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2017 Grateful 41

My, my, my. What a week that was. I’d say there are a lot of sore heads in Budapest this morning and a lot of bods draggin’ ass at work. The St Patrick’s festivities kicked off on Thursday evening with the annual National Day celebrations with the Irish Embassy. I was on best behaviour because I was doing a TV interview on Hungarian telly later than night and I had to be enunciating clearly. Nerves being what they were, I decided to do the make-up thing. The lovely BS came by and put my face on before I went out. It was hilarious. People were fascinated by my glasses: at least five men asked me if they were new. (They’re three years old this week.) They knew something was different but couldn’t quite put their finger on it.

The embassy gig is a good place for catching up with people you’ve not seen for a while and meeting someone you’ve never met before. Like the lovely Fr Mike, a priest from Louth who has been here for 12 years. His is the second Mass in English I’ve heard of this week. There’s also a new 5pm one on Sundays in the side chapel of the Basilica. From there it was down to the studios for the big interview.  I could get used to having my hair and make-up done! All went well. I enunciated and this time, actually answered the questions I was asked.  It was a live interview from Akvárium, from what was being billed as the First St Patrick’s Festival in Budapest. Something obviously got lost in translation over the years as this was the 7th St Patrick’s Day Parade and the 11th Gala dinner. The festival has been going on for years. Someone’s invitation obviously got lost in the post. Hungarian Irish Celtic Rock band Firkin were on stage and raising the roof but the outer bars and rooms were remarkably tame. Not a patch on the real event on Sunday.

We strolled over to Jack Doyle’s afterwards for a nightcap, as you do, and proceeded to put the world to rights. With all things Irish looming for the weekend, we took a breather and headed to Barba Negra for the first time to see PASO in action. The Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra are brilliant. Mad. And exhausting to watch. These ska guys bring fitness to a whole new level.

Saturday evening came early. Dolled up in long dresses and tuxedos, we headed to the Mariott for 6pm to watch Ireland break England’s winning streak in the final of the Six Nations. The 11th IHBC St Patrick’s Gala dinner really brought out the glam. More than 200 sat to a dinner of smoked salmon and rack of lamb and were entertained by the inimitable John Murphy (no relation) and another Hungarian traditional Irish music band – Green Spirit. I was on the mic – MC’ing. And I got to make a plea for my charity of choice these days: Mamasotthon. I was blown away. In make-up again, I managed to hold back the tears because I didn’t have the wherewithal to go about fixing runny mascara. Half the tombolo (raffle) proceeds were going towards buying an industrial washing machine for mums and kids taking refuge from domestic violence in the shelter. After my speech, a couple I know well, the Ps, came over and told me to pick out a machine and they’d pay for it. Another chap wrote an IOU for 5ook. A local artist donated the proceeds from the sale of some of his work. and the tombolo itself raised 477 000 huf. It was a fantastic result that will change the lives of many for the better. And this is how we make lasting change. One step at a time. Kudos to Duncan, Andrea, & Co., for making it all happen.

It was a late night. A very late night. The next day, Sunday, began with a full-Irish breakfast for 8 and then the parade. The 7th in Budapest. Seems like only yesterday that this whole thing kicked off.

It’s a tremendous feat of organisation. Kudos to Mark, Anna & Co., for pulling it off. The venue was brilliant – the new Instant location on Akácfa utca. Some of the musicians I saw were fab. [Did anyone catch the name of the bank with the female lead singer/guitarist (Melinda???) that played around 7.45 in the inside courtyard?]. Unfortunately, by this stage, the bug I’d picked up in Cuba had morphed into a full-blown head-cold and I was dying. There’s only so much green lemonade I can put away when I can’t hear myself suck through the straw so I called it a night and was home by 9pm.

So much to be grateful for this week. A visit from an old friend (and a new ambassador for Budapest – how can you not love this city?). The generosity of good people that will make such a difference to the lives of others. Surviving a packed social calendar that would push a younger me to the pin of her collar. All good. Knackering. But good.

It is with fond memories, too, that we remember Ronnie Thompson, for so many years a regular at the parade and now joining us from heaven. Here’s too you!

 

 

Doing St Patrick proud

What started off in March 2006 as a bunch of people with a shared affinity for Ireland and being Irish getting together for dinner has morphed into a three-day event. St Patrick’s Day this year falls conveniently on a Friday. Those living in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and on the Caribbean island of Montserrat will enjoy a long weekend, as the day itself is marked by a public holiday in those three countries. Here in Budapest, we’ll have to work a casual Friday. Last year MUPA went green for the day; this year I’d like it be a bridge. That’d be magic.

