Pensioner sent £200 to help Belfast Crystal after fire but boss 'just couldn’t accept it'
The 83-year-old founder of Belfast Crystal has told of his heartbreak at the arson attack that gutted the business he established more than 40 years ago.
Originally from Italy, Antonio Abbate moved to Belfast with his wife Anne in 1975 to train glass-blowing apprentices and three years later set up his own company.
He said: "I went home to Anne and I said that we are going to Belfast and she laughed.
"She was from Dublin and concerned about the Troubles, but I didn't really know anything about the Troubles.
"She said to forget about it, but I said that we should go for one week and if there was any problems then we could leave."
The company he built over the years was destroyed when fire tore through the factory on Blackstaff Road in Kennedy Way Industrial Estate on July 1.
Antonio, who lost his wife 12 years ago, still went to work every day at the factory, to keep himself preoccupied but had passed ownership into the hands of his son Tony Junior.
Reliving his last day at the factory, Antonio found it difficult to put his grief into words.
He said: "I don't really know what to say, I feel sorry for my son, this is his life, his work and it is gone.
"The same as every Saturday, everything was okay and we went home.
"I got a call at about six from a friend to say that the factory was on fire," he continued. "I got down and the police wouldn't let anyone in but I looked over and it was a disaster.
"I could see that it was all ruined, everything was gone, I couldn't believe it."
A crowd funding page set up to help Belfast Crystal start up again has raised more than £6,000.
Commenting on the public's generosity, Antonio said: "Believe it or not, one of our customers, a 74-year-old-woman, a pensioner, sent a letter with £200 in it.
"I am a pensioner too, I know how hard it is.
"I was very grateful but I said to my son, 'No, we have to send it back'."
Speaking about how his father is coping with the fire, Tony Jr said: "The only thing that kept him going after my mum died was going to work, I am worried about the effect that this is having on him.
"He is lost, you used to see him skipping in every morning with a swagger and he now just drags his heels.
"He doesn't need the stress - he had a wee heart scare about eight weeks ago, a small heart attack around Easter time."
The firm is currently operating out of mobile buildings on the Kennedy Way site.
On the future of Belfast Crystal, Tony Jr said: "Forty years of work disappeared in 60 minutes, but my son set up the crowd funding page, and one of the things we are looking at is replacing the machinery so that we can get back up and running properly.
"There has been loads of offers to help and although they might seem like menial things, they are invaluable to me, and trying to do without them would be impossible.
"Right now our biggest problem is that everyone thinks that we are closed because of the fire," he said.
"When we had a land-line in, the phone would have rang 20 times a day, but because we aren't in a fixed building I was refused another one.
"So we want people to know that we are open for business," he added.