A hallowe’en made for me

There are few things in life that I detest more than fancy dress. The three times I’ve had occasion to dress up (as in, dress up or you don’t get to come to the party), it went so wrong that I think I’ve been scarred for life. Once, I went as a tube of toothpaste, complete with red, white, and blue face-painted stripes on my face and the word CREST painted down my white rigout. And still everyone thought I was a standard lamp. Another time I went as a female version of Che Guevara and was mistaken for Monica Lewinsky. Probably the most damaging to my sense of cool though, was dressing up as Big Bird and getting stuck in the door of a Dublin bus. It took Bo Peep and Mickey Mouse to unstick me.

IMG_1395 (800x600)IMG_1404 (449x800)It’s no surprise then that Hallowe’en is my least favourite holiday. I rarely, if ever, venture out. And yet tonight I wanted to do something – anything – just not anything that involved dressing up. I lost my voice a couple of days ago so there was little point in going to a pub. I couldn’t shout at the TV so there was no point watching the rugby. But I wanted out. And I found my something. A pumpkin display at Hősök tere. [I only found out afterwards that this is a charity event that has been going on for a couple of years. You bring your pumpkin and some canned food or other non-perishable food to donate to the  Gyermekétkeztetési Alapítvány (Child Nutrition Foundation) – what a great idea.]
IMG_1496 (800x600)IMG_1510 (800x600)Hundreds of pumpkins were on show on the ledges around the monument and more randomly displayed on the ground. Carvers were walking around carrying their offerings while the rest of us were taking photos. Some had come dressed up on their way to somewhere else. Whole families milled around, and one impressive group from SINOSZ (Siketek és Nagyothallók Országos Szövetsége – the National Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing) had made a particularly stellar effort to make a night of it.

IMG_1473 (800x600)IMG_1474 (600x800)There were all sorts on display, from your basic mutilation to more sophisticated artwork. My favourite had to be one of Marilyn. Exquisite. [Can you really use that word when talking about a carved pumpkin?] There were pumpkins decked out as houses, as castles, as scenes from fairy tales. There were cartoon characters, horses, owls, and the usual cohort of cats and bats. It was all rather lovely. [Am a tad put out though, that I didn’t know of the Japanese Hallowe’en thing going on just across the road – or, as it was billed – a meeting of Far Eastern and Western Ghost Mythology. I really need to do my research before the fact, rather than after.  I think I’d have enjoyed watching a Japanese-fan-wielding zombies on the rampage.

IMG_1488 (800x298)IMG_1490 (800x600)Who’d have thought that Hallowe’en had made such a dent on Budapest life. It dates to Samhain, the Celtic New Year (1 November) so back in the day my pagan ancestors would be celebrating New Year’s Eve tonight. That puts a different perspective on it. I’d never thought of it as a New Year thing before. America has probably made the most of it, from a commercial point of view at any rate. Trick or treating is something every American kid grows up on. For me, growing up in the countryside, it was a lot tamer.

There are no shortage of face-painted, costumed monsters roaming the streets of Budapest tonight and most bars of note have a party on the go. For many it’s simply another excuse to let loose. For me, I’ve already made a note to myself to check the programme earlier next year and see what else is going on that doesn’t require dressing up. Seems like I missed a trick or two this year.

IMG_1433 (800x600)IMG_1459 (800x600)

Putting the hope back into dreaming

The season of giving is fast approaching. For some, the decision about how best to encapsulate how we feel about that special someone (or someones) in something that is wrappable can cause undue angst. We know that hope and disappointment will jostle each other as presents are opened and interpreted. And when we get it wrong, the disappointment doubles. So just what is this gym membership telling me? Where was your head when you thought that I’d love a new ironing board? You’ve never noticed that I don’t have my ears pierced?

I like shopping. I like buying gifts. I think I do rather well at getting it just right. I’ve had years of practice. But my interest in the whole gift-giving thing is waning. The kids in my life have too much already ‒ and they themselves are the first to admit it. The adults in my life want for little. So I ask myself – why bother? And yet my innate need to give is even stronger at Christmas.

