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The Greening of Budapest

St Patrick’s Day this year falls on a Sunday, which is perfect for the St Patrick’s Day Parade, the ninth annual gathering of painted faces and leprechaun hats walking beneath banners and behind Irish wolfhounds celebrating one of the patron saints of Ireland. When the first 546 people showed up in 2011 for the inaugural St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest, I wonder if they had any inkling of how popular an event it would become. Participants, now numbering in their thousands, will start gathering around 12 noon at Szabadság tér for face-painting and the like, with the parade itself starting at 3 pm. There’ll be live Irish music on a stage with majorettes twirling up a storm. 6:3 Borozó will be running a bar, a food truck will be whipping up 100% Irish beef burgers, and Guinness will be on tap to pour you a pint of the black stuff. You’ve no excuse. Come for lunch! And don’t worry if you don’t have your green; there’ll be plenty of Paddy’s Day t-shirts on sale. Read more

With a nod to all things Irish

When 1 March dawned this year, Ireland was covered in a blanket of white. Fast-forward a couple of weeks later, all thoughts are turning to greening the country. And not only Ireland, but cities like Buenos Aires in Argentina and Tokyo in Japan, who have embraced the celebration of the nation’s patron saint, St Patrick.

The tiny Caribbean volcanic island of Montserrat is the only other country in the world in which 17 March is a public holiday. But it’s a coincidence. There, Montserratians commemorate an eighteenth-century revolt by slaves against their European white colonizers, the majority of whom were Irish. Their week-long celebration is about independence.

This year, St Patrick’s Day conveniently falls on a Saturday, and carries on the long weekend that starts with the Hungarian holiday of 15 March which celebrates democracy and freedom, two words very much in vogue in recent times, and commemorates the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. It was declared a holiday back in 1990. On this day, most Hungarians will sport a cockade of the national colors – red (strength), white (loyalty), and green (hope). There’s an alternative interpretation, too, apparently: red for the blood spilled by Hungarian patriots, white for freedom, and green for the land of Hungary.

The Irish holiday on 17 March dates back to 1903 and has more religious overtones, marking as it does the advent of Christianity to Ireland, brought to the shores by St Patrick way back when. The first official government-sponsored parade didn’t take place in Dublin until 1931. Slow as it might have been to catch on, St Patrick’s Day is now a day to be reckoned with in many cities around the world, Budapest included.

Eight years ago, in 2011, 546 people took part in the first St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest. Each year has seen a few more marching, with turnout figures on track to reach the 10 000 mark on the 10th anniversary.

This year, the parade will take place on Sunday, 18th March from Szabadság tér.  The crowds will start convening at 1.30pm to a backdrop of music, face-painting, and a taste of the Ireland that comes in a glass – whiskey and stout. In a nod to sobriety and sanctity, the Irish Free State government banned the selling of alcohol on St Patrick’s Day back in 1927. Our neighbours up North weren’t as drastic and until the ban was repealed in 1961, I’d imagine there was quite a bit of border hopping going on. The parade will step out at 3pm and wend its way through the streets of Budapest over to Akácfa utca 49-51, to Instant VIII, where the party will start in earnest.

The massive venue will morph into a mini Ireland for the day, evening, and night with musicians and dancers doing their bit on all stages. The trinity of Irish revelry – ceoil, caint, agus craic (music, chat, and fun) – will preside over the occasion, one not to be missed.

Some, though, might be feeling a little worse for wear, a little tired perhaps from the previous night’s celebrations. The Annual St Patrick’s Day Gala Dinner is set to take place in the Marriott Hotel on the night itself, Saturday, 17th March. This annual event started back in 2006 and has become quite a feature on the Budapest social calendar. With more than 250 people expected to show up in their best bib and tucker, this elegant evening is an opportunity to get a feel for what Irish hospitality is all about. This year, the fab Hungarian dance troupe Coincidance (European Irish Dance champions) will be giving their take on the traditional Irish dance, with Budapest-based Hungarian Irish Folk band Green Spirit supplying the music. It gives this patriotic soul goosebumps to see how Hungary has embraced the art of Irish music and dance and done us proud. A limited number of tickets are still available, so reserve yours now.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the celebrations continue into the following week when on Monday, 19th March, students from schools around Hungary gather for 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 for the second year running, there’ll be a special prize for the best Irish entry.

