Aberdeen Italian Circle – through the decades

Aberdeen Italian Circle has a long history since it was founded and many people have contributed to sustaining it over more than forty years. During the early months of 1977, at the instigation of  group of academics mainly involved in the teaching of art and history, a steering committee was set up to form a local branch of the Società Dante Alighieri. It took several months to sort out the problems implicit in such an undertaking, but finally, on November 25th of that year, an inaugural meeting was held at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Around 200 well-wishers and interested citizens attended. The Italian Consul General in Edinburgh was represented by Dr Mario La Cava and Signor Ottone Mattei represented the Ambassador. Professor Antonio Moreno of the Italian Cultural Institute was also in attendance. Bryan Dargie (violin) and Donald Hawksworth (piano) provided musical entertainment with works by Vivaldi and Geminiani.

Meetings were held at the Art Gallery and the Society quickly established its recognisable form, with about eight lectures a season with at least one in Italian. The parent body in Rome provided lecturers to speak in Italian in the early days.

The tradition of combining the AGM with an evening of social relaxation was established early and has been continued to this day.

An Italian Reading Group and soon the Italian Language Classes were established. Italian language conversation groups still meet today.

A change of name to Aberdeen Italian Circle was agreed in an attempt to make the group more attractive to non-specialists, but it remains a branch of the Società Dante Alighieri. 

A Dinner was held in November 2002, to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary.  The other Scottish SDA branches were represented, and guests included  the Hon Vice Consul for Italy, Fabrizio Necchi, who addressed the company.

Over the years Aberdeen Italian Circle has had nine Presidents:

Prof. Stanley Wilkinson 1977-1981

Mr John Marshall 1984-1986

Mr Donald Cunningham 1981-1984

Mr Archie Baird 1986-2001

Mr John Pacitti  2001-2002

Mrs Margaret Ferguson  2002-2014

Mr Gert Ronberg   2014-2017

Mrs Liz Gilmour  2017-2020

Dr Sandra Cardarelli  2020 –

Aberdeen Italian Circle’s longest serving President was Archie Baird, whose love of Italy arose from his experiences in Italy during the war. When as a young soldier in the British Army he escaped from a POW camp in Italy, he was taken in by an Italian family, who risked their lives by letting him live with them to keep him safe from discovery.  In 2001 Archie was awarded the Gold Medal of the Società Dante Alighieri in recognition of his work in promoting the language and culture of Italy.  At the same time he was made an Honorary President of Aberdeen Italian Circle. 

Aberdeen Italian Circle has maintained links with the other Scottish branches of the Società Dante Alighieri, and also with the local Italian community.  The group was glad to be able to contribute to the appeal for funds to create an Italian Cloister Garden at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, incorporating a monument to those who perished in the tragic sinking of the Arandora Star in 1940.  This project was the idea of the then Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, who had been an active supporter of Aberdeen Italian Circle during his time as Bishop of Aberdeen.  The Cloister Garden was opened in May 2011.

In 2002, funds from the Società Dante Alighieri allowed Aberdeen Italian Circle to support a school exchange between Mackie Academy in Stonehaven and its partner school in Venice, as well as to establish a prize in Italian at Mackie Academy, where the Dante Alighieri prizes continue to be award annually.