This year, thanks to a little Hungarian village called Gáborján which sits in the east of the country on the Hungary-Romania border, this need will be well satisfied.  But let’s step back a bit.

Those with their finger on the pulse on what’s happening on the city’s social scene will doubtless have heard of Budapest’s foremost Scottish Pub, the Caledonia. Those who are well versed in volunteerism in Budapest will know that earlier this year it launched its Social Bite page. Owners Zsuzsanna Bozo and Patrick McMenamin want to do more for the community than simply serve pints of good Scottish beer alongside plates of haggis (the best I’ve had outside of Glasgow, by the way).

Their latest initiative took form when Zsuzsa met up with Józsi Bá, who is what she describes as the ‘soul of this Hungarian village’. Life in Gáborján is tough. Times are difficult. Poverty is rife. But Józsi Bá has hope for the village’s future. His hope lies in its children and the something magical that happens when kids realise that dreams can actually come true.

AsoclaZsuzsa and Co., have printed over 100 blank letters to Santa Claus which Józsi Bá will distribute with the help of the local primary school teachers. Each letter will be sent to Santa via the Caledonia, where they will be added to a special Facebook page: Levelek Télapónak  (Letters to Santa; yes, even Santa is using social media these days). Those participating can take a letter (or three) and make that particular child’s Christmas dream come true. Is there a better way to satisfy that need to give? I think not.

Gifts can be dropped off at the Caledonia Gift Factory at 1066 Budapest, Mozsár utca 9, which will operate as a satellite to Santa’s Factory at the North Pole.  You can save the elves some trouble by wrapping your gifts and adding a personal note. Or better still, you can join in one afternoon in December and enjoy a few hot toddies while wrapping the gifts and enjoying that lovely feeling that comes with doing something worthwhile.  And if you fancy a trip to Gáborján, join the visiting elves for a day of gift giving and church decorating.   And it’s not just gifts that are needed; check the page for other donations that will go a long way towards making life a little easier in this particular part of Hungary.

When we have more than we need, we should think of building a bigger table, rather than erecting a taller fence. This is a perfect opportunity to share with those who are not as fortunate, to give a little back to a country many of us call our second home, to show these kids that dreams can come true.

First published in the Budapest Times 30 October 2015

Open house with a difference

When I first hit the States, I was intrigued by the idea of open house. Where I come from, it means that anyone can drop by – for a party. In the States, it’s when anyone who is interested in buying your house can drop by. In Malta recently, I came across an open house of a different kind.

The city of Birgu, one of the famed Three Cities of Malta (Birgu, Isla, and Bormla – also known as Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua), hosts a festival of lights each year in October. Residents open their front doors and decorate their living rooms and hallways with candles as passersby stop to peek in and take photos. While it was all stunningly beautiful, I have to fess up to feeling a little like a peeping Thomasina. I couldn’t help but eye up the paintings and the valuables and wonder how many burglars were in the crowd casing these joints for a return visit. But hey, each to their own. They’re a trusting lot, the Maltese.

IMG_1365 (800x600)

IMG_1359 (600x800)IMG_1358 (600x800)

All across the city, tens of thousands of lights hang from balconies, sit atop walls and step, illuminate windows and staircases. It’s quite amazing. Over the weekend, a mere €2 will get you entry into both the Maritime Museum and the Inquisitor’s Palace, each worth a wander (can you believe how many Inquisitors became popes?????) A big screen in one of the squares shows submissions for the Short Film Festival while stages around the city showcase local bands of all genres. A massive craft fair inside the city walls is a haven for shoppers with a backdrop of historical reenactments with old-time British redcoats firing their muskets and making sure that everyone stays awake. Various eateries, including one run by the local scouts, serve up rabbit and horse and pork and chicken along with local beer and wine. It’s a great night out – and one even worth travelling to Malta to see.

