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Get your green on

Get your green on

St Patrick’s Day 2020 falls on a Tuesday. In countries where it’s a national holiday, like Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, Tuesday parades will be in order. In Budapest, the parade and festival will take place on Sunday, 22nd March, but the day itself will be marked by the city’s Irish pubs (noted here in alphabetical order lest I be accused of favouritism).

What the Irish pubs are doing

Beckett’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, a beacon for Irish abroad since first opening its doors in 1994, is now six years in its new home on Liszt Ferenc Tér 11. Its namesake, Samuel Beckett, is probably best known for his contribution to the Theatre of the Absurd, Waiting for Godot. And I’m sure many have had Godot-like moments in this establishment. With a nod from the playwright himself who advised the world to ‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order,’ Beckett’s has quite the line-up, with U2 tribute band INKA-H at 8pm on Friday the 13th; a Six Nations rugby feast on the 14th (Coronavirus permitting), and then Sunday, they’re offering a Hangover Sunday Bloody Mary Breakfast Special with live music that night by John Murphy. On Tuesday, the day itself, there’ll be an all-day party.

Davy Byrne’s Irish Pub is having its first St Patrick’s Day in Budapest. Those with a literary bent might remember James Joyce mentioning the Dublin Davy Byrne’s in both The Dubliners and Ulysses. For many years, the Duke Street pub attracted some of the greats of Irish writing – Brendan Behan, Patrick Cavanagh, Myles na gCopaleen. It was known to serve Michael Collins and host meetings of the outlawed Irish government back in the day. The Budapest Davy Byrne’s (Jókai u. 4) is on track to making its own history. It has live music Saturday night after the rugby and on Sunday, 15th March, there’s a comedy night headlined by Irish comedian Brian Gallagher supported by Joe Dowlin and James Rankin. Start time 7.15pm. On the day itself, there’s live music from 7pm. On the 18th, a St Patrick’s Day themed quiz night will challenge those with a still-functioning brain. Paddy McMullen will be back with more music on the 22nd after the parade.

Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant recently celebrated 10 years in the city where it has carved a niche for itself on the tourist trail with many tourists and pub alumni coming back year on year. The original Jack Doyle had quite the resumé. The Corkman was a boxer, a singer, an actor, a lover, and a drinker. He was a name amongst names. He came to blows with Clarke Gable over actress Carole Lombard and his ex-wife Movita Castaneda would go on to marry Marlon Brando. Noted for saying, ‘a generous man never went to hell’, Doyle would have found no shortage of people to listen to his stories in Jack Doyle’s Budapest. JD’s has a full calendar with live music from 22:30 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and from 20:00 on Tuesday, the 17th. It, too, will be showing the Six Nations matches on the 14th, if they’re played. Located on the pedestrian street Pilvax köz 1-3, it’s best to use the street address of Varoshaz u. 10 if you’re in a taxi.

More to the day than drinking

If, over the week, you find yourself craving a full Irish breakfast but can’t face the thoughts of going anywhere near a pint, check out ÍRish Budapest on Kiss János altábornagy 54. This family-run café/restaurant caters for vegan, coeliac, and all other tastes. With Irish soda bread a firm fixture on the menu, this new venture has quickly gained a reputation for serving up the ould rashers and sausages with a side of Irish banter.

If you’re planning on making your own breakfast and but don’t want the hassle of baking yourself, get your  Irish soda bread and scones from Áran Bakery on Wesselényi utca 23. They taste as if they’ve come from an Irish mammy’s kitchen. Tesco stocks Kerrygold butter and Lidl does an Irish country butter that passes muster, so you’ll be set.

The glam side of the festivities

With the day itself done and dusted, celebrations will continue on Saturday, 21st March, with the St Patrick’s Day Gala Dinner at the Marriott Hotel hosted by the Irish Hungarian Business Circle and sponsored by Pannonia Bio. This annual Black-Tie event is a fixture on the Budapest social calendar and a great excuse to get dolled up. An evening filled with fine food, live traditional music, entertainment, and dancing, this year it features the Tóth-Mayo Duo, Kearney’s Dogs, and DJ Woods. In aid of the IHBC Charitable Foundation, proceeds will support local communities in Budapest and all over Hungary. To reserve a ticket, email [email protected]

And the festival begins

Sunday, 22nd March, is the day many people are waiting for: the 10th annual St Patrick’s Day Parade.  This year, the call to gather is for 13:00 at Erzsébet tér. The parade will depart at 15:00 headed by a band of pipers. With thousands expected to join the festivities, it’ll take about an hour to wend its way through the streets of Budapest. This is a free event for the whole family.

The Festival After-Party will take place at Akvárium Klub from 16:00 with all the ceol, damhsa, bia, deoch, agus craic you can manage. Yes, music, dancing, food, drink, and fun are the order of the day. Tickets are available now from the venue. 1800 HUF in advance or 2500 HUF on the day. The first 500 tickets get a free Guinness hat or t-shirt.

When the Normans invaded Ireland in 1066, they settled so well that they were described as Níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil féin (more Irish than the Irish themselves). Over the last ten years, more and more Hungarians and people from all over the world have been joining the annual celebrations in Budapest. This year is set see a record turnout, so get your green on and be Irish for the day…or the week.

Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh. Happy St Patrick’s Day.

First published in the Budapest Times 12 March 2020

And after we went to press, I heard that The Celtic Barber will be dyeing hair and beards green and will be serving their patrons Jameson and Guinness. Lads, there’s no better day to get a haircut or a beard trim.

