Belfast Telegraph

New Sailortown banner honours part of city that will be forever 'Little Italy'

Antoinette Morelli, Terri McKeown and Martin Lynch at the launch of Little Italy banner
Antoinette Morelli, Terri McKeown and Martin Lynch at the launch of Little Italy banner

By David Young

One of Belfast's historic immigrant communities was honoured last night when a banner commemorating the people of the city's Little Italy area was unveiled.

In the late 19th century Italian families came to Belfast in search of work and settled in the densely packed streets behind St Anne's Cathedral, close to what was known as Sailortown.

New roads, flyovers, construction and slum clearance schemes dispersed the community, and there is now little physical trace of the area's Italian heritage.

But memories remain, and last night a giant three-sided banner was unveiled to celebrate Belfast's Little Italy and its contribution to the city's life.

The Little Italy banner
The Little Italy banner

Designed by artist Deirdre McKenna and supported by the local community, the banner features images of Italian life and culture, from farfalle pasta to Vespa scooters, Venetian carnival masks and gondoliers, as well as images from cinema masterpiece La Dolce Vita.

The banner - located on the now-derelict site of the former Corporation Street Labour Exchange - was unveiled by Antoinette Morelli, whose family once lived in the area; playwright Martin Lynch, who was also brought up in the area, and Terri McKeown of Sailortown Regeneration.

"It's vitally important to honour the memory of the people who lived here," Antoinette said.

"I spoke to one of my cousins last night and he said that it was like cultural vandalism what has happened to this area.

"My great-grandmother was a midwife here, and my dad was Toni Morelli the singer, who would tell me stories about people coming up to him after a gig and saying: 'Your grandmother delivered me!' There was a great sense of community, and that's incredibly important to remember.

"For today we have sadly lost a lot of that community feeling.

"So I think this project is incredibly important. There is so much history in this one wee part of the city."

Mr Lynch agreed. "I was born and raised just 500 yards from here. I knocked around with all the Italian families here when I was a boy," he said.

"They were the community, and I'm glad to be able to endorse this great project to celebrate them."

Speaking after the unveiling, Sailortown Regeneration's Ms McKeown said: "Regeneration is not just about new hotels, apartments and tourism, it's also about remembering and honouring the people and communities who made the city."

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