I was delighted to see this historic postcard posted on Facebook recently. While the focus of the photographer was probably the Army Recruitment Office on Great Brunswick Street (or Pearse Street to me and you), they accidentally captured what would become an interesting bit of Dublin social history. At 22 Great Brunswick Street, we get a great view of Dublin’s first chipper, opened by Giuseppe Cervi, who arrived here in the 1880s.
Today, the takeaway section of popular restaurant Super Miss Sue is named ‘Cervi’s’ in his honour. His humble takeaway booth on Great Brunswick Street stood on what is now the site of the Dublin Fire Brigade headquarters, though the Cervi family later established a proper premises at no. 22, which we can see advertised “Fried Fish & Chips” to all. Italians had been arriving here long before Cervi; as Vinnie Caprani has noted, “many of the Italian immigrants who arrived in Ireland in the middle and latter half of the nineteenth century were stonemasons, church decorators and terrazzo tile workers.”
Tony Cervi, a son of Giuseppe, remembered his father in a 1976 Evening Herald feature on Dublin’s Italian chipper community, recalling that “there were very few Italians living in Dublin when my father first arrived here. My father was illiterate to the end of his life, yet he could do the most difficult accounts in his head, and never come out wrong. He loved horses and horse racing, and could out odds and prices to the very last penny.”
The Italian community would become synonymous with Dublin’s takeaways and ice cream parlours, and by 1910 the city could boast of twenty chippers. While most of Dublin’s big chipper names came from the Frosinone region of central Italy, the Cervi’s came from Picinisco. Cervi’s wife is credited with coining the Dublin phrase ‘One and One’, still used to describe a fish and chips meal. She would ask customers ‘Uno di questo, uno de quello?’, meaning one of each. By the early twentieth century, the Italian community was significant enough to see the area around Little Ship Street, where Giuseppe and his family lived, become known as ‘Little Italy’. Tony Cervi remembered that:
The area around us – off St. Werbrugh Street, Chancery Lane and Whitefriar Street was known as ‘Little Italy’. If someone came to Dublin and wanted to locate a particular Italian, he would more often than not be directed to ‘Little Italy’. The place was filled with barrel-organ men, ice cream men who traveled the city with their barrows and marblemen. My mother usually ‘put up’ traveling Italian or Greek terrazzo workers of craftsmen, and Italians who came here to erect altars and suchlike. They’d be given our address and know my mother would give them good Italian food.