And since then the Gala Dinner and the Parade and the After-Party have been cancelled 🙁 and best to check with the pubs before heading out on the day – so much can happen between now and then

Small halls and potholes

It was an intimate affair. About thirty discerning souls in the back room of Beckett’s Bar in Budapest on a cold, rainy, rather miserable Thursday night. Given the week that was in it, it’s probably not surprising that more didn’t venture out. Denial can do that to you. But tonight was all about the love. And the man on stage, resplendent his three-piece suit and spats … he was all about the love, too.

No one quite knew what to expect and those sorts of expectations can be difficult to manage. The audience was a global one with Hungary, Scotland, England, Ireland, Norway, America, and Australia (and possibly more) ready for whatever the wee man with the funny accent (a heady vocal cocktail laced with traces of Glasgow and Donegal) threw at us. Some, concerned that their English mightn’t be up to it, relaxed when Little John Nee admitted that his English wasn’t great either. We were in safe hands.

jn2_easy-resize-comWe’re used to being technically entertained – the lights, the amps, the pageantry that come with modern productions. But last night, we could have been in a town hall in the back-end of anywhere.  It was just him and us. He had his array of instruments neatly lined up on the stage behind him; we had our appreciation and our wonderment on tap, ready to pour.

jn4_easy-resize-comA storyteller who uses music and drama to tell his tales, Little John Nee took us on a journey through rural Ireland, popping over to Scotland on the Derry Boat for a look-see and then back again. He introduced us to people we’d never met but would know ten years from now if we ever ran into them. As we listened to his songs and stories, it hit me that what we were seeing bordered on innocence. No bells and whistles. Just pure, honest-to-goodness entertainment … from the heart.jn7_easy-resize-com

Storytelling is about holding the audience’s attention, about having them hang on your every word, about painting a picture that makes the sights and sounds and smells you describe come alive. And we were there. Everywhere Little John Nee went in that 90 minutes, we went with him. He gave us a gift: the opportunity to use our imagination, to let it take flight. Those of us born and reared in Ireland had no trouble at all reading volumes into the nod of his head, the tip of his chin, the roll of his eye. Those who had visited were back in the land of the familiar. And those who’d yet to make the journey started planning their trip.

His is a rare talent. He has a way with words, an innate ability to extract the best of stories from a combination of words like androgynous, brobdingnagian, cantankerous, and daffodils. We rode a wave of emotion with him, the peaks and the troughs. And afterwards, we felt good, better than we had a couple of hours earlier. Everyone was smiling. Reflective smiles that come with having been privy to something special.

Come back any time, Little John Nee. Next time, stay longer.

[Photo credit to Declan O’Callaghan]

Little John Nee, storyteller supreme

Sitting in a pub in London one evening after work a lifetime or three ago, an English colleague told me that I was typically Irish. He’d asked me a question and after half an hour he still hadn’t received an answer. And I’d been talking the whole time. Being Irish, in his mind, meant never taking the direct route. It meant, at best, answering a question by asking another, and at worst, prefacing the answer with a story, or series of stories, that took ages to get to where they were going. Patience wasn’t one of his virtues.

As a people, we’re renowned for our ability to tell stories. The kernels of truth they might contain vary according to the audience and perhaps the time of night they’re being told. It’s not a conscious thing – it’s almost automatic. If there’s a more colourful way to illustrate a point, we’ll find it. Plain, hard, facts are the purview of others. We like to embellish. We like a little nuance with our nouns.

But a good story must have rhythm. The words must sing. They must lift off the page and transport the listener to the point whereby they’ve often forgotten what their original question was, so enthralled are they with our tale. And this is something we share with Hungarians.

On those rare occasions when Irish storytellers come to Budapest, they deserve an airing. And next week, on Thursday, at 8 pm, one of Ireland’s finest will pull up a stool in Beckett’s Irish Pub on Liszt Ferenc tér to regale the masses. John Nee is passing through with his Small Halls and Potholes tour, en route for Croatia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Austria.  And he’s not to be missed.

john-neeTechnically, John is Scottish. Born in Glasgow of Irish parents, the family returned to the ould sod when he was 12. He grew up in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal and now lives in Galway, probably two of the country’s most beautiful counties. He goes by the stage name of Little John Nee, a nod to his father’s fascination with Little Richard. Back in the 1970s, he fronted Joe Petrol and the Petrol Bombers, a punk band that was famous enough in its day – if you believe the stories.

When working on the building sites in London, he got involved with the Dalston Junction Alternative Cabaret and later, took a turn doing Charlie Chaplin on the streets of Dublin. A much-commissioned playwright and an intrepid musician (he outed his affair with a ukulele on national radio), Nee is no stranger to TV, stage, and screen. He has worked with the likes of Neil Jordan and is perhaps a little bit famous for playing the part of Postie in an Irish-language TV silent comedy Fear an Phoist (The Postman). Silent comedy, I hear you wonder. And I’m bigging him up as a storyteller?

The versatility of his talent – a storyteller who uses the medium of theatre and music to weave his magic –  is evidenced by the sheer variety of names mentioned when trying to describe just how good he is. A quick traipse through reviews of his shows sees mention of writer John McGahern (a personal favourite of mine), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tom Waits, Shakespeare, and Patrick Kavanagh. Now, imagine these greats, and more still, wrapped up in one body and you might come close to imagining John Nee.

But you don’t have to imagine. Because he’ll be here, in Budapest, for one night only. Mark your diaries. If you’ve any interest at all in the art of storytelling, in the magic of words, in the power of performance, then get ye down to Beckett’s on Thursday for 8pm to see the man himself in action.

First published in the Budapest Times 4 November 2016