On the business front, the Irish-Hungarian Business Circle (IHBC) is teaming up with growth consultants M27 Absolvo to organise an Irish-Hungarian event focused on investment and innovation. Neither country is short of brain matter and talent so this promises to be an interesting mix. From what I understand, it’s a little like a dating service – those with ideas who need money to realise them pitch to those with money to invest in promising start-ups and small business enterprises. The invite-only event is taking place in the Marriott Hotel from 2pm on Friday, 17th March. St Patrick himself wasn’t beyond a little innovation. He was the one who added the Sun to the cross to create what’s known today as the Celtic Cross and the one to use the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the heathen masses of Ireland all those years ago. I reckon he’d be well impressed with this initiative.

And while the business gig is underway, students from schools around Hungary will be competing in the annual St Patrick’s Festival competition organised by the Vörösmarty Mihály Gimnázium. Secondary schools will be sending their best to compete in five categories: Folk song | Pop-rock song, solo | Pop-rock song, group | Poem or prose | Short scene. And this year, there’ll be a special prize for the best Irish entry. This is one I’m looking forward to.

On Saturday, 18th March, dancers from all over the world will be competing at the WIDA Open Feis over at Folyondár Sports Hall (Folyondár utca 15) from 8 am. This international Irish dance competition is a growing attraction on the international Irish dance scene with competitions for all age groups.  For more details, check their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/budapestfeis

And while the dancers are finishing up at 6pm, moves of a different kind will be made on the pitch at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. One of the biggest days in Irish rugby also falls on Paddy’s weekend. This year, Ireland and England will play the final match in the 2017 Six Nations. The event will be shown live, on a big screen, at the Marriott Hotel from 6pm, a move calculated to avoid any no-shows at the 11th annual St Patrick’s Gala Dinner. And, I must admit, there’s something about watching a rugby game when dolled up to the nines that adds spirit to the scrums. Nothing like a roomful of screaming black ties and tuxedos to set the mood. (If you’re not going to the dinner, you can get your fill of it all at Jack Doyle’s Irish pub and restaurant over on Pilvax utca.)

More than 250 guests are expected to sit down to the three-course lamb dinner at the Marriott on Saturday night for an evening of ceoil agus craic (music and fun). John Murphy and his traditional repertoire will accompany the dinner with Budapest-based Hungarian Irish Folk band Green Spirit charged with bringing guests to their feet after their Irish coffees. And, whether you prefer the Hungarian tombola (which actually originated in Italy) or the Irish raffle, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to spread the luck and the love around with a number of charities standing to benefit from the proceeds. DJ Andrew J will be on hand till the wee hours of the morning for all those who can keep pace. If you haven’t already booked your place, you might still be in luck. Check the website for details: www.ihbc.hu

Sunday sees the seventh annual gathering of painted faces and leprechaun hats walking beneath banners and behind Irish wolfhounds to the beat of the Irish Prison Service Pipe Band. Back in 2011, 546 people showed up for the first St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest. I’m sure of the number because I was the official counter. Last year, it was over 4000. The crowd starts amassing around 1.30 pm at Szabadság tér for face-painting and the like with the parade itself starting at 3 pm. It’ll wind its way through the streets of Budapest, ending up at Instant VIII, on Akácfa utca 49-51, where the craic will continue. Bring along a musical instrument and join in one of the many sessions going on throughout the venue. Billed as one of the biggest St Patrick’s Day parades in Central Europe, it’s not one to be missed.

And, if you feel like getting a head start on the shenanigans, that crazy Irish band Firkin are playing Akvárium on Thursday night. Just what you need to get the green going.

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh go léir. (Happy St Patrick’s Day to you all.)

First published in the Budapest Times March 2017

Disillusioned

I’m a tad disappointed this week. I thought perhaps it was just the post-Paddy’s Day blues. When you have had such a good time, it’s hard to come back to reality. But what I’m suffering from isn’t just  case of the colours. And it’s more than disappointment – I’d go so far as to say that I’ve become disillusioned.

I’ve written a couple of posts on Firkin – that fab Hungarian band that plies its trade in Irish punk. Their stage energy and enthusiasm are hard to match and the passion they bring to their music would convince anyone that they’re Irish through and through.

IMG_1370 (800x600)IMG_1397 (800x600) (800x600)I saw them play in the basement of Instant on Sunday. My third time seeing them live. Even though the acoustics sucked, I was carried away by the foot-stompin’, head-bangin’ music – basking in the energy and the vibes emanating from the packed stage. With a lead singer (Marthy Barna) who could give Colin Farrell a run for his  money, and a flautist (János Péter) who tickles my fancy every time I see him in action, what wasn’t there to like.

