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What started off in March 2006 as a bunch of people with a shared affinity for Ireland and being Irish getting together for dinner has morphed into a three-day event. St Patrick’s Day this year falls conveniently on a Friday. Those living in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and on the Caribbean island of Montserrat will enjoy a long weekend, as the day itself is marked by a public holiday in those three countries. Here in Budapest, we’ll have to work a casual Friday. Last year MUPA went green for the day; this year I’d like it be a bridge. That’d be magic.

On the business front, the Irish-Hungarian Business Circle (IHBC) is teaming up with growth consultants M27 Absolvo to organise an Irish-Hungarian event focused on investment and innovation. Neither country is short of brain matter and talent so this promises to be an interesting mix. From what I understand, it’s a little like a dating service – those with ideas who need money to realise them pitch to those with money to invest in promising start-ups and small business enterprises. The invite-only event is taking place in the Marriott Hotel from 2pm on Friday, 17th March. St Patrick himself wasn’t beyond a little innovation. He was the one who added the Sun to the cross to create what’s known today as the Celtic Cross and the one to use the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the heathen masses of Ireland all those years ago. I reckon he’d be well impressed with this initiative.

And while the business gig is underway, students from schools around Hungary will be competing in 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 this year, there’ll be a special prize for the best Irish entry. This is one I’m looking forward to.

On Saturday, 18th March, dancers from all over the world will be competing at the WIDA Open Feis over at Folyondár Sports Hall (Folyondár utca 15) from 8 am. This international Irish dance competition is a growing attraction on the international Irish dance scene with competitions for all age groups.  For more details, check their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/budapestfeis

And while the dancers are finishing up at 6pm, moves of a different kind will be made on the pitch at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. One of the biggest days in Irish rugby also falls on Paddy’s weekend. This year, Ireland and England will play the final match in the 2017 Six Nations. The event will be shown live, on a big screen, at the Marriott Hotel from 6pm, a move calculated to avoid any no-shows at the 11th annual St Patrick’s Gala Dinner. And, I must admit, there’s something about watching a rugby game when dolled up to the nines that adds spirit to the scrums. Nothing like a roomful of screaming black ties and tuxedos to set the mood. (If you’re not going to the dinner, you can get your fill of it all at Jack Doyle’s Irish pub and restaurant over on Pilvax utca.)

More than 250 guests are expected to sit down to the three-course lamb dinner at the Marriott on Saturday night for an evening of ceoil agus craic (music and fun). John Murphy and his traditional repertoire will accompany the dinner with Budapest-based Hungarian Irish Folk band Green Spirit charged with bringing guests to their feet after their Irish coffees. And, whether you prefer the Hungarian tombola (which actually originated in Italy) or the Irish raffle, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to spread the luck and the love around with a number of charities standing to benefit from the proceeds. DJ Andrew J will be on hand till the wee hours of the morning for all those who can keep pace. If you haven’t already booked your place, you might still be in luck. Check the website for details: www.ihbc.hu

Sunday sees the seventh annual gathering of painted faces and leprechaun hats walking beneath banners and behind Irish wