Ireland made a winning start to their RBS 6 Nations campaign and will be satisfied that a tricky first hurdle was successfully negotiated at the Stadio Flaminio.
The home side were magnificent and remained in with a chance of victory until late into the game, finishing the afternoon with the same ferocity and passion they had started it.
Ultimately they were undone by two pieces of magic from Brian O'Driscoll which saw the Ireland skipper - who limped off at the end with a hamstring injury - carve open Italy's backline on the way to setting up tries for Geordan Murphy and Peter Stringer.
Ireland enjoyed a clear advantage behind the scrum despite the 30th-minute withdrawal of last year's RBS 6 Nations star Gordon D'Arcy but they did not secure parity with the home pack until late in the first half.
A 76th-minute touch down from Denis Hickie saw the score take a lop-sided appearance which the Irish scarcely deserved given Italy's outstanding contribution but prop Leandro Castrogiovanni crossed in injury time to restore the balance.
The boot of full-back Roland de Marigny had kept John Kirwan's side in the match after the misfiring Luciano Orquera had been relieved of the kicking duties and a second championship upset of the weekend looked on the cards.
But with fly-half Ronan O'Gara keeping the scoreboard ticking over with the boot, Ireland were able to hold onto a triumph they just about deserved.
Italy: Tries: Castrogiovanni
Pens: Orquera, De Marigny 3.
Italy: De Marigny, M. Bergamasco, Canale, Masi, Nitoglia, Orquera, Troncon, Lo Cicero, Ongaro, Castrogiovanni, Dellape, Bortolami, Persico, M. Bergamasco, Parisse.
Replacements: Robertson for Canale (71), Intoppa for Lo Cicero (78), Perugini for Ongaro (78),
Del Fava for Dellape (66), Dal Maso for Parisse (78).
Not Used: Griffen, Pozzebon.
Ireland: Murphy, Horgan, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Hickie, O'Gara, Stringer, Corrigan, Byrne, Hayes, O'Kelly, O'Connell, S. Easterby, Leamy, Foley.
Replacements: Dempsey for D'Arcy (29), Horan for Corrigan (61), Sheahan for Byrne (77), O'Callaghan for O'Connell (77), Miller for Foley (77).
Not Used: G. Easterby, Humphreys.