IMG_1390 (800x600)And then Barna asked who in the audience was Irish. A couple of hands went up and a couple of souls shouted out. He dedicated the next song to them with the words ‘Because you’re Irish, this song’s for you’. My heart was melting (with the heat, most likely, but the emotion was there, too). Then came the song: F*&K the British Army.

Cmon lads, how long as it been and you’re still getting high on this stuff? The room, the majority of which was Hungarian, erupted. It’s obviously a popular song. Now I like some of the old rebel songs – it wasn’t long ago that I was on a bus back from Mohács urging the inimitable GO’R to give us a belt of the Men Behind the Wire, cautioning everyone present to remember the times in which it was written. For me, it’s more an account of how Belfast used to be that an incitement to hatred in 2014. That was then. This is now. And you might say I’m splitting hairs here,  being hypocritical even. Perhaps I am.

Yet this mindless appreciation for anti-British sentiment really bothered me. We’ve come so far. It’s not 1980s San Francisco or Boston, or even Dublin. We’re in 2014 for God’s sake – in Hungary. A country that has had its fair share of occupation, a country that wants to move forward. And there they were – my heros, Firkin – doing their bit to set us back. Not deliberately, I’m sure – which to my mind, makes it even worse.

Now, I thought I might have been overreacting. So I mentioned it to a few others – Irish – who had missed the gig. They weren’t impressed either. I’m all for patriotism. I’m all for the underdog standing up and being counted. I’m all for the power of music to band people together – but if there’s a cause, let it be mindful, and let it be current.

Maybe I need to lighten up…

 

 

 

Irish. In Budapest. Next week.

It’s not difficult to be Irish abroad, especially not in Hungary. And especially not during the lead-up to St Patrick’s Day. When he was writing in 1957, James Michener called Hungarians ‘the Irish of Eastern Europe’. In the years I’ve been here, I’ve seen so many similarities between the two peoples. We both have what WB Yeats describes as an ‘abiding sense of tragedy that sustains us through temporary periods of joy’. We both like to party. And we both like to talk.

_IGP2353-1 (800x532)Next week begins a series of events for everyone with a drop of Irish blood and those with a penchant for all things Irish. Far from what has become a drink-fuelled frenzy in other parts of the world, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Budapest are of a different standard altogether.

Kicking off on Wednesday, 12th March, is the final of the 2014 Gift of the Gab, a charity speech slam that is now enjoying its fourth successful season. Five qualifying finalists compete to see who in Budapest has that unequivocally Irish trait, that ability to talk to just about anyone, just about anywhere, about just about anything. The five hopefuls will each give a five-minute prepared speech on a topic of their choice and a three-minute impromptu on a topic suggested by the audience. Five judges chosen on the night will decide who is crowned the winner of the GOTG 2014. This year’s final takes place at the New Orleans Music Club on Lovag utca in the VI kerulet and kicks off at 7.30 pm. Tickets can be purchased from the venue (10am – 5pm) and cost 2000-2500 huf with an additional option for dinner. All proceeds go to the Irish Hungarian Business Circle’s Give a Little charity campaign.

On Sunday, 16th March, the annual St Patrick’s Day parade will set off from Szabadsag tér at 3.30pm. People start gathering about 2pm and as the crowds amass, the craic kicks off. Leprechauns, Irish wolfhounds, and other random characters dressed in green mix and mingle as the anticipation grows. Then, in true parade fashion, with banners and bands, as many as two thousand people will wean their way through the city to end up at Instant,  Nagymezo 38 for a real Irish party including the three essential elements: ceoil (music), caint (chat), agus craic (and fun). Festivities will continue on in to the night with the foot-stomping Hungarian Irish band, Firkin. All you need to do is dress up, show up and bring a smile.

On Saturday, 22nd March, the annual St Patrick’s Day Gala Dinner will be held at Le Meridien hotel in Budapest. In its seventh year, this annual event is a great opportunity to experience a real Irish-Hungarian night out. With a four-course Irish dinner, traditional Irish music and dance, it’s a night not to be missed.  Tickets are on sale now from the IHBC or Le Meridien. See www.IHBC.hu for more details.

Whatever you’re after, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Budapest will sort you out. Step out with the crowd and banish those winter blues by donning any one of the forty shades of green.

First published in the Budapest Times 7 March 2014

The magic flautist

The first time I set foot in Hungary, back in 2003, I recognised the affinity that is peculiar to the Hungarians and the Irish. It goes beyond literature and art, beyond folklore and tradition. It’s something that resides deep in the souls of both peoples, something intangible.

