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!



Dead, buried, but not forgotten

Someone told me a while back that people die twice. Once when they physically expire and again when their name is spoken for the last time. St Patrick has been dead for centuries and there’s little danger that he’ll ever be forgotten. St Patrick’s Day itself has become a global phenomenon that seems to gather strength each year and shows little sign of abating.

Being Irish, as I admitted earlier this week, doesn’t make you an expert on the man or his life. And this is particularly true in my case. It was only in December that I visited his grave for the first time – and what a shock it was to see that he’s not buried alone.
IMG_9473 (800x600)He lies in the grounds of the magnificent Down Cathedral in Downpatrick,   a Church of Ireland cathedral built in 1183 on the site of a Benedictine Monastery. When I realised it wasn’t a Catholic Cathedral I had to stop and question my belief that St Patrick was Catholic… just because he’s a saint.

Some say he wasn’t. but proving it, according to James Aiken in his article Was St Patrick Catholic ‘[…] is an impossible task, as Patrick was a Latin-speaking Roman noble, grandson of a Catholic priest, son of a minor official of the Roman empire, who had repeated private revelations, practiced penance, spent two decades as a monk, was ordained a priest and sent to serve on the papal mission to Ireland, was then ordained bishop by a papal representative, and had his fidelity to Catholic teaching specially confirmed by Pope Leo the Great (of whom the fathers of the Council of Chalcedon cried “Peter has spoken through Leo!”). He described himself as a Catholic, and a list of canons he drew up for the Irish church orders that any dispute not resolved on a local level was to be forwarded to Rome for decision.’ Enough said.

The reason I questioned it is that I’ve grown up hearing how St Patrick converted Ireland to Christianity – not that he made Catholics of us all. And I’m still none the wiser.

IMG_9468 (800x600)But back to him not being buried alone. Apparently there was a prophecy that he’d be buried with St Brigid and St Colomcille, a prophecy which, according the engraving, John De Courcy fulfilled in the twelfth century. Given that he supposedly died back in the fifth century, I’m left wondering where he was in the meantime. In fact, the more I read, the more confused I get. There is even a theory of two Patricks!

IMG_9467 (800x600)Whoever he was or wasn’t, whatever he did or didn’t do, what St Patrick is doing today is what’s important for me. There an immense pride to be taken in being Irish (or there was, before the progeny of the Celtic Tiger years began to worry the threads of the Irish reputation abroad). For me, to see Irishness celebrated around the world is an amazing thing. I used to think it was cheesy and a little naff, but since coming to Budapest and being involved in the revelry and seeing the genuine affinity Hungarians have for all things Irish, it’s nearly enough to bring a tear to this occasionally jaundiced eye.

For more details of what’s happening, check out the Irish Embassy’s Facebook page (and like it while you’re at it) or see the Irish Hungarian Business Circle’s website for a calendar of events.







Patrick’s barn

Given the time of year that’s in it, and given the fact that I’ve had more than my fair share of drugs this past week, I’m in a particularly confessional-like mood. [I know now that I can cross secret agent off my list of mid-life-crisis-driven career changes – stick a drip in me and I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I just don’t have the patience to be a good patient.] It’s not often that I’d admit to this level of ignorance but blame it on this week and the week that’s in it.

The lead-up to St Patrick’s Day is always fraught with anxiety for me – Will the Gift of the Gab final sell out? Will the speakers show? Will the judges do right by them? Will Ireland take the Six Nations? Will it rain on the parade?  This year, thankfully, I can cross ignorance off my list of niggles. I used to dread being asked about St Patrick  and would pall at the thoughts of being presumed an expert by virtue of the fact that I was Irish. I’m sure I’ve made up my fair share of stories about the man in my day, stories that are now being repeated as fact around the world. [Well, she was IRISH you know… she must have been telling the truth.] In truth, my knowledge was limited to shamrocks and the Holy Trinity and casting snakes out of Ireland.

IMG_9420 (800x600)Late last year, thanks to a serendipitous combination of invitation, situation, and cooperation, I found myself in Co. Down, sitting in a church that was built on the very site that St Patrick is said to have died. As I listened to the unfamiliar hymns and anxiously wondered when I should sit, stand, and kneel, I reminded myself that there was a time in Ireland when, as  a Roman Catholic, I would have had to seek permission from the Bishop to enter this church. Thank God we’ve seen the light.

