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Every cloud has a silver lining

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.

(C) Russell Skidmore Photography

(C) Russell Skidmore Photography

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 jewelry 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 Silveware.] 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 silverwork 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 opportunties 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

Life lessons on legs

There’s a pub at home that’s slowly sinking into the bog, evidenced by the creamy collars of pints of Guinness tilting unevenly to one side when not in the hands of punters. Known the length and breadth of the county, Roche’s is a pub in the middle of nowhere that reputedly pulls 2400 pints of Guinness a week, on an average week, and Christmas is far from average.

Roches pint (800x527)Until a couple of years ago, it was presided over by nonagenarian Maura Roche, and is a legend in its own time. When she died, it was bought by a local publican who sold his town pub and moved to the sticks. Billed as the steal of the century, it went for a song, played to the tune of cash,  in a time when only miracles would get you a mortgage.

But Mrs Roche, Mrs Roche … It was only this week that I heard her story and what a story that turned out to be.

Born in Clapham in 1915, to an Irish Republican father and a suffragette mother, Mrs Roche was one of a kind. Educated by nuns in Surrey and in Belgium, she took a BA in Languages from King’s College in London. She summered in Spain to improve her Spanish and fell in love with a Republican Spaniard whom she then rescued from a camp in France when Franco won the war. During WWII she was sent to Ireland, out of harms way, and it was there she met a publican by the name of Jack Roche.

He courted me, bringing me to the theatre, for a meal, or things like that. It was a sensible way of doing things – not like the way young  people do it today.

They bought the pub in Donadea in the 1950s and for nearly 50 years, she was a force to be reckoned with. Rumour has it that she spoke half a dozen languages fluently, travelling as often as she could alone, as Jackie didn’t like to venture far. I met her just the once. She looked like a sprightly old lady who wasn’t at all backward about coming forward and had I been smart enough back then, I might have tried to engage her in conversation. Now it’s too late.

I wonder how many elderly people are passed over because they are old, hard of hearing, perhaps not as quick on the uptake as they might once have been. But so many have stories to tell, interesting stories, stories that could teach us younger ones a thing or three, if only we took the time to ask.

I quite like the idea of adopting a granny or a granddad, if there were such a thing on the market. They’re walking life lessons. It reminds me of a story an uncle tells of a couple in his village who were married for 60 years. In every photo taken of them, they’re holding hands. An observant reporter, covering the big anniversary, commented on how lovely it was to still be in love after 60 years, to be still holding hands. Sure, they replied, in their best Clare accents, if we ever let go, we’d kill each other.

Ah the wit, the witticisms, and the wisdom  we are in danger of losing…