Ruth Di Girolamo, former proprietor of the Wild Onion cafe in Limerick
THE incredible popularity of former Wild Onion cafe owner Ruth Di Girolamo was in evidence as hundreds of people paid their final respects to the Chicago native last week in her adopted home of Limerick.
Ruth sadly died recently at University Hospital Limerick following a short illness.
She came to Limerick in March 2001 alongside her husband Bob. Having arrived on these shores in 1998, the pair settled upon running a small cafe in Doneraile, Co Cork.
But the pair found it a little quiet there and so decided to go bigger and look to one of Ireland's cities instead.
Ruth’s husband Bob said they initially looked at Cork City, but found everything to be “unseemingly expensive”.
So instead, they ventured towards Limerick – a city Ruth became proud to call home – where the Wild Onion opened in High Street, near the Milk Market.
While Ruth loved Limerick, she was loved in equal measure by visitors to the cafe, which served what many people considered to be the best American breakfast in the city.
While Bob was often behind the scenes doing the baking and cooking, it was Ruth who was out the front, greeting people in her own unique manner.
The business became affectionately known as ‘Ruth’s Place’ by many regular visitors to people, many of whom were heading to the Milk Market to shop on Saturday, or leaving the market.
The business won 11 consecutive Bridgestone guide awards.
Damien Storan worked at the Wild Onion with Ruth for eight years, having struggled to find work after completing a software development degree at LIT.
He remembers Ruth with a particular fondness, saying: “I was coming into the Wild Onion during my college years, and I built up an affection with Ruth, as did everyone who really went in. She was aware from my time coming there I was struggling to get a software job. I remember I finally asked her if I could have a job, and within a week she had me working there.”
Damien said he felt honoured to be working with Ruth and Bob, noting how she was often quite cautious in hiring people.
“She would not hire just anyone. She wanted people who could trust her, or who could be loyal to her. Ruth was an amazing woman. She was very particular. Everything had to be done in a specific way, which she felt was the right way.”
But despite her exacting standards, Damien says the Wild Onion was “one of the greatest places to work”.
“It was wonderful to work with Ruth and Bob. They were such a dynamic duo. They were great characters – larger than life really,” Damien says.
Two years ago, the pair decided to downsize, closing down the Wild Onion in the city centre, and opening a small ‘bakeshop’ by the same name on the Ennis Road.
But following Ruth’s sad death, Bob has decided to close down this outlet, Damien saying he did not “have the heart” to carry on without his wife by his side.
Before Ruth moved to Ireland, she worked in a variety of financial and financial reporting roles.
Notably, she worked as the chief economist at the state of Illinois, and also for the city of Chicago.
In the private sector, she also worked for a company, which was a subsidiary of Time Life.
Heading towards retirement, she and Bob made the life-changing decision to leave America, and head across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland, a land where Ruth’s grandparents, the McNallys, hailed from.
Her grandmother came from Limerick, and her grandfather came from the Midlands area.
Bob this week says he has been “overwhelmed” by the warm tributes paid to his wife.
In a tribute posted online, he wrote: “I know that Ruth was a very special person, but neither of us would have guessed that so many others thought that way as well. Everyone had good words and a few were quite broken up. Good God Ruth, why didn't you say everyone loved you?”
Bob also paid tribute to the “professional, kind and caring” staff of University Hospital Limerick, as well as those at Griffin’s Funeral Home.
He also extended warm words to Fr Richie Davern, who officiated Ruth’s funeral last week at St Nessan’s Cathedral, plus Ruth’s longest-term employee Damien Storan, who he joked had “adopted” him.
”I hope he can feed me,” he joked.
Ruth is survived by her husband Bob, many relatives and friends.