East Antrim link to 1929 Giro uncovered

A former Larne woman has revealed her family’s close ties to the Giro d’Italia, spanning back 85 years.

Thursday, 8th May 2014, 12:09 pm
Giulio Bonugli at the 1929 Giro d'Italia finish in Milan INLT 19-675-CON

Morag Donaldson, who now lives in Dromore, can trace her roots back to central Italy.

Morag’s grandfather, Giuseppe Bonugli, was a native of Gallicano in Tuscany.

Giuseppe – or Peppy as he was affectionately known – left Italy in 1897 and moved to Stranraer, Scotland, where he and his brothers and sisters set up a grocery/confectioner’s shop.

In 1910 he became a British citizen and fought in the First World War at Passendale.

Morag explained: “After the war, in the early 1920s, Peppy settled in Larne to work with his older brother, Fidele ‘Fred’, who had a guest house/shop in Bay Road.

“He then opened his own grocery shop, ‘The Sunshine Cafe’ in the late 1920s with a café upstairs in Cross Street.

“The building was then knocked down to make way for a road, so Peppy opened another café/grocery shop called ‘Peppy’s’ on High Street.”

Morag, who left Larne in 1967, still remembers eating ice cream as a child at one of the tables upstairs in her granda’s café.

She added: “It had all wooden tables with table tops made of Carrera marble from Tuscany and bistro chairs.”

The shop remained open until the 1960s when Peppy passed away.

He also had shops in Whitehead, and wrote a weekly column for the Larne Times entitled ‘Thoughts to Ponder’.

Explaining her family’s historic connection to the Giro, Morag said: “Peppy had a nephew, Giulio Bonugli, who took part in the 17th Giro d’Italia in 1929.

“This was the first time the Giro visited Southern Italy, where most of the roads were still unpaved.

“It was difficult to find petrol, lodgings and clean water for the riders, and to make matters worse, there were animals roaming about.”

Cycling especially, amongst other sports, was encouraged by Benito Mussolini as part of the Fascist leader’s attempt to control all aspects of Italian life.

The Italian Olympic Committee was made part of the Fascist party in 1927 and it’s encouragement of sports and competition may have had a bearing on making them the integral part of Italian life that they are today.

The 1929 Giro consisted of 14 stages, and Giulio raced alongside the champion, Alfredo Binda.

He finished 45th place out of 99, with a time of two hours, 22 minutes and 40 seconds.

A street in Gallicano in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany, where the Bonugli family home is located, is named after Giulio.

As well as the Giro, Giulio took part in the Tour de France and a race in South America.

Giulio died in Ethiopia in 1936 at the age of 30.

Morag, who lives with her three children Laura, Lucy and James, is deeply proud of her Italian heritage and is now studying Italian with the Open University.

She gets the opportunity to speak the language with her extended family in Tuscany via social media. Morag visited the region for a summer holiday in 2010 – her second trip to her grandfather’s birthplace.

She regularly attends functions organised by the Northern Irish branch of Lucchesi nel Mondo (people from the Lucca region of Tuscany represented throughout the world). They hold regular events, some sponsored by the Tuscan government including films, language classes in Italian, and regional food tasting, which keeps the Tuscan community of the Garfagnana region together.

Morag’s children, fourth generation Italian, will also have the opportunity to attend a residential holiday in Tuscany to learn Italian, courtesy of the Italian Government.

Morag revealed that, when she got her first summer job at the age of 16, she bought a racing bike and once cycled 70 miles from her home near Belfast to her grandmother’s house in the Clogher Valley, Co Tyrone.

“At that time, I didn’t know that my mother had a cousin who was a professional cyclist who raced in the Giro d’Italia in 1929,” she concluded.

Morag now hopes to join her cousins in Ballygally to watch the Giro on Saturday, May 10.