Of course, literature and art have their space. Bloomsday celebrations of Joyce’s work are huge in Szombathely. The Weeping Madonna at Győr – who apparently cried tears of blood on 17 March 1697 after the Irish Parliament voted in favour of the Banishment Act to rid the country of its clergy – is further testament to an age-old connection between the two countries, this one based in a shared sense of Catholicism. And a retired diplomat I met recently told me of 400-page treatise written by a Hungarian scholar on the similarities between the two languages – Gaelic and Hungarian.

But it is in the Hungarian adoption of Irish music that I find the most inspiring. In Kobuci kert recently I first heard Paddy and the Rats. Hailing from Miskolc, the lads bill their genre as Pub ‘n’ Roll, Celtic Punk, and Sailor Punk. Between the six of them, their energy could keep Budapest in lights for a day. Paddy himself had the audience in the palm of his hand, in true Irish story-telling form. I was blown away.

IMG_7393And yet, good and all as they are, my heart is with Firkin who played an hour-long gig at the recent Sparking Wine Festival in Budafok.  Although it had been a while since I’d seen them live, they hadn’t lost their magic. There’s something quite surreal in hearing old Irish songs belted out in Hungarian. And, in fact, on more than one occasion, I could have sworn the lads were singing in Gaelic. Perhaps there is a connection between the languages after all.

IMG_7403 (600x800)Were I to be totally honest, I’d admit to being a little enthralled by their flautist. There’s something magical about János Péter; it was as if he’d sprung from the netherworld of the sidhe (the fairy folk), brimming with mischief and life. I can’t help thinking that had we more of his energy, we might manage to lift ourselves from the political doldrums that currently ensnare us.

First published in the Budapest Times 13 September 2013

2013 Grateful 19

I mixed up my Paddys. I thought I was going to Kobuci to see Paddy, he who sometimes plays in Jack Doyle’s. I had visions of a rousing ballad session with more than a hint of Irish. Having dinner beforehand it was obvious from the general conversation that I’d mixed up my Paddys.

What I was actuallpaddy ky going to see was a gig by Paddy and the Rats. And the confusion didn’t stop there. With names like Paddy O’Reilly, Sam McKenzie, Joey MacOnkay, Bernie Bellamy, Vince Murphy, and Seamus Connelly, I was expecting a six-pack of Irish lads on stage, but when I spoke with Bernie afterwards, he was obviously Hungarian. So I’m still clueless.

From what I can gather, the boys hail from Miskolc and banded together in 2008, listing their genres as Pub ‘n’ Roll, Celtic Punk, Sailor Punk. What I know for sure is that the gig was bloody amazing. It’s been a while (my first Firkin gig in BP actually) since I’ve seen grown men body-slamming, or girls being shouldered by their lads, or every foot in the place rocking. I had a permanent grin on my face and with the mantra ‘bloody amazing’ rollicking around in my brain as the rest of me seemed to be going in fifty million directions – yet all perfectly coordinated. The music gets into your bones.

paddy5Paddy O’Reilly, whoever he is when he’s at home, had the crowd in the palm of his hand – literally. He choreographed them like they were puppets on a string. I say ‘them’ because although I was there, I stood back, by the bar, to avoid the frenzy and watched with a peculiar mix of pride that I think only someone as romantically Irish as I can be could feel – a pride that our music has run the gauntlet, somersaulted across cultures and borders and landed so firmly in Hungary where it so obviously enjoyed.

paddy4The accordion work on Pilgrim on the Road was amazing. And while I struggled to catch the words (a combination methinks of accent, enunciation, and acoustics) Never walk alone is still rattling around in my head. As for the bagpipes, the fiddle work, and the drums… am already itching for more.

This week, I’m grateful for the invitations I get to go places I’ve not been before, for the exposure to music I’d never discover on my own, and to those who hang tight till the wee hours and make these forays so much more enjoyable. And even if I was the common denominator in the series of accidents that befell the city this week … ta very much, lads. I had a blast.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Two flat caps and a porkpie hat

Borrowed this from their website. Hope they don't mind! www.firkinband.com

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that it’s taken me this long to recover from my first Ír KocsmaSó (an odd assemblage of words that translates literally into  Irish pub salt but really means Irish pub show – punning in a second language is oddity only outdone by the little bags of salt we were given as gifts on the night). And a most peculiar night it was, too. Mistake No. 1 was to think that my Hungarian was good enough to get the gist of what was in store from the website. Yes, I realised it was in the sticks – the suburbs of Budaörs at the Jókai Mór Müvelődési Központ, affectionately known as JMMK. But I didn’t realise that it isn’t a pub… it’s a cultural centre. Yes, I realised that it was being headlined by Firkin, an Irish rock band, but I didn’t realise they weren’t Irish. And yes, I realised that Jamie Winchester was opening for them, but I didn’t realise he would be joining in their first set, not playing on his own. I had read something about Irish stew and free guinness (neither of which particularly excited me) but somewhere deep in my subconsciousness I was missing Ireland terribly and wanted a taste of home, no matter if that taste amounted to two things I least like about Ireland – pottage and porter.

