Northern Ireland news

East Belfast woman who died aged 105 credited long life to eating salmon with soy sauce

Emily Desano-Smith died aged 105 at Glenmachan Tower House Nursing Home in east Belfast
Marie Louise McConville

MOURNERS will gather in east Belfast today for the funeral of a remarkable centenarian who credited her extended old age to eating salmon with soy sauce.

Emily Desano-Smith, who ran an ice cream shop for many years with her Italian husband, was in her 106th year when she passed away at the weekend.

Born in Belfast in March 1913, as a teenager she worked in a flax mill in the Avoniel/Connswater area.

She met Pasquali Desano, who was 25 years her senior, after he had stowed away on a boat from Italy to England and befriended by a man with a barrel organ and a monkey.

Eventually the Italian made his way onto Northern Ireland where he found work in an ice cream shop and he and Emily met and fell in love.

The pair planned to get married but the bride's parents were not happy.

Emily Desano-Smith ran an ice cream shop with her husband

So, when the wedding day arrived, Emily's parents were given the wrong details about the location for fear they would stop the nuptials.

By the time they arrived at the right church, Emily and Pasquali were already wed.

The couple opened Desano's ice cream shop on the Newtownards Road and had three children.

After Pasquali's death the shop was taken over by the couple's son, Cecil, and Emily continued to work there with him.

She lived in a house next door to the shop which had a bookcase on the wall which could be pulled back to reveal a door - and through the secret passage was the ice-cream business.

The great-great grandmother lived in the house until she was 100 years old when she went into Cedars care home.

Pasquali Desano with his wife Emily, holding her daughter Hazel's hand

And it was on her 100th birthday, when the family saw Mrs Desano-Smith's birth certificate, that they realised she had been wrongly celebrating her birthday on March 19 all her life when, in fact, she had been born on March 14.

Two years ago, the centenarian moved to Glenmachan Tower House Nursing Home, where she passed away on Saturday.

The cause of death was recorded as `Old Age'.

Speaking to The Irish News yesterday, Mrs Desano-Smith's grand-daughter Karen Carson said she would remember her as "a real character".

"She loved her children and her grandchildren," she said.

"She was a strong, caring and very independent woman who protected her grandchildren with the ferocity of a lioness guarding her cubs.

"She had a very good sense of humour and so many stories. The stories, you literally wouldn't believe".

Ms Carson added that Pasquali was the "love of her life" but she maintained her independence long after his death.

"She didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and she said she thought she lived so long because of salmon with soy sauce.

"She always said `old age is not for sissies' - in other words you have to be strong."

Ms Carson added: "My heart just feels so heavy and sad but happy that she is free and happy. She loved the Lord and that's where she is going.

"She was a true Christian, she really was. So many people pretend to be and they are not but she was. Generous to a fault".

A funeral service for Emily Desano-Smith will take place at 10am today at James Brown and Sons Funeral Home on Belfast's Newtownards Road, with burial afterwards at Dundonald Cemetery.

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