Tributes to legend of the Ulster cafe world

Mario Cafolla
Mario Cafolla

Mario Cafolla – who died on August 18 – was a legend in the Ulster café world, following in the traditions of his parents, Rocco and Lidia Cafolla, who emigrated from Italy in pre-war days.

Mario (79) came originally from Portadown, moved to Killarney for a spell, and finally settled in Newry. He died in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry, after a series of illnesses

At one stage, he ran four establishments in Portadown – the Café Rex, the Mini Rex, an adjacent takeaway and the café at Portadown Swimming Pool. In fact, there were three Italianfamilies running cafes in the town – Baccis, Malocco and Cafolla.

Virtually every Northern Ireland town in the era had its Italian café and ice cream parlour. Portadown had three including Cafolla’s. Others included the famous Morelli’s in Portstewart and Portrush, and Fusco’s in Belfast.

Mario was the eldest of a family of three, and is survived by sisters Maria and Rena. They were extremely close, a closeness honed by traditional Italian family values.

Rocco – like so many Italian men in Britain during the war – was interned on the Isle of Man due to Mussolini’s support for the Nazis. Italians living in the UK had no truck with the dictator, and Rocco spent from 1941-45 in Douglas, the island’s capital, accepting his fate with stoicism. He was delighted to return to Portadown and to his beloved family when the conflict ceased. Meanwhile, the women kept the café going.

After education at St Columba’s Primary School in Portadown and St Patrick’s Christian Brothers in Armagh, Mario went into the family business. He met the love of his life at an Italian dress dance in Belfast – Angelina Fallone, a young Newry woman, also of Italian extraction. They were married in her ‘home’ church – Newry Roman Catholic Cathedral (St Patrick’s and St Coleman’s) in April 1960. Mario was heartbroken when Angelina died two years ago.

They have five children – Riccardo (now in Newry), Amadeo (Newcastle), Lidia (Loughgall), Italo (Newry) and Anita (Clonmel, County Tipperary). He is also survived by sons-in-law and daughters-in-law Adelina, Bernadette, Adrian, Valerie and Terry. There are 15 grandchildren.

In 1970, when a business opportunity arose, he sold his Portadown interests and moved to Killarney, County Kerry, where he managed the Allegro Restaurant.

On the death of his father-in-law Bernadetto Fallone in Newry, the Cafollas returned north to the Frontier town, and – with the help of Riccardo – took over The Lido Cafe. When it was demolished, Mario created ‘Benny’s’ (better known as Cafolla’s) which Riccardo has taken over since his father retired in 1997.

The Requiem Mass and Thanksgiving for Mario’s life was in Newry Cathedral where he and Angelina were married. The Mass was conducted by family friend Fr John Gates.

Members of the Italian community in Northern Ireland were among the mourners and a member of the Morelli family from the north coast sang a solo.

His remains were cremated and his ashes will be laid to rest at the original Cafolla homestead in Olevella Casino, Italy, where he and the family spent many happy holidays.