top half of a statue of a bearded man dressed in a a green robe with his hands in front of him.

Taking to the streets of Budapest

One of the most inspiring aspects of today’s globalisation is the sheer diversity of our world.

Back in the days of  E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, it took months to get to Patna. Today, you can fly there in a day. Add the relative ease of transport to the growth of media technology and you have what Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan called a global village.

Whether we live in New York, Mumbai, Syndey, Rio de Janeiro, or Budapest, no matter how big our metropolis, we are but a few mouse clicks away from engaging with someone on the other side of the planet.

It’s gobsmacking if you stop to think about it. Oh, how far we have come since the days of our fathers when the fax machine was a mind-blowing advancement in technology.

Around Europe, we see regular protests against asylum seekers. Countries are railing against the inbound tide of migrants from war-torn countries. In many cases, concerns are valid. The infrastructure (schools, hospitals, housing) may not be there to cope with such an influx. In many more cases though, it’s driven by fear and loathing of the unknown. Right-wing entities foment this fear by painting dark pictures of young men roaming previously safe, quiet neighbourhoods, in search of mayhem and destruction.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

For years, Europeans were the migrants, the threat, the concern.

And yet, on these migratory tides, comes a wealth of culture that we often fail to appreciate. Many European tech companies and cities now celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Cinco de Mayo is another notable one in Budapest. As is St Patrick’s Day.

I was at the first St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest back in March 2011. In my capacity as official counter, I reckoned over 500 people turned out. As the train of colour and sound wound its way through the streets of the city, locals asked what it was all about. What were we protesting? That we were doing it to mark our national day and celebrate the luck of being born Irish was met with some amount of disbelief.

Parade scene - four men, two wearing leprechaun hats, holding a banner that reads: Budapest 1st St Patrick's Day Parade 19 March 2011 www.ihbc.hu

Fast forward to 2024 and other than that brief COVID-driven respite, the parade continues.

This year, St Patrick’s Day conveniently falls on a Sunday – 17 March. The crowds will start gathering in Szabadság tér in District V at 1 pm. There’ll be a bevvy of food trucks, lots of Guinness on tap and whiskey on pour. The fab Arán Bakery will also be there (if you’ve not had their Irish soda bread, you don’t know what you’re missing).

The Irish Dancers and Irish musicians will be out in force and I’ve heard tell that the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) will be showing what they do. Ireland’s national sport, hurling, is a combination of speed and skill that will leave you breathless.

An annual favourite are the dogs – the Irish wolfhounds and Irish red setters. Add those to face-painting and balloon-bending and you’ve got everything you need for a proper family day out. By the way, as there’s almost always a charity bent to Irish events of this kind, the face-painting by the folks from The English Garden will be raising money for Őrzők, a foundation that supports children with cancer and leukaemia.

The parade will leave Szabadság tér at 3 pm and wind its way around by the Parlament and up towards the Basilica before coming back to where it all started to continue the party. The music line-up will be released over the coming days so be sure to follow the activity on Facebook. And start digging out your green!

The Irish pubs in Budapest will be rolling out an even bigger dose of their usual Irish hospitality. Check out Beckett’s on Liszt Ferenc tér, Davy Byrnes on Sörház utca, Jack Doyle’s on the corner of Városház utca and Pilvax köz, and James Joyce on Podmaninczy Frigyes tér (in alphabetic order lest I be accused of favouritism).

The following weekend is the St Patrick’s Gala Dinner, a tradition that is even older than the parade. The Mariott Hotel on the banks of the Danube is the venue. Registration starts at 6 pm. The black-tie event is a great excuse to get dolled up. The sit-down Gala Dinner comes with plenty by way of Irish libation – whiskies and Guinness – and Hungarian wines from Villány. Music, an essential ingredient to any truly Irish event, will be provided by the Irish folk band Irka Firka. Dancers from the Babara Dance Academy will be showing us how it’s done. And the post-prandial gyrations will be to modern covers by the fabulous Budapest Showtime.

The Gala Dinner is more than a dinner to celebrate being Irish in Budapest. It’s also an opportunity to support two very worthwhile local charities, NANE and TaMi.

Tickets are on sale now.

Poster advertising St Patrick's Day Gala Dinner 2024 in the Marriott Budapest Hotel

We have a new Irish Ambassador to Budapest, H. E. Ragnar Almqvist, continuing the fine tradition of Irish representation in the city. His Excellency will be giving the opening welcome at the Gala Dinner alongside Damien O’Kane, President of the Irish Hungarian Business Circle (IHBC).

March is a notable month for the embassy as they announce the names of two Hungarian students who will benefit from the Irish Embassy Bursary Programme, which has been running for ten years with support from Irish companies operating here. They’ll also publish the updated Directory of Irish Studies in Hungary, introducing 34 Hungarian scholars who teach courses on Irish literature and history in 12 Hungarian colleges and universities.

It does this Irish heart good to see how Hungary has embraced Ireland and Irishness.

So, get your green on and come join the festivities.

First published in the Budapest Times 24 February 2024

3 Responses

  1. I love this! Americans often think there’s, then there’s everyone else. One monolith of “others.” We need all the reminders we can get that we’re just one thread and maybe a knot or two in a much larger wooly tapestry.

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