One of the things that struck me when I first discovered Hungary was that Hungarians have a pride in their ancestry that has led to a litany of substantiated claims to major inventions: Bíro László (biros), Petzval Joseph (binoculars), Irinyi János (safety matches). Unfortunately, most are not in living memory. Others, too, proved their worth while living overseas: the Ford T car was designed by Hungarian-American immigrant József Galamb and another Hungarian, Károly Simonyi, led the Microsoft applications group responsible for Word and Excel. The list appears endless.
But let’s back up. I say ‘discovered Hungary’ because, truth be told, what I knew about Hungary before first visiting in 2003 would have fit on the nib of one of Bíro’s biros. And I wasn’t alone. When the Celtic Tiger opened Ireland’s doors to reverse migration, things changed. We were so used to moving to other parts of the world, that it seemed strange to see so many people (including 10 000 Hungarians) come live in Ireland. But they did, and were successful. Dotted around Ireland you’ll find signs saying Beszélünk Magyarul proudly posted on the windows of local businesses. Great to see.
And while Hungarians are going abroad and making arguably better lives for themselves, those left at home have little to look forward to. Or do they? I met a young lady recently who has me thinking.
Twenty-five-year-old Nóra Ulrich went to Ireland to the National College of Art and Design in Dublin as an Erasmus student from Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME) in Budapest. She did a short, five-week programme with Newbridge Silverware when two of her 20 designs were chosen for their 2014 collection.
Newbridge liked Nóra and her work so much that they invited her back on a paid internship. In collaboration with Guinness, they were designing a new range of products that included jewellery and home accessories. [Incidentally, Guinness is one of Colaiste Íde’s corporate partners – I wrote about them last week – and together with Pallas Foods in Dublin, they created the 1759 Silver Menu presented at the Irish Ambassador’s residency recently with a nod to 1759 being the year Guinness started brewing the black stuff and silver being the backbone of Newbridge Silverware.] Nóra worked for nearly a year on this collection using brewing ingredients as her inspiration. A number of her pieces now feature and more appear in the regular 2015 collection, too. Her silver-work is exquisite.
Nóra’s back in Budapest now, finishing her diploma at MOME and is full of enthusiasm about the possibilities open to young Hungarians: ‘It was a wonderful experience for me. I like that the jewellery I designed will reach so many people. It feels incredible. I want to inspire others to get out there and try – just about anything can happen if you do.’ It did this jaded heart good to bask in the glow of such positive youthful energy.
Back in the 1980s, Ireland lost a significant part of her brain-power to emigration, as hundreds of thousands of young people went to North America and Australia in search of opportunities denied to them at home. Three decades later, I see the same is happening in Hungary. Swathes of young and not so young people are moving to other parts of Europe where they have a chance to be economically independent and where the concept of ‘savings’ becomes a reality rather than a dream. Singles, couples, couples with kids, all vanishing through the departure gate. My fear is that they, unlike Nóra, will never come home and that their creative genius will be lost, destined to be eulogised in yet another long list of Hungarians who made it abroad.
First published in the Budapest Times 17 April 2015