IMG_1350 (600x800)IMG_1318 (800x600)IMG_1327 (479x800)A fleet of water taxis are on hand, ferrying visitors across from Valetta and at €2 per person, it’s a ride to remember. Some of the mega yachts (including one supposedly owned by Bill Gates) make you wonder just how the other
half really live. Some day, Mary. Some day.

IMG_1233 (800x600)

IMG_1229 (800x600)



The inquisitors

I’ve been a tourist long enough to know that it’s impossible to see it all first time, or even seventh time. I’ve been going to Malta pretty regularly since 2010 and I’m still finding places that I’ve not been to before. The Inquisitors Palace in the city of Birgu has been on my list for a while and this last trip, I finally got to visit.
What a mad bunch they were.

I’ve bandied about the phrase ‘What’s this, another Spanish Inquisition?’ without ever really knowing what it meant. Yes, I had a vague idea that it had to do with the Catholic Church and that it was far from a shining period in the Church’s history. But I’d never quite realised what it was all about and just how nasty it actually was and that it was only one of many. The Inquistion that hit Malta came centuries later, the Roman inquistions of 1542 and onwards.

IMG_1280 (600x800)The list of things you could be tried for included: abuse of the sacraments, possession of prohibited books, infringement of abstinence, bigamy, apostasy, magical activities and superstitious remedies, heretical opinion, false witness, profanation of the sacred, blasphemy and obstructing the Tribunal. In today’s parlance, the profanity that might escape after stubbing my toe, or the simple act of throwing some spilled salt over my shoulder, or daring to believe something against the norm would have been enough to have me in the docks. Madness.

IMG_1285 (800x600)Once a girl turned 9 and a half and a boy turned 10 and a half, they were subject to inquisition (interesting the difference there). While just about anyone could land them in the docks with an accusation, it took 72 witnesses to bring up a bishop.  Definitely a case of us and them. While the museum was at pains to point out that torture was seldom resorted to, the gear was all there. There’s a manual – a Guideline for Inquisitors – written back in the 1400s that theorises:

The torture is not an infallible method to obtain the truth; there are some men so pusillanimous that at the first twinge of pain they will confess crimes they never committed; others there are so valiant and robust that they bear the most cruel torments. Those who have once been placed upon the rack suffer it with great courage, because their limbs accommodate themselves to it with facility or resist with force; others with charms and spells render themselves insensible, and will die before they will confess anything.

I reckon that one is still being read in places today. I was quite surprised at the number of inquisitors who went on to become pope. Nay, I was shocked. The whole thing of instilling the fear of God in someone, another phrase I bandy about with impunity, has taken on a whole new meaning. Even the thought of being denounced was enough to drive sane men mad in those days. And once heresy crept into a town or village and the inquisitors arrived, the locals had 40 days to confess or suffer the consequences. How many convinced themselves of their own guilt and fessed up to nothing at all? To quote the great Bertrand Russell:

Fear is the basis of the whole – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand.

IMG_1261 (600x800)IMG_1241 (800x600)Given the beauty of the city, it’s hard to imagine that it was home to such terrible times. Birgu (aka Vittoriosa) is one of what are known in Malta as The Three Cities and to my mind it is far more impressive than the capital Valetta. And is even more impressive than the walled city of Mdina. If you’re ever in the vicinity, be sure to step outside the usual tourist route and pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

IMG_1250 (800x600)

IMG_1257 (800x600)

IMG_1246 (800x600)nOne a gir 


2015 Grateful 10

TAPSMany lifetimes ago, when I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, I wanted nothing more that to work on the slope. I wanted to be part of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) and travel north, to the Arctic Circle. I wanted to do shift work at one of the pumpstations, make loads of money, and have time off to spend it.

Instead, I was temping with an engineering company in the city making okay money but working for a boss who put the micro into micro-management. I was obviously impressing them though because they figured it wouldn’t be long before I found something more permanent. They asked me to give them two weeks’ notice if and when I decided to leave. I agreed.

