Lives Remembered

Joe Cafolla: Lurgan cafe owner was a 'kind man and one of a kind'

Joe Cafolla sold ice cream and fish and chips to the people of Lurgan for more than half a century. Picture courtesy of Old Lurgan Photos

THERE were sliders, nuggets, sumptious marshmallow ices and classic 99s.

As a treat there was the thrill of a jelly or fruit ice, with fresh strawberries at the height of summer.

And the man behind it all was Joe Cafolla, whose delicious home-made ice cream and fish and chips brought smiles to the faces of people in Lurgan for more than half a century.

The Cafolla Bros cafe on Carnegie Street was an institution in the Co Armagh town and Joe one of its favourite characters.

His wake saw people queuing to the end of the street to pay their respects, including many from across the community divide who enjoyed his legendary generosity with free buckets of ice cream for church and charity events down the years.

Joe was born in 1947 at Church Place in Lurgan town centre, close to the original Cafolla's cafe first opened by his grandfather Joe after he arrived from the southern Italian village of Casselatico near Monte Cassino at the turn of the 20th century.

Run by his parents Andy and Delia, along with uncles Ernie and Joey, he first started work in the kitchen aged 12, peeling potatoes before school and helping out again in the evenings.

In the 1950s Andy and Joey branched out with a larger cafe in Carnegie Street.

Big enough to seat around 60 people, it was fronted with gorgeous green and black marble imported from Italy which was sadly lost in a bomb blast in Lurgan in the late 1970s.

Joe Cafolla with Gerard Eagers, the late Patsy Haughey and the legendary boxer Jake La Motta

Customers would queue at one end of the long mirror-backed counter for fish and chips, while waitresses would bring ice cream, coffee and milkshakes to customers seated around the bright pink walls.

On one memorable night in the 1960s Glenavon FC celebrated winning the Gold Cup in the cafe.

Many of the top showbands also paid a visit when performing at the Calypso ballroom the Cafollas opened next door.

Over the years the cafe barely changed, with locals returning on holiday from living abroad always delighted to revisit the happy scene of their younger years.

Joe's daddy died in his early 50s, leaving responsibility for the business with his mother and sister Anna, and before long Joe took up the reins himself.

He usually worked in the kitchen and had a lovely way with both staff and customers.

His closest colleague was Brendan Gilmore, with the friends spending 44 years working together and dying just days apart.

Joe met Angela O'Hagan, the love of his life, 50 years ago when he pulled up in his blue Triumph sports car when she was out walking with friends and asked if she fancied going for a drive.

It took several more attempts, including sending a friend for an answer into Woolworths where she worked, before she agreed but the Lurgan woman professed it the best decision she ever made.

They had two daughters, Lisa and Maria, who spent 30 years working alongside Joe in the cafe, and in more recent years he adored the company of his three grandchildren, Delia, Meabh and Niall.

Away from work Joe loved sport, in particular boxing and snooker, and travelled as far as Las Vegas to follow the fortunes of Barry McGuigan. He also followed GAA and soccer and went horse riding most weekends.

Joe Cafolla enjoyed horse riding

Music and singing was another passion, with many a social gathering treated to renditions on the piano of classics by Elvis or The Kinks.

Joe was diagnosed with cancer last year, having never been off sick even with the flu down through the years.

And it was the end of an era for Lurgan when the Carnegie Street cafe finally closed its doors in August, although the Cafolla name lives on through the "Wee Cafolla's" still run by another branch of the family in Church Place.

As for the closely-guarded recipe for Joe's wonderful ice cream - shielded even from close family members - it has been passed down to a grandson.

Joe died aged 71 on December 2 after a happy life and at his huge funeral at St Paul's Church in Lurgan, Fr Conor McConville described him as "a kind man and one of a kind”.

“Joe was always great company to be in. You always had a great commentary, great camaraderie and great comedy," he said.

“Joe gave you life and energy because he was full of life himself, such a jovial character. He energised you and lifted you up."

Predeceased earlier this year by his sister Anna, Joe is survived and sadly missed by his wife and two daughters and family circle.

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Lives Remembered