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.
And 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.
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