Mario Cafolla was a legend in the Portadown café world for many years, following in the traditions of his parents, Rocco and Lidia Cafolla, who emigrated from Italy in pre-war days.
Mario (79), who died last Thursday in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry, after a series of illnesses, ran four establishments in the town at one stage – the Café Rex in High Street, the Mini Rex, an adjacent takeaway and the café at Portadown Swimming Pool.
Virtually every Northern Ireland town in the era had its Italian café and ice cream parlour. Portadown had three - Cafolla’s, Malocco’s and Bacci’s.
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 his Portadown home in Thomas Street and to his beloved family when the conflict ceased. Meanwhile, the women kept the café going, and the Cafollas flourished.
After education at St Columba’s Primary School 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.
Their first home was at Kingsway Drive where they made lifelong friends and neighbours Billy and Thelma Jackson. It was during this time that their five children were born – 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, the Cafollas moved to Ramone Park, and 12 years later – when a business opportunity arose – he sold his Portadown interests and moved to Killarney, where he managed the Allegro Restaurant.
On the passing 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 run since his father retired in 1997.
Mario’s business and family were his life. He and Angelina enjoyed pitch-and-putt most days after he retired, and much of the spark went out of his life on her passing.
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.
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.