Each year, for the last four years, Ronnie Thompson would come to Budapest in March. The Londoner visited at other times, too, but it was his March visits that I best remember. Ronnie wouldn’t have won any prizes for being the tallest chap in the room, but he made up for it by being larger than life itself when he headed up the annual St Patrick’s Day parade in the city. Ronnie was our mascot – our leprechaun – our piece of magic that made the day special.
When Mark Downey first ran into him one night in a bar and proposed the idea, Ronnie told him to feck off. If you’ve met Ronnie, you’ll know how funny this was. He thought Mark was joking, taking the mick. But he was serious. And finally convinced that it was all for real, when Ronnie donned his green and gold, he was serious, too. Seriously funny.
His humour could draw blood from the most insipid of turnips, make a crying child laugh through their tears, and put a smile on the grumpiest of faces. You couldn’t help but laugh at his antics. I remember the first year, when he and St Patrick (aka Patrick Davitt) led the fledgling parade through the streets of Budapest, the city didn’t quite know what was happening. There were times when Ronnie appeared to be walking on air – he loved it. The celebrity hairdresser from the East End (a Brit I ask you!) leading the St Patrick’s Day parade in Hungary … how far he had come. And along that starry path I heard mention of Dragon’s Den and a chair made of hair. He was a certainly a man with stories.
Last weekend, Ronnie died. Suddenly. His tea was still warm when he was found. I don’t know what happened but judging from the shock of it all, it wasn’t expected. I didn’t know him well. But what I knew of him I liked. He was a breath of fresh air, a man who loved life with a passion. His enthusiasm was infectious. Our parade will be all the greyer for his passing.
But no – wait a minute. He wouldn’t have wanted that… he’d have expected us to party on and celebrate. And we will, Ronnie, we will, and we’ll certainly raise a glass or three in your memory.
Le mile buíochas, Ronnie. I am truly grateful that I had the chance to march a few streets with you.