The Casalattico Irish Fest is the most exciting international festival in the Comino Valley and a place where the two countries and two musical styles meet.
On the evening of August 14th, Italian and Irish music meld together and people enjoy the mixing of rhythms and traditions. For that occasion, the Ciociaria countryside is tinged with green and becomes a corner of Ireland.
The festival was founded in the early 2000s and is held in the square of the historic centre that every year in August comes alive with the many emigrants who return from breathing the Irish air to becoming part of Casalattico for a few days. This is a time in which the traditions of Ciociaria and those of Ireland come together to remember those who at the beginning of the 1900s emigrated to the “green land” in search of work.
The Irish Fest is a festival of music, customs and gastronomy of the Irish people that attracts thousands of people from all over the province and outside the region. It is a highly sought-after summer event because you can attend shows in the different parts of the town and taste delicious ‘unusual’ dishes.
It is a feast that is a unique to its kind and an example of multiculturalism where the new generations have managed to link the habits and customs of the two separate countries. The people of Casalattico belong to both cultures and the tourist who visits Casalattico gets to live a special sensational experience in the streets of the town where the locals speak indistinctly a dialect of Ciociarian and English.
It’s a party with Irish flavours for everyone being also recommended for families. Thanks to the twinning with the Irish city of Naas, to enliven the evening there are performances of Irish folk music with its traditional dances. During the evening, groups of young people perform in the different parts of the town playing a range from Celtic music to folk, up to the saltarello ciociaro and Italian dance music.
In the historic centre you can find stands to taste burgers, classical Irish fish and chips, grilled bacon, smoked salmon, Irish sausages and ‘rivers’ of beer, among which the famous Guinness beer stands out.
In the local Ciociarian stands, instead, it is possible to taste typical ciociarian dishes such as polenta, pasta and beans, coratella, the tasty Pecorino DOP cheese from Picinisco and the Atina DOC wines.
Much of the territory of Casalattico consists of mountains and is bathed by the Melfa river that flows between scenic gorges. Casalattico and its small hamlets offer surprises to the visitor in their rural landscape where the straw barns stand out. These are characteristic circular constructions made up of walls in “dry stone” covered by a conical straw mattress. They are mainly found in the area of Campo del Popolo.
Perhaps from this landscape, Ireland immediately appeared familiar to the emigrants. Few people know that the largest community of Italians in Ireland comes from this small village of Casalattico from which, since the beginning of the last century, most of the population emigrated becoming a mass phenomenon. The first to fry fish and potatoes in Ireland were the Italians and the whole existing ‘chipper’ (fish and chips) community of Ireland still today comes almost entirely from Casalattico.
At the time of the original migration to Ireland (then via England or Scotland) many inhabitants of Casalattico gave themselves to the gastronomy by opening small shops of fish and chips: a fillet of fish (usually cod) fried in batter and surrounded by an abundant serving of fries. So what was the origin of this phenomenon?
From Carmine Forte to Lord Charles Forte
At the beginning of the 1900s, an inhabitant of Casalattico, Carmine Forte, left looking for a job, joining his family in Scotland. Later he went to Ireland because he had known that, a few years before him, such a Giuseppe Cervi from Picinisco had left his native country without knowing the language and had managed to open Ireland’s first Fish & Chips Shop in Dublin.
It seems that Cervi’s wife spoke to customers in literal English, asking: “one of this and one of that”, referring to chips and fish. It is said that from her sentence – the expression “one and one”, was born from this and it became a typical Dublin way to order fish and chips.
After Giuseppe Cervi, then Carmine Forte arrived who made good fortune in Ireland and during his life he founded one of the most important restaurant chains in the world, giving work to hundreds or even thousands of people.
In Ireland the name of Carmine was anglicised to Charles and soon Carmine Forte became Lord Charles Forte to all. In 1981 he was granted the title of Baron by the Queen of England and, after leaving his empire to his son Rocco, he retired to enjoy his properties around the world before he died at the age of almost 100 years at his London home.
A few years ago the name of the hamlet of Casalattico was changed to where Charles was born and was renamed in his honour “Monforte“.
To honour the romantic story of the emigration of the inhabitants of Casalattico to Dublin, Nino Tropiano thought of ‘Chippers’, an epic 2008 documentary film. The film speaks in an amusing way of the community of Casalattico that was inserted into Dublin. By comparing the different personal identities and experiences, the film offers a portrait of a people searching for a future and the city of Dublin that welcomed them.
Thanks to the love of the Irish who came back to the land from which they left a century ago, over the years the Irish Fest of Casalattico has assumed more and more the appearance of a predominantly Irish festival. Today the tourist who arrives in this delightful town has the opportunity to immerse himself for a night in a corner of Ireland in the middle of Ciociaria.