A virtual St Patrick’s Day

For the first time in more years than I can remember, I’ll be in Ireland for St Patrick’s Day. This year though, like last year, it’ll be a somewhat tepid affair. Pubs are shut. Music venues have become a vague memory of the recent past. And the joy of having a day off mid-week is somewhat diluted when you’re working from home anyway.

That said, with twelve months of practice under its belt, the world is ready to take St Patrick’s Day virtual.

I read with interest that the Caribbean Island of Montserrat, currently COVID-free, is having a hybrid festival and is open to visitors, as long as you quarantine for 14 days before venturing out. Were I not otherwise engaged, I’d be tempted.

I’ve never been a great fan of pageantry and dressing up. I don’t like big crowds. And truth be told, diddley-eye music leaves me cold. But as the official unofficial counter of the St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest for a number of years, I had a change of heart.

As saints go, in my world St Patrick ranks up there with St Martin de Porres. I’m quite partial to the man. He may have gotten rid of snakes from Ireland (if we’d had any to begin with) but much about him is a myth.  I’ve heard tell that St Bridget, one of the three patron saints of Ireland alongside Patrick and Colmcille, complained to St Patrick that the men of Ireland were taking a tad too long to pop the question. He had a think on it and came up with the leap year tradition where on 29 February, a woman can ask a man to marry her. Suffering serpents, I hear you say. Women can do that any day of the year. But St Patrick added a caveat. If the man refused, he had to pay a fine: either buy her a silk dress or fork over a hundred quid.  What sort of silk dress could you get for a hundred quid I wonder?

Myths aside, what we do know about St Patrick comes from two letters he wrote late in life, the subject of a 2014 blog post by Philip Freeman on the OUP blog. According to Freeman,

Patrick was not a storybook saint, meek and mild, who wandered Ireland with a beatific smile and a life free from petty faults. He was very much a human being who constantly made mistakes and frequently failed to live up to his own Christian ideals, but he was honest enough to recognize his shortcomings and never allow defeat to rule his life.

Never allowed defeat to rule his life, eh? He’d be a grand lad to have around during these COVID times.

Ireland is bringing the St Patrick’s Day celebrations online under the banner of Dúisigh Éire (Awaken Ireland). And, with Paddy’s Day effectively off the cards and on the screens this year, Budapest has it covered, too.

In the last few months, young artists in Hungary have been busy designing a stained glass window inspired by the famous Irish stained glass artist, Harry Clarke, himself born on St Patrick’s Day in 1889. The winning design will be realised and installed in the Irish Ambassador’s residence in Budapest.

Everyone in Hungary can get a feel for what St Patrick is about by tuning into M5 on Sunday, 14th March, at 3.30pm local time when Celebrate St Patrick will be shown.

Since 2016, various iconic sites in Hungary have taken part in the Global Greening to mark the worldwide reach of St Patrick. This year is no different, except that His Excellency Ronan Gargan, Irish Ambassador to Hungary, will be planting a tree a tree in the city to make the greening a little more permanent. In addition to the tree in Budapest, keep an eye open on the evening of 17 March when the Citadella, MUPA, and Liberty Statue will light up in green. This year, the Fisherman’s Bastion is making its greenlit debut as is the bridge in Györ.

One of the key dates on the Irish expat calendar used to be the Embassy gig on 17 March. Celebrating Ireland’s national day in the company of fellow countrymen and women and those with an affinity for the home country was certainly an evening I enjoyed more than once. This year, the reception is a virtual one and will include poetry recitations, dance performances, and messages from the Ambassador, Enterprise Ireland, and Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Register here. Or check out their Facebook page: Embassy of Ireland, Hungary.

The powerhouse behind the usual St Patrick’s Day parade is the Irish Hungarian Business Circle (IHBC). This year, they’re going online, too, on 18 March at 7pm. Check for more details of this live event that will be streamed on their Facebook page @ihbchun

And if it’s the usual after-party you’re hankering for, make your own. COVID restrictions allowing, of course. The IHBC has compiled a long, long list of music lasting more than 8 hours, available on Spotify. Everything you need to see you through the day and the night.

The final hoo-ha is online, too, jointly hosted by the Irish embassies in Austria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. An Evening of Irish Music from Central Europe will sample some of the best Irish music talent in the region and culminate in a live performance from Dingle, Co. Kerry by SuperCéilí. This event, too, requires registration.

This time last year I, for one, never imagined that we’d still be keeping ourselves to ourselves come St Patrick’s Day. But it is what it is. No matter how you choose to celebrate, know that you have options. Maybe next year, we’ll be able to tip a glass in person.

In the meantime, for more details of any of these events, check out the embassy’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/irlembbudapest and the IHBC’s  https://www.facebook.com/ihbchun

First published in the Budapest Times 14 March 2021

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