A gifted musician and a talented entertainer, mourners at the funeral of Romeo Forte – who passed away on Thursday – have heard him described as “one of Armagh’s great sons who brought wonderful life and joy to so many”.
At a well-attended funeral Mass on Saturday, friends and family gathered at St Patrick’s Cathedral listened to Fr Peter McAnenly outline a filled and fulfilling life.
He told how the young Romeo, who was born in Belfast, came to live in Armagh after his parents travelled here from Italy in the early part of the last century, and went first to work in the famous Forte’s family cafe.
Romeo’s passing on Thursday came less than six weeks after the loss of his sister, the former SDLP Mayor of Armagh Anna Brolly.
He had been too unwell to attend Anna’s funeral, which took place on his own 90th birthday, and he himself passed peacefully in hospital with his family by his side.
Fr Peter McAnenly led mourners – including Romeo’s wife, Ann, son Anton and daughter Sharon – in remembering one who gave so much to so many.
The son of the late Carmella and Antonio, the family moved to live in Armagh when he was a few years old. Romeo went to the old Christian Brothers School and then to St Patrick’s College and, with him having such a deep love for music, he then went off to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London to study piano.
A few years later and he graduated with his degree in music and piano and, when he came home, he went in to work in the family business in Armagh, in the old Fortes which was known far and wide.
Said Fr McAnenly: “It was just about 60 years ago that himself and Ann met and they got married. A short time later and thank God, within a few years and they were blessed with a son and daughter. And as they both said last night, Romeo was a great husband and father and a great brother and he was a great neighbour and friend to all who knew him.
“He worked in the family business for a good number of years and I believe Forte’s was a well known business and they put up the best of good food and as many would agree, their’s was among the best fish and chips in the country.”
Fr McAnenly continued: “Soon after his mother passed on, Romeo also moved on into a new pathway in life and he went to work in the civil service and he worked there until he retired some years ago. But over the years, he kept in touch with the music, it was at the very core of his being and being such a wonderful pianist, he taught many people to play the piano over the years.
“Although he had taught many people how to play during the years when he was working, after he retired, he did a lot of private tuition and he taught many people in his home. And I know that some of the greatest of musicians and pianists were taught by him…he was certainly a very gifted and a very skilful man and this morning we praise and thank God for his musical ability and for the wonderful joy and gift of music that he shared with so many over the years.
“Many names of people have been mentioned to me, people who were taught by him and through his work and his teaching, Romeo has had many wonderful success stories over the last years. I’m sure there are people here who may have gone to concerts or functions that he performed at in Belfast and Dublin and in many other places, and I believe he performed on television on a number of occasions.
“But I’m sure there are some who can remember him playing at some local functions here in town over the years. I’m told that Fr Murray got him to play at a concert in the old Parochial Hall to raise funds for a new pair of stage curtains in the hall many years ago and so, Romeo was a man who could certainly make the piano sing and being a very fine and accomplished pianist, his music was shared far and wide over the years.”
Fr McAnenly recalled recently celebrating a special Mass for a Dungannon lady, who had been confined to bed for 20 years afer suffering a stroke, and got chatting to her husband, who had gone to school with Romeo.
“He talked for ages about him,” said Fr McAnenly. “They were great school pals in the College here in Armagh over 70 years ago and Jim went on to talk about the great sportsman that Romeo was and I believe he was a great swimmer and a great runner and he was deeply involved with the Armagh Harriers for many years.
“I’m sure that he got to know many and many would have got to know him in and through the sports and I’ve no doubt that he made great friends through martial arts and the many other activities that he was involved in.”
Turning to his beloved roots, he said Romeo had always had a great interest in Italy.
“He learnt the language and he spoke it fluently, and fortunately, he and his family were able to holiday there many times over the years of his life.
“All in all, Romeo had a very full and a very active life and, as Ann herself said, he had a very happy life and I know that he was proud, justly proud of his children and also Leon his grandson.
“I know that the name Romeo Forte will live on for time to come and not just here in Armagh but far beyond.
“He will be remembered as being one of Armagh’s great sons who brought wonderful life and joy to so many, one of this city’s greatest musicians. What a tribute to him, the fact that he continued to pass on that gift and share his love of music with others right to the end.
“Even in the last few days as he lay in bed so very ill and as the family played music beside him, he lifted his hand on a few occasions and imagined that he was playing.”
After Saturday’s funeral Mass, Romeo was cremated at Lakelands Crematorium.
To his wife, Ann, son Anton, daughter Sharon, daughter-in-law Ali, son-in-law Pete, grandson Leon, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, family circle and friends, our deepest sympathy is extended at this time. RIP.