Keeping the flame burning after 50 years...

Members and friends of the society, including president Ian Ludbrook, cutting the cake
Members and friends of the society, including president Ian Ludbrook, cutting the cake

If you’ve ever watched the pigeons in Venice’s St Mark’s Square, stared in awe at the views from the Almafi Coast, or wondered if Juliet really did stand on that balcony in Florence, it’s possible you could have been bitten by the powerful Italian bug.

And if you’re captivated by Rome’s architecture, fascinated by Sicily’s links with the Mafia, or just wish you could order a glass of wine in Italian, then you are not alone.

Admiring and understanding Italy is a world-wide passion, promoted chiefly by the Dante Alighieri Society and its army of branches and members.

There are just four branches in Scotland – and Falkirk’s one of them.

Falkirk Dante Alighieri Society marked its 50th year last week when its President Ian Ludbrook thanked members past and present whose dedication has been responsible for the organisation ongoing success and longevity.

And while the anniversary has given the society the chance to reflect on its own history, it’s also considering where it’s going in the future.

Members admit that while still strong, the society is a slimmer version of the 80-plus members it had in its heyday.

There is a clear need for new, younger people to join its ranks and learn more about one of the world’s most beautiful and history-filled countries.

David McLaren, a member and past president said: “We are a very enthusiastic, friendly and informal club.

“We also hold a number of social events throughout the year which are really good fun and popular.

“But the membership is now sitting at around 30, and most of us are older now.

“What we do need is younger members to come along, to rejuvenate the branch and keep it going.”

It was former Falkirk High School rector Dr Hunter Cran who, through an appeal in the Falkirk Herald, invited residents to learn more about the culture and language of Italy.

From these small roots, a strong society emerged, reminiscent of one of Dante’s reflections: ‘From a little spark may burst a flame.’

With warm support from those who attended the first meeting, along with life-long friends who joined in the years that followed, the Falkirk society began and thrived.

Following the motto ‘diffondere la lingua e la cultura Italiana nel mondo’ (to spread the Italian language and culture throughout the world), the society has explored Italian history, language and its food.

From talks from university professors and experts on topics varying from culture to Chianti, the society has had fun over the years ticking all the boxes of its remit.

Members have benefited from conversation lessons from native Italian teachers, cooking demonstrations, and insights into Dante and Italian art, theatre and architecture,

Gillian McLaren, a member since 1985 and former president said: “I think what’s really interesting with Italy and Italian is that people can really relate to, even if it’s just that they know Italian food or know how beautiful the language sounds.

“The society isn’t just about learning the language, it’s about all aspects of Italian life and culture, including the food and the people.

“The language classes we have had, particularly with native Italian teachers, are excellent.

“The programmes have been very varied, from conversation to Italian proverbs.”

Maureen Reid, a relatively-new member said: “I learned about the society through Grangemouth Library.

“I was looking for an Italian language evening class, and otherwise I would have had to travel to Stirling for lessons over black ice on dark winter evenings.

“The quality of the lessons, being given just now by a native speaker, Santino Bruno, is excellent, relevant to cultural and business travel andgood at making the grammar as much fun as possible.

“We have had the support of many teachers of Italian, who have shared their skills in local schools, including our distinguished Honorary President, Mrs Luciana Wood, who has encouraged many a halting beginner, including myself, to try their new skills.”

President Ian Ludbrook said: “Given that we’ve been going for 50 years we have obviously had some outstanding and dedicated members, teachers and office bearers. It’s due to people like Jean McLean and Luciana Wood, our president and secretary for almost 30 years and to Peter Wood, Margaret McCallum, Matthew and Grace King, Gillian and David McLaren, Christine Simm and Neil Melville that the society has prospered for so long and we also thank stalwart members who are no longer with us.

“I‘ve enjoyed being a member of the Falkirk Dante Alighieri Society and long may it continue.

“It has been instrumental in fostering the understanding of Italian history, language and culture here in Falkirk and hopefully will continue what Hunter Cran started in 1963 when he inserted that article in The Falkirk Herald inviting anyone with an interest in Italy and its culture to come to a meeting in the Temperance Cafe, Lint Riggs, Falkirk.”

Dante Alighieri Society in Falkirk starts its new session in October. Anyone interested can visit www.falkirkdante.net or look out for future announcements in The Falkirk Herald.