Bangor Historical Society’s final meeting of the 2017-2018 season was held on 12 April. It began with the AGM when the current committee members were re-elected. The chairman, Ian Wilson, commented on the society’s very successful year when attendance averaged 60 people. He thanked the manager of the North Down Museum for continuing to make it available for the society’s meetings.

Then Peter Vanucci gave a talk on The Italians in Ireland: The Bangor Connection. Prominent Italian surnames in the town included Vanucci, Caproni and Mencarelli. The North Down families came from the Serchio Valley in Tuscany. Illustrations for the talk showed pictures of the valley as well of early twentieth century Bangor. Before doing extensive research Mr. Vanucci had believed his family were the first Italians in Bangor and made a good living from the catering business. Then he started to research them and found the picture was more complicated. According to the 1911 census Anicetto, known as Peter, was living at 4 Castle Street with his wife Catherine and two daughters. He was a confectioner. His wife had been born in Scotland.

Ancetto came from Cardossa in the Serchio Valley. The town had narrow steep streets and lay on the side of a mountain in the river valley. Ancetto was born about 1877, the eldest son of Rafaello and Katerina Vanucci. He became a sailor and visited Belfast. He met his wife Catherine Quigley and they married in 1905 in Scotland. They moved to Bangor where three of their children were born. A further three were born in Italy when the family returned to Cardossa. They later returned to Ireland.

Ancetto’s son Umberto was in Italy when the Germans invaded during the Second World War. He was taken to serve on the Russian front and died there. Pasquale was Ancetto’s brother. His descendants reached Scotland, Italy and Australia. Peter Vanucci’s grandfather Giosue, a brother of Ancetto, came to Bangor about 1911. Peter was able to speak to his aunt Kitty. She first saw her father when she was 8 years old as he had gone to Scotland and then to Bangor. He brought her back to Bangor where she went to school in what is now the Danske Bank. Members of the family moved between Bangor, Scotland and Italy at different times. Peter’s grandfather took over the Central Café and Kitty worked there. Then Peter’s father set up the Jubilee Café in Bridge Street. The name was given because of the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935.

By 1918 quite a few other Italian families were living in Bangor. David Nardini was based in Queen’s Parade while the Mencarelli and Luchi families had businesses in Bridge Street. Another family which moved between Italy, Scotland and Bangor was the Gheradis. Mansuelo ran Matt’s chip shop in Church Street.

Another town in the Serchio Vallye was Barga, regarded as the most Scottish town in Italy. It even had a Celtic supporters’ club. It was the home of the Caproni family. According to the 1911 census Enrico Caproni lived at 40 Main Street. Like other members of the families discussed he had spent time in Scotland as well as Bangor and Italy. He opened a shop in Main Street in Bangor c1900. This discovery proved that the Vanucci family were not the first Italians in Bangor. Enrico Caproni expanded his business to Queen’s Parade and later Seaciff Road, overlooking Ballyholme Bay. He died in 1937.

His nephew David Nardini opened the Marble Hall on Seacliff Road and also had premises in Donaghadee. Another Italian family the Luchis had premises in Bridge Street, but they did not get on with their fellow Italians, the Vanuccis and Mencarellis in the same Street. Andrea Mencarelli came to Bangor from Italy via Scotland about 1908. He started the Coronation now part of the Rose and Chandler at the foot of High Street and then moved to the Boulevard in Bridge Street. The Togneri family came from Correglia, also in the Serchio Valley. Mario Togneri, known as Siki, was a barber in Bangor.

The talk finished with some general observations on the Italian families in North Down. Not all the members were Roman Catholics. They tended to be assimilated as far as local politics were concerned. During World War II they were interned, if they had not been naturalised. Five Italians from Bangor were interned, including two Capronis, one Luchi and one Vanucci. At one stage there were a dozen or so Italian businesses in Bangor, but the number fell as children did not enter the family business. Nevertheless the Italian businesses played an important role in the development of Bangor as a seaside resort.