So I convinced a couple of Hungarian friends who have been talking about going on holiday to Ireland that they should come along for the experience. In my head I imagined a smoke-filled room crammed with people sitting chatting and others milling around and more still propping up the bar. I imagined Whelan’s on Wexford St, perhaps, or some such venue in Dublin. I thought the crowd would be youngish and mainly Irish or at least British (given that they’re an Irish Irish band, mar dhea). And I was really looking forward to having the craic.

When we got there, there was a queue forming outside. When we went in (and we were lucky to get tickets and lucky that HÉ and TZs insisted on coming early) there were more queues inside – for the stew and the guinness and for the bar. The doors to the auditorium were shut. People were perched on windowsills lining what looked remarkably like a school corridor. The crowd was a little long in the tooth and instead of being in Whelan’s, in my mind’s eye I was back in the Galtee Mór in Cricklewood, North London. Where were all the fit fellahs?

Once the main doors opened, we packed inside. I’d been dreading theatre seating but all the seats had been taken out. Thank God for small mercies. At least there’d be room to move around. But then people started to produce chairs from nowhere, lining the walls and sitting expectantly staring at the stage. This wasn’t shaping up right at all. The Blackbird ír sztepptánc show with Éiri ír tradiconális zenekar came on and I offered a silent prayer of thanks for the marked absence of embroidered costumes and ringletted wigs! The dancers looked like they were having a whale of a time and the lead vocal certainly had a feel for those fadás. Mind you, the tunes being billed as popular Irish tunes were ones I’d never heard of (with the exception of I wish I was back home in Derry), and I was getting flashbacks to my own failed stepdancing career. Lovely and all as it was, this wasn’t what I’d come for. Judging by the exodus at the intermission though, it was what a lot of others had had in mind (obviously, they’d been able to read and understand the website!)

Somewhere during the tombola, the shapeshifters moved in and the crowd took on a new form. Then the lads took the stage – or more correct, six lads and a female fiddler. The prose-like delivery of the first verse of Whiskey in the Jar in a rather affected British accent had me a little worried but then the rockin’ kicked in and the gig took off. It seemed like everyone of them were doing their own thing and yet it all came together. There was nothing choreographed about it. The crowd went mad. I went mad. You wouldn’t have recognised me! I was mesmirized by the flautist (Janós Péter), leaping around the stage like a court jester without the hat, wearing a mic that looked a remarkably like a third eyebrow. The lead singer ( Marthy Barna) looked a lot like Colin Farrell without the chin. He’s a fine cut of a lad who does justice to the old Clark-Gable-vest-and-open-shirt look. It was only a matter of time before that shirt would come off and those biceps would get the airing they so richly deserved. The collective intake of breath from the female audience was nicely balanced by  Göttinger Pali on acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Pali looked like he’d stepped off the back porch of a Grizzly Adams set. With the flat cap and check shirt, I had a hard time believing he wasn’t Irish. Pitch perfect in his enunciation, he was a joy to listen to. All of which I know I told him afterwards, repeatedly. Am blushing to think I was so brazen. Can you just imagine me as a punk Irish groupie! Somewhere in the middle of Colin Farrell and Grizzly Adams is Marczis Attila (on electric guitar) who sported a short back and sides that made me wonder what he’d look like in uniform.  Szuna Péter (Bass) and Juhasz Robert (drums) made up the complement along with the dextrous Virag Lili on the fiddle. One of her first times out with the lads, she really made that fiddle talk.

Hearing with Wild Rover sung with a Hungarian accent was fantastic. And where have I been all these years that I never heard  bitchin’ in the kitchen before? The night was only beginning when they finished with yet another go at Whiskey in the Jar – this time in Hungarian! It was quite surreal in a way, a bit of a time warp. Suddenly I was 21 again, and back home in Dublin. I only wish I’d woken up from this particular delusion in time. Despite the wonderful company of hedgehogs, griffens, and ministering angels, there’s simply no getting away from the fact that I just can’t hack the long nights and small hours any more.  Give me another few weeks to fully recover though and I’ll be in the front row of Firkin’s next-but-one BP gig …Gödör Klub 23 April.