I’m a firm believer in managing my expectations. If you tell me it’s going to be brilliant, I’ll settle for great. If you tell me it will be great, good will do just fine. Add this expectational reticence to an innate dislike of superlatives and you’ll rarely, if ever, get a ‘best day ever’ from me.
But, hand on my heart, and ready to admit my reluctance to publicly commit to something ‘fantastic’… Sunday, 16th March, in Budapest was as close as you’ll ever get to an AWESOME from me.
When I turfed up at Szabadság tér at 1.45 I was a little worried. All the publicity had said a 2pm kick-off to the parade and all present, if they’d spread their arms and tried to multiply might have made 100. But, in typical Hungarian/Irish (If there were any two nations in the world who share the same disrespect for time, these two are it) fashion, the times were flexible and by 3.30 the numbers had swelled to 1403. And I know, because I was (and have been for three years – duly noted on my CV) the parade’s official counter.
Irish wolfhounds, leprechauns, and a larger-than-life St Patrick dominated the fair. If it was green, it was worn. The Jameson stand was drank dry in 3 minutes flat. Balloons? Hats? Boon dangles? Flags? Everything was there for the wearing. As the parade, with police escort, wended its way to Nagymező utca, to Instant, few had any idea what this particular ruin pub enclosed. Three floors of Irish bands, Irish music, Irish dancing, Irish food (courtesy of Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant) … what was not to like? More than 1000 people, all wearing the green, went from floor to floor in search of everything from traditional diddley-eye to punk belly dancers. It’s my third year at this gig (I was in Malta for one of them) and I can say, hand on my Irish heart, that it was one of the best days (nights) out I’ve had in years. Kudos to Mark Downey and his IHBC team for pulling this off.
What made it great was that the Irish were in the minority. Far from the soft t’s and the dropped h’s… the sounds that were taking up the bandwidth were Hungarian, and French, and Spanish, and African… it was a real, live, showcase of multicultural diversity that made me ever so proud to be Irish.
And yes, I know there are those who abhor expat events…. and there are those who dread mixing and mingling with people they wouldn’t cross the street to say hello to at home. But, honestly, for as long as I have lived abroad, I can’t remember a day like it. A day where ambassadors (like that bloomin’ Facebook page) and the like mixed with the wherewithals; a day where people left their business cards at the door and became people with names rather than titles; a day where it didn’t matter what language you spoke; a day where it was all about camaraderie, about being Irish – or part-Irish – or not Irish at all. Who gives a flying fandangle?
As my good mate FC said to me – just think, that today, all around the world, people are celebrating the Irish. What other race could pull that off? And I thought… for a while… and came up with nothing.
If you’re reading this in Ireland and are jaded about the whole Paddy’s Day thing… I suggest you look at flights now. Because as this celebration goes from strength to strength, next year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations will be one almighty party. Don’t say I didn’t warn ye!