While working there, I spent my lunchtimes trying to get hired on with Alyeska, through their temp agency. One day, the phone call came. It was a Thursday afternoon. They had an opening at Pumpstation 9. Starting Tuesday. It was mine if I wanted it.

I said that I couldn’t go. I explained that I had promised that I’d give two weeks’ notice and that I’d be happy to go when that was up. A rant ensued. I was naive. An idiot. Did I think for one minute that if they wanted to let me go they’d be so considerate? Did I realise how hard it was to get a posting up the slope? Why was I being so stupid? If I didn’t take this offer, I’d go to the end of the list and chances are that I would never make a slope contract at all.

TAPS2I was gutted. I wanted to go, but I’d given my word. And no matter what justifications I used, I couldn’t see my way to breaking it. I never did get to work on the slope.

Fast forward to this week. One client sounded me out about possibly going to South America for a conference. Yes, please, I thought. But when I checked my calendar I saw that I’d two workshops booked that week. I was tempted to cancel, reorganise, postpone – it’s not often I get invited so far afield. But I’d given my word. I had to say that I wasn’t available. But I was gutted.

But then another client asked if I’d be free to go to India on a week that suited me any time before the end of the year. No hesitation there. I found two possible free weeks in December that would involve not attending just one social event, an invite that I’d maybe’d rather than committed to.  Happy days. No going back on my word. No disappointments. The proverbial doors opening and closing on schedule. Now I just have to figure out a way to add some days to either end of a packed 5-day programme. And if this is the only challenge I face this week, what’s not to be grateful for?


Ready to rejoin the living

A lady who worked at the post office was approached by a customer who said, ‘I can’t write. Would you mind addressing this postcard for me?’ After addressing it for him and writing a short message, the postal clerk asked, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?’ The man thought for a moment and said, ‘Yes, could you add a P.S. at the end saying, “Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.”’

complaintThis landed in my mailbox yesterday giving me something to think about on a day when everything seemed like an effort. Every time I opened my mouth, I was complaining about something. I was beginning to bore myself. It was as if I was two people – the one doing the bitching and the one giving out about the one doing the bitching. A typical Irish Catholic. But truth be told, I’d stayed out way too late the night before and was paying the price.

It seems that every so often I need to prove to myself that I still have what it takes to trip the light fantastic. Offering to give a guided tour of Budapest’s hip night spots on Budapest’s Broadway (or at least the ones that were hip the last time I ventured out so late) in and itself could be construed as a nice gesture. Offering to do so at 2.30 in the morning, when most sane people are either in bed or heading there, that was a little stupid.

And, surprisingly, it wasn’t about the drink. It was more about going, seeing, and experiencing the energy that infuses a Budapest night. The random conversations that strike up. The complete spectrum of fashion and form that displays itself in various stages of uprightedness. The highlight? A conversation on Nagymező with a Hungarian who had lived in Kilkenny and spoke English with a Northern Irish accent.

When we left Piaf at 5am, the place was just filling up. It was as if a tour bus had pulled up  and disgorged all of its beautiful people. Instant had turned on its lights and had closed its taps but those milling around were still deep in conversation and happy to add a couple of strays to their midst. But no matter how enjoyable it all was, there was no taking from the 6am bedtime. Friday was a write-off.

erpicA walk around the Castle District was about as much as I could handle. I caught the tail end of the Jobbik demo at Corvin on my way home. Vona Gabór was in full flight but what few Hungarian-friendly brain cells I have were not in a translating mood. I was craving a burger and popped yet  another new eatery that has opened on Corvin Sétány: Epic burger. Massive burgers with – wait for it – both gluten-free and low-carb buns. Hog heaven. And it offers a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich that will have to be tried. Can highly recommend it, if you’re in the vicinity… even if you’re not feeling a little worse for wear.

I lived to tell the tale. 48 hours later, I’m ready to rejoin the land of the living. And while I can still hack it with the young ones, there’s no getting away from the fact that the recovery period is way, way longer.


