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Tears for the Irish

March is one of my favourite months of the year. It has everything I could hope for by way of entertainment: great rugby as the Six Nations tournament continues, great speeches as the final of the Gift of the Gab draws near (Orfeum, March 14), and the St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest (March 17). It’s a great month to be Irish in Budapest.

Now I’m on record as having little time for the type of expat who surrounds themselves with people from home; the type whose main aim in life is to recreate a mini-Ireland, a mini-England or a mini-wherever, in whatever city they expatriate themselves to. I’m all for moving abroad and embracing the culture of your new country – for however long you might stay. Travel broadens the mind; living amidst the locals gives you a new perspective and very often causes you to question long held and perhaps outmoded beliefs. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we all forget whence we came. But if we take advantage of our newness to ask questions, read up on the history, make an effort to learn the language, and generally mingle with the masses, it’s surprising how many links to home will appear unbidden.

The Hungarian connection

A couple of matches ago (this is how my time is measured in March) I was sitting in Jack Doyle’s delighted with Ireland’s solid win over Italy. I was in the company of two of the most intrepid expats I’ve come across in years. Their curiosity knows no bounds and their eagerness to make the most of their time in Budapest is a stark reminder of how quickly many of us start to take this city for granted. They’d just come back from Győr and asked me if I was aware of the Irish link with the city. I was a little taken aback to find that I didn’t know and a little embarrassed to think that I’ve yet to take the time to stop in the city and not simply train my way through it.

From Galway to Győr

(C) Des Nix

The story starts in 1649 when Oliver Cromwell was busy persecuting Catholics in Ireland. Priests and nuns were hunted down without mercy; many were executed for practicing their religion. The then Bishop of Clonfert, Walter Lynch, one step ahead of Cromwell, fled first to Galway and then to Inishboffin Island from where he was smuggled out of the country to Belgium. With him, he brought a painting of Our Lady praying over the sleeping infant Jesus. Some years later, in 1655, he ended up in Vienna where he met the Bishop of Győr, János Pusky, who offered him as job as pastor of the Cathedral and later appointed him Auxiliary Bishop.

Exit Cromwell; enter Charles II

Just as Bishop Lynch had decided he could end his exile and return safely to Ireland, he died unexpectedly in 1663. In his will, he bequeathed his treasured painting to the city as a thank you for giving him a home. The painting hung without incident for 34 years in the cathedral at Győr. Many came to venerate, sure that Our Lady had interceded on their behalf ensuring victories over the Turks. But while Hungary was enjoying its newfound peace in 1697, Catholicism in Ireland was once again under threat.

On March 16, 1697, the Irish Parliament in Dublin convened. The first order of business was to consider and vote upon the passage of the Banishment Act to rid the country of all bishops, priests, and religious from Ireland. Drastic times, drastic measures.

One day later, on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1697, a miracle occurred in Győr. The Madonna in Walter Lynch’s painting began to cry tears of blood. Witnesses from many different religious denominations failed to provide an explanation. Word got out and thousands flocked to see the Weeping Madonna, many leaving their signatures as testament to what they had seen. The linen cloth used to dry the Madonna’s tears is now on display alongside her image.

Irish-Hungarian links

In 1997, to mark the 300-year anniversary of the Madonna’s tears of anguish, the Bishop of Clonfert John Kirby visited Győr. He had this to say: The kindness shown to Bishop Walter Lynch has led to an unusual link between the small Irish rural diocese of Clonfert and the large Hungarian diocese of Győr […] It has shown us the value of friendship and the way that the consideration shown to a refugee can deepen the understanding between peoples who might otherwise never have known each other.

When I think of all the great people, both Irish and Hungarian, whom I never would have met had I not taken that train to Budapest in 2007, I could shed a tear or two myself.

First published in the Budapest Times 9 March 2012

Getting married immediately

Bring up the topic of faith healers in any Irish pub and you’ll immediately see a divide that hasn’t been seen since the parting of the Red Sea. You either believe or you don’t. My mother, tired of listening to accounts of various visits to GPs, neurologists, and other ‘alternative’ therapists, decided to take matters relating to my health into her own hands. We were to go see the famous Eddie Stones, in Clonfert, Co. Galway.

Unlike many other Irish healers – Danny Gallagher, Michael O’Connor or Aidan WrynneEddie doesn’t lay claim to being the seventh son of a seventh son. His call was more tangible – Our Lady appeared to him as he was having his tea one night. This appariton was the first of many callings for him to leave his life as a butcher and take up this calling from God. [As I said, you either believe or you don’t.]

Emmanuel House was founded by Michael Cullen, an Irishman who spent time in prison in the USA before being deported. While in prison, he found God and when he came home, he set up the community in Clonfert (the site of the 6th century monastery of St Brendan the Navigator). Eddie and Lucy Stones were drawn to him and took over the minstry when Michael and his wife went back to the States. People come from all over the country to see him, to have him pray over them, to be healed. As reports for these mass gatherings include those who ‘fall’, faint from the experience, I was decidedly curious to see how I’d react.

When we eventually arrived, it was to find a notice to say that the centre was closed for two weeks holiday. Not one so easily deterred, my mother rooted out the man himself and we were sent to wait in the oratory. Some others also driven by blind faith and expectation arrived, too. All told, there were about twelve – so we didn’t get the full treatment. We said the rosary (the five new mysteries of light which can be said on a Thursday) and then heard various accounts of people healed.

Finally we came to the blessings. I was third in line. He took my hand and asked me what was wrong. I said I didn’t know. Pins and needles, exhaustion, lack of focus, and a deep-seated curiousity as to what I was doing in this world. He touched my head and told me my illness was in my brain (which shocked the proverbial out of me – as only the previous week had a systemic inflamation of connective tissue starting in the brain been mooted as a possible diagnosis). He prayed over me and then asked if I was married. I said no. He said: How about immediately, and ten kids! Now believing that would take some measure of faith.

Do I believe that I’ve been cured? Yes. Am I cancelling my MRI booking and my appointment with the neurologist? No. Does this mean that I really don’t believe? Or am I being pragmatic. Some say that faith healing actually risks recovery. I’m resorting to old Irish ‘to be sure, to be sure’. I feel a lot better. I seemed to have turned a corner. My outlook is more positive and there’s a contentment there was wasn’t there before. It could well be the Holy Spirit working through the hands of Eddie Stones. Who knows. But, I tell you, if I meet a widower with ten kids….