On Saturday, 24th March, at Folyondár Sports Hall (1037 Budapest, Folyondár utca 15), local, national, and international Irish dancers, will compete in the Budapest Open Feis 2018. Anyone who has watched, gobsmacked, as Michael Flatly and Riverdance took the world by storm, might be interested in seeing these dancers in step. The whole scene has come a long way since I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to dance classes, hating every minute of the ringlets (the de rigueur hairstyle for anyone with hair long enough to take the rags, long before the invention of curling tongs). Years later, on reflection, I wish I’d found a way to get over the fact that I don’t have a musical bone in my body and have a hard time telling a reel from a jig. But such is life.

The international Go Green campaign continues. In Singapore, for example, the Singapore River will run green while the Gateway of India in Mumbai will also go green for St. Patrick’s Day. In Budapest, at time of writing, confirmation is in that MUPA and the Tüskecsarnok will go green and hope is still alive that the Chain Bridge and the Budapest Eye will follow suit. Don’t you just love it when it all comes together.

Kudos to the Irish-Hungarian Business Circle, the Irish Embassy in Budapest, and all their supporters for making this all happen.

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

 

First published in the Budapest Times, 9 March 2018

2016 Grateful 41

There’s a lot to be said for being Irish. We have a finely honed sense of self-deprecation that means we laugh at ourselves before anyone else can put the boot in. Our mammies are a collective repository of such gems as:

  • A little birdie told me
  • How’d you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tasted it?
  • Don’t make me get up
  • There’s enough dirt in those ears to grow potatoes!
  • If you fall off that wall and break your legs don’t come running to me!

And we all recognise the following traits:

ST P

And while there are times it mightn’t be all that great to be Irish in Ireland (do we have a government yet?) it’s always good to be Irish abroad. This weekend in Budapest was a particular case in point.

I like to dress up. I like the long frocks and the heels and the black ties. I like the round tables, and the pomp and ceremony that goes with it all. But there’s a fine line between boring and brilliant – and these event can go either way. This year’s St Patrick’s Gala Dinner was the best of the four (?) I’ve been to. And to think that I nearly didn’t go! Me and 227 others sat down to eat at in the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel with an illuminated Buda Castle district as our backdrop. The views were stunning.

IRishBy way of entertainment, the Irish dancing was more of the Flatley kind than the traditional embroidered costumes and ringlets I was expecting. And while some traditionalists might have preferred the latter, I was mega impressed with what was on show. A lone male dancer held the stage, more than ably assisted by a bevvy of Hungarian females with figures to die for and talent oozing out of their heels. Speeches were short, sweet and to the point and the traditional music throughout the night was there – not too much there, but there. Irish music students from the Kodaly Institute were also on hand with some beautiful renditions of Irish songs – the Rattlin’ Bog went down a treat. Finishing off with a DJ was inspired – it was like a brilliant wedding …. without the bride and groom. Mind you, I did wonder at the Argentinian steak for the main course, but then remembered the Che Guevara was of good Irish stock, so that covered that:

The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels. —Ernesto Guevara Lynch, speaking of his son, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

GOod FridayIt was a late one. A very late one. And not for the first time, I wondered at our insatiable need to party on, and not stop till we drop. We had a pre-party, the party itself, and an after party. Give the considerable number of collective years of experience to hand, I have to admit to being more than a little impressed by our staying power. (Thanks to TJ and DJ for hosting.) Am already sorting a table for next year…

Sunday was understandably slow in starting but it, too, managed to wheedle the last ounce of energy from those still feeling the effects of the night before. The St  Patrick’s Day parade has become a feature of March life in Budapest and thousands showed up at Szabadság tér to follow St Patrick as he led the procession through the streets of the city to end up at Instant where more than a dozen bands set up shop in various rooms and corners to entertain the masses. From traditional pipers to pagan punk bellydancers, folk, trad, blues were all covered, too. Everyone was sporting a bit of green (even if this was simply looking green at the gills) and the general bonhomie was tangible. A brilliant day.

Massive amounts of organizing went into both events. Kudos to all those involved. I’m exceptionally grateful that all I had to do both days was show up and be Irish.

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