The name Saul comes from the gaelic Sabhall Phádraig, which literally translates to Patrick’s barn. Here, in this particular corner of Northern Ireland, about  two miles east of Downpatrick, was where St Patrick is said to have built his first church. Way back in 432, when his boat was swept ashore where the River Slaney enters Strangford Lough, he was met by the local chieftan. Such were Patrick’s powers of persuasion, that Dichu, the chieftan, was converted to Christianity as soon as he could say Amen. And, as a new convert, bestowed on Patrick  a barn at Saul from which he could preach. Legend has it that it was in Saul, on 17 March back in 461 that Patrick died.

IMG_9454 (800x595) (800x595)IMG_9448 (600x800)The beautiful stone church that stands there today, complete with a replica round tower, is a place that begs quiet contemplation.

Its simplicity was a stark reminder of when Christianity first came to Ireland and the limits St Patrick faced in his drive to convert the nation. No fancy churches or ornate walls. No gold-leaf trim or brass candlesticks. No priceless works of art. Nothing but  a barn.

IMG_9439 (600x800)I was a tad surprised to find how peaceful it was to be in a church where nothing competed for my attention. Stone walls and a single stained glass window were the height of the decoration, apart from the Christmas holly and such that sat quietly on the window sills. Perhaps because the congregation was so small in comparison to the city churches I’m used to, or perhaps because this particular congregation was so welcoming, it was the first time in a long time that I actually recognised the embodiment of Christianity. I’m sure the parishioners of Saul are far from perfect; they are human after all. Yet there was something very special about it all.

IMG_9434 (600x800)After the christening, we wandered the grounds, looked out over the hills and mountains in the distance. Close by, on Slieve Patrick,  the giant statue of St Patrick beckoned but we didn’t have the footwear (or the inclination, if truth be told) to go see the bronze plaques that bear testimony to his life in Ireland.

In the shadow of the church, a number of aged gravestones told the stories of those who, like Patrick, also died away from home. Old stone ruins stood in silent memory of times gone by. No matter their religion, I doubt anyone couldn’t help but feel the sanctity of the place. IMG_9463 (800x600)A little abashed at the fact that despite being Irish through and through, I had never heard of Saul before the invitation came to Finn’s christening, I decided to follow the trail and visit Downpatrick to say a quick one by St Patrick’s grave. [I was blessed that I was in the company of a very patient compatriot who shared my curiosity – graveyards aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.] But more about that later.

The wearin’ of the green 2012

I don’t do fancy dress…not since I went to a party in Dublin cleverly dressed as a tube of toothpaste and everyone thought I was a table lamp. I never once entertained thoughts of dressing up as a leprechaun for St Patrick’s Day, even if it meant getting my name in the Guinness Book of Records. I have zero interest in it all. Last year, in Budapest, on this very day, I confessed to being a parade pooper but I was converted to the joys of it all. This year, I took a major step forward in my therapy and went out, in public, wearing a headband with green bopping shamrocks. One step at a time. Perhaps in 20 years time, I’ll be the one in the orange pigtails.

As we walked over to Szabadság tér, all three of us in our boppers, watching people’s reactions was priceless. Some  laughed out loud. Some tried to hide their smiles. Some stared at us as if we were mad. For the most part, we were like three little rays of light bopping our way through Budapest. Turning onto Szabadság tér and seeing the sea of green, white, and orange, was amazing. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and everyone was in great form. Lots of people dressed up – went the whole hog. Whole families were togged out in the gear and everyone looked like they were having a ball. The Irish wolfhounds competed for attention with the Jameson girls and everyone milling around was in great form.

By my reckoning (verified by two others ad hoc counters) there were about 980 people in the parade at one stage. Let’s say 1000 people took part. That’s 1000 people wearin’ the green, tramping through the streets of Budapest led by a pipe band and a pack of hounds. The reception from the man in the street was nothing short of brilliant – cheers, shouts of encouragement, laughter – and that from those who hadn’t a clue what it was they were witnessing.  In a week that saw parades of political nature on the streets of the city, this one was refreshingly simple, uncomplicated, and happy. A bunch of Irish and Hungarians celebrating what it means to be Irish.

The party ended up back in Deak tér with dancers, musicians, and plenty of leprechauns. The festivities were still in full swing when we left and no doubt will continue well into the night. The brainchild of the Irish Hungarian Business Circle, the parade is part of a four-day festival celebrating the Irishness in Budapest. This is its second year and it’s going from strength to strength. It’s no mean feat organising such an event – hats off to the Parade Committee and all those involved.  There’s nothing quite like seeing grown-ups enjoying themselves like children. We need to do this more often  and remember what it’s like to have simple, uncomplicated fun.

Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig daoibh go léir