Well, that’s St Patrick’s Day done and dusted for another year. For me, anyway. It’s taking me longer and longer to recover from the endurance test that masks itself as a celebration. And this year, like other years, it included a few firsts.
I’ve always wanted to see the inside of Magyar Tudományos Akadémia (the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) and this year, it happened, courtesy of an invite from the Irish Ambassador, His Excellency Kevin Dowling, to a lunch-time National Day event, with guest of honour Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Irish Minister of State for New Communities, Culture and Equality.
The building, designed by architect Friedrich August Stüler, is a blend of the Renaissance style of Northern Italy and the Neo-Renaissance tendencies of Berlin. Suffice to say, it’s gorgeous and sitting where it does on the banks of the Danube, somewhat dwarfed by the Four Seasons across the road, it’s a classic reminder of life in Budapest in the late 1800s.
After we applauded two Hungarians students who won bursaries to study in Ireland, the Minister introduced St Patrick as an immigrant (a perspective I’d not heard before) and situated him the context of immigration today. He spoke of immigrants from Hungary (10,000), Poland (180,000), Africa, Brazil, China and other countries enriching life in Ireland. He spoke of the traditions and culture they bring with them. And he spoke of the necessity of embracing migration as a key part of global living. I was a tad surprised that he’d be so bold, given how the current Hungarian regime is, to say the least, not of the same opinion. It was a subtle dig and I wondered briefly whether it was intentional – but then as is diplomacy’s wont, of course it was.
Later that evening, at the Military History Museum (home to the famous hand of Stalin), at a second National Day reception, he would repeat these remarks and in doing so, underscored Ireland’s gift to the world – her people. I felt faint stirrings of national pride as a warm glow emanated throughout the room. Nicely done, sir, nicely done.
Waiting outside for a taxi to take us downtown, we stood in the shadow of the remains of the wonderful church of Santa María Magdalena. During the Turkish reign, this was the only Christian church in town, shared by Catholics and Protestants alike, a fitting tie-in with Ireland’s troubled past. Today, its winding staircase, so clearly visible through the windows, stretches up towards the heavens, as it quietly makes the case for steadfastness and tenacity. The main body of the church was destroyed in WWII but its fifteenth-century tower stands tall in the centre of Kapisztrán tér. It’s a beautiful sight.
Later that evening, over dinner and drinks with Irish, English, and Hungarian friends in an Italian restaurant and a Scottish pub, his words came back to me. It is true, that no matter where we go in the world, we are blessed in finding new family abroad. The friends we meet on our travels and the relationships that result can last a lifetime. And if ever there was a day to celebrate the international in us all, it’s St Patrick’s Day.
PS For those of you in Budapest this weekend, the celebrations aren’t yet over. The parade will start from Szabadság tér at 3pm on Sunday with people gathering from 1.30 onwards… for the craic.
PPS Note to self – visit the 1956 room at the Military History Museum.