Moments that live on … from way, way back

I’ve walked the city of Budapest and noted the names of streets and squares without ever really paying attention to whom they’d been named after. In an effort to redress this pitiful state of ignorance, I did some research and realised that two of the bigger squares, Kossuth Lajos tér and Batthyány tér (both on the M2 red metro line) carry the names of two men who came to prominence in March 1848. (Interestingly, Kossuth also lent his name to Kossuth County in Iowa, USA.)

March is a big month in the Hungarian holiday calendar with the 15th being a day that almost every Hungarian celebrates. It was on this day, way back when, that the Hungarian revolt against the Habsburgs began. On Day 1, young revolutionaries were addressed from the steps of the National Museum by the poet Sándor Petőfi (who has a bridge called after him) after they had marched around the city reciting Petőfi‘s Nemzeti dal (National Song) and their list of twelve demands. Their numbers swelled. This bloodless mass demonstration was enough for the Imperial Governor to accept their demands, as the rulers of Habsburg Empire were a tad preoccupied with the revolution that was going on in Austria at the same time.

Journalist Kossuth Lajos came to the fore and things appeared to be going rather well for Hungarians. A new, democratic government headed by Hungary’s first Prime Minister, Batthyány Lajos, took the helm. But once things quietened down in Austria, focus returned to Hungary. The War of Independence began in all its glory and would last until August of 1949. The Habsburgs looked to the Russian Czar for help and weren’t disappointed with how his troops acquitted themselves. The revolution was quashed.

Batthyány was executed for his troubles on what’s now known as Szabadság tér and the lives of 13 other revolutionaries were cut short in the city of Arad. Although the revolution failed, 15 March is one of Hungary’s three national holidays and is celebrated with the zest of the victorious.

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Elsewhere in the world, on 17 March, Ireland’s national day is commemorated by her broad diaspora. Hundreds of millions parade through the streets of villages, towns, and cities worldwide. This occasion for the wearing of the green has become an international holiday and an excuse to party. In its purist sense, the day is to mark the advent of Christianity to Ireland, brought to the shores by St Patrick way back when. Hardly a revolution, but a notable milestone in the country’s history nonetheless.

And Budapest is no exception. This year, the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade will wend its way through the city’s streets on Sunday, 22nd March. As the multinational following gathers about 1.30 pm at Szabadság tér, few will be thinking about Batthyány, their thoughts focusing instead on the pipe bands, the Irish Wolfhounds, and the parade’s final destination. With Irish music and Irish porter on tap, leprechauns will run amuck as kids and adult alike delight in the green, white, and gold on display. Then at 3pm, the anticipated thousands will make their way to Nagymező utca where the party will continue. An estimated 20-30 musicians, dancers, and bands will perform for the masses in the cavernous club known to all as Instant. There will be something there to suit everyone with a taste of Ireland provided by local Irish publicans.

A regular on the Budapest holiday calendar since 2011, the St Patrick’s Day Parade is preceded by the St Patrick’s Gala Dinner, this year to be held over in Buda at the Hilton. For more details see www.ihbc.hu

First published in the Budapest Times 13 March 2015

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