Five years later

While the rest of us have been busy getting on with our lives, most likely taking our freedom and ability to travel from A to B completely for granted, Dr Ágnes Geréb is still in detention, of sorts. Can it really be five years since I first wrote about her? Yes. I checked the dates. My piece published in the Budapest Times on 25 October 2010. And that’s as good as five years ago.

Arrested and imprisoned without trial five years ago for practising midwifery, Dr Geréb was later released to house arrest in December 2010 where she remained until February last year. Imagine not being able to leave the confines of your house for years. I go stir-crazy if I can’t leave for three days! In 2014, the conditions of her house arrest were relaxed a little so while she can travel in and around Budapest, she can’t venture much further afield. A prison as beautiful as Budapest is still a prison if you can’t leave.

As with all things newsworthy, the story soon faded. A band of committed supporters (both local and international) have kept the candle lighting and now they’re raising funds to pay legal and medical expert fees relating to Dr Geréb’s court cases. All contributions are welcomed at http://legalfunddragnesgereb.net. The sum ‒ less than €12 000 ‒ is paltry when compared to the hundreds of thousands if not millions spent on court cases worldwide. But for someone who has effectively been barred from earning a living as a doctor, as a midwife, or as a psychologist (she is qualified to practise each), it may as well be millions rather than thousands.

For those of you who need a reminder: Dr Geréb had a patient whom she had advised not to choose home birth because of a pre-existing health condition. During a scheduled prenatal appointment, the patient suddenly went into labour and the baby was delivered – apparently there was no time to get her to the hospital. When born, the baby had breathing difficulties. Ambulance staff called to the scene began resuscitation and took the baby to hospital. Dr Geréb was subsequently questioned, arrested, and taken into custody.  Today, she is fighting a series of additional charges issued after her arrest around birth incidents which pre-date that fateful October night, all of them wrongly placed in a criminal court and all of them still unresolved as she staunchly defends her innocence and her reputation.

Dr Geréb is an internationally acknowledged midwife and a defender of the rights of mothers to control the circumstances of their baby’s birth. Surely the right of a woman to choose how and where she delivers her child is a basic one. For those who argue that home birth puts the life of the child at more risk than a hospital birth, one only has to look to statistics to see how tenuous that argument is. For those who still argue that the state is not responsible for facilitating the choice of home delivery, then they should remember the Ternovsky ruling of 2010 which obliged the Hungarian government to do exactly that.

I am not a mother. I have never given birth. I can’t say whether I’d prefer to be in a hospital or at home should the occasion arise. I simply do not know. But I do know that I’d like the choice. And it’s women like Dr Geréb, professionals who stand tall in the eyes of the thousands of parents in Hungary whose children were born at her hands, who make that choice possible.  Let’s remember what she stands for. Let’s remember what she’s going through. Let’s remember to donate.

First published in the Budapest Times 23 October 2015

2015 Grateful 11

I have my life back. Rugby, for me, is over. To say that I’m gutted would be an understatement, but the disappointment I felt as I threw my jersey into the laundry basket to be washed, ironed, and packed away until next spring, is nothing to what the Boys in Green must be feeling. To do so well… and not have it be good enough. Heart-breaking.

That said, while the week might not have ended as I’d have liked it to end, it was a good one, all in all.

I was introduced to someone in the pub on Sunday as being ‘famous’ – not in any spotlight sense of the word, of course, but in the sense that so many people know me. That in itself isn’t particularly amazing – I’ve been here for years and a sizeable portion of that time has been spent on stage with the Gift of the Gab. So yes,  my name, if not me, myself, is known. Famous, I don’t think so. Known of? That’ll work.

PlanNot a week goes by that I’m not asked if I know someone who can do something. An English-speaking accountant to sort out the web of Hungarian tax laws. A Spanish-speaking football fan to decipher a player’s call to the camera. Someone who makes stained glass. And I get great satisfaction from hooking people up – connecting those who need something done with those who can do those somethings. This week was particularly good in that respect and at one stage, when I sat back and watched three strands of my life engage in a fascinating conversation at the Art Hotel in Budapest on Thursday, I mentally congratulated myself on a job well done. As Hannibal of A-Team fame might say: I love it when a plan comes together.

I don’t know where I got it. I doubt it’s hereditary. Perhaps it’s because I’ve needed stuff done so often that I’m particularly attentive to what others need doing. I don’t know. More often than not, I find myself volunteering contacts and connections. Just applied for a junior diplomat’s position? Never spoken to diplomat? Let me check. Want to export honey to Ireland but don’t know where to start? mmmm… am sure I met someone lately who was into the honey distribution thing… I’ll get back to you. Looking for a size 6 pair of roller skates? I think I know someone who just quit.

Perhaps I have the fixing gene – the one that wants to be sure that my world, as I know it, continues to function as it does. The one that wants to keep things going so that the status remains quo’d. As I said, this week was particularly good with regard to cosmic connections. And for that I’m grateful.

Had Ireland made the semi-finals… now that would see gratitude take off to a whole new level. Next time, lads. Next time.


The birth of colour

My brain functions at a very simple level. Easily bamboozled by technical details, I have no great need to know how something works as long as it works. I like big picture stuff, simply explained. I rate neither science nor performance art: it’s all too confusing and takes too much time and energy to understand.

When I first heard of something called a ‘frequency opera’, I switched off.  It was beyond the limits of my willingness to understand. The idea of immersing the audience in an hour-long a cappella portrayal of the creation of the universe based on ancient and new scientific ideas and images ‒ well, I just couldn’t see myself queuing up to get tickets for that. And then I met Honora Foah.

A pioneer of multi-disciplinary art, Foah is in Budapest to record The Birth of Color, a Marriage of Darkness and Light, the first work in a performance cycle of seven, entitled Recombinant DNA. It involves a 60-strong male and female chorus (each one individually recorded) and crystal singing bowls, accompanied by light and projection. It is, she says, both about ‒ and told through ‒ frequency and vibration, in sound and light. I was struggling to understand, but still I wanted to know more.

Honora and Ferenc (c) Harlan Cockburn

Honora and Ferenc (c) Harlan Cockburn

The series ‒ created, written, and directed by Foah ‒ is based on love stories between two polarities, starting with the marriage of darkness and light and ending with the relationship between the two trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. In between, there’s Mr and Mrs Hades, a mythical marriage that Foah exploits to tell the story of chlorophyll. Other lovers include Shiva and Sati and Elizabeth and Viktor Frankenstein. But let’s take this first piece, the story of ‘the sudden emergence of the homogenous universe splitting into time and space, light and dark’. Each misses the other and when they get back together, ‘the intensity of their crashing together creates the harmonics, the colors, the strata of creation’.  I was impressed. But still confused.

What might I, as an audience member, expect, I asked?  Think of expanding circles with the crystal bowls taking centre stage, she said. These are surrounded by the audience, who in turn are surrounded by the chorus. Lights project everywhere as the audience is immersed in a vibratory field. As far back as 10 000 years ago, the Vedas spoke of the world being made of vibration, so this isn’t new. But add the scientific discoveries of quantum physics to this ancient wisdom, and you have the makings of a frequency opera.

(c) Harlan Cockburn

(c) Harlan Cockburn

It all sounds a little fantastical. But the more Foah spoke about it, the more convinced I became that this could well be a twenty-first-century must-see. Pulitzer-prize-nominated poet and author David Brendan Hopes wrote the lyrics. Italian choral conductor Lucio Ivaldi and Atlanta-based Tristan Foison wrote the music. Added to this creative mix is the legendary Hungarian conductor Ferenc Sapszon Jr, founder of the Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choir School, a genius of whom the world needs to hear even more.

Talks are underway with a prominent US scientific institute about an interactive website. And, subject to funding, Foah hopes to premier in Budapest’s Kiscelli museum next year.

“You never know what will become visible as you stare into the dark. The bogeyman shapes, the illusions, give way to the truth of your life that is waiting down there in the dark for you. Then it asks a question. Then you have to answer. Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men and women? The shadow knows. The shadow of darkness is the light. And they love each other.”

Yes, Honora Foah, you’ve sold me. I’ll be first in line for a ticket.

First published in the Budapest Times 16 October 2015

Came for the rugby, stayed for the soccer

Yesterday, I ran the full gamut of emotions from anticipation and boredom to elation and fear to nervousness and outrage to pride and querulousness, to a weary type of zealousness that I’d rather not experience again any time soon. It’s almost as if the rugby (Ireland’s win over France) and the soccer (Ireland’s loss to Poland) were by-the-way,incidental.

FB2 (320x240)The atmosphere in Jack Doyle’s was electric. I could count on one hand the number of French people I have met in my eight years in Budapest but yesterday, they outnumbered the Irish both in body and in voice. Their rousing rendition of the French national anthem was one worth hearing. So good was it, in fact, that our pathetic effort at our rugby anthem was … well… pathetic. Only a handful of the Irish in JDs knew all the words to it and knowing the chorus just wasn’t enough.

Had we been singing Ireland’s national anthem, I think we might have fared better but then this would have excluded our northern brethren (which was why the rugby anthem was adopted in the first place). A Welsh mate of mine had commented after the England v. Australia game on how sad it was that England only has one rugby song compared to the six Wales can offer up. I thought about agreeing until I realised that Ireland only has one, too – the Fields of Athenry! Lads, we need to do something about this.

FB3 (320x240)The bar seemed quite divided – the French at one end and the Irish at the other – with both sets of fans doing their bit to egg on their respective teams. And even though we won, when it all cleared out afterwards, the French fans were the ones still singing. A credit to them. The rest of us were still discussing what it meant for us to lose four players as we approach the quarter finals. We were doing Joe Schmidt’s job for him, working through the boys on the bench and debating whether or not we had cover for next Sunday’s game with Argentina.

With an hour wait we  thought about going home or staying to see what Martin O’Neill has done with the Irish soccer team. We stayed. And as the French filtered out, the Poles arrived. And what a difference.

The bar had been packed solid for the rugby. It took an age to get out for a smoke or to the loo. Kudos to the floor staff who managed to stay upright without accident while navigating the dense crowd balancing their booze-laden trays.  And hats off to them for keeping a smile on their face as the punters’  anxiety about what was happening on the pitch seeped in to what was happening with their drinks. A stellar off-pitch performance.

Given how important a game this was for Ireland, it was surprising how few people stayed to watch, but those who did got to see some great camaraderie between both sets of fans. When Ireland scored the equaliser in the early minutes, our Poland neighbours tipped their glasses in acknowledgement. And when it was all over, gracious in their victory, they shook hands with all of us.

Behind me, I overheard a snippet of a conversation that summarised the atmosphere:

Polish fan: There are way more Irish in here. We’re outnumbered.
Irish fan: Sure we’re all friends here tonight. We’ll have a few pints and then we’ll be singing.

Me? Give me rugby any day. I enjoyed the football well enough but there isn’t enough action in it for me. So much so that I spent my time wondering at what was going through Ireland’s manager Martin O’Neill’s head when he picked that lilac and green tracksuit to wear? Had he no one to tell him NOT to wear it? He made Poland’s manager Adam Nawałka look like a pin-up from GQ! I was mortified.

We didn’t get the result we needed in the football but we’re not out of it yet. There are still the play-offs. Martin – if you’re reading this – lilac ain’t your colour, pet.

But we are through to the quarter finals in the rugby. Next up, Sunday at 2pm, Ireland v Argentina. If you’re Irish (or Argentinian) in Budapest, pop by Jack Doyle’s. And if you’re buying, mine will be a Magners. Bring the Valium.