlines have stronger ties to England’s opposition today than the many who have an English / Welsh bloodline. It’s everyone’s choice to do the same. To make that choice. It can’t be based on that horrible word “hate” it has to be more informed, and today hopefully some of us have more informed choices. It’s purely down to blood surely ? It may well give us a divided Wales for ninety minutes, but at least it’s an informed one.

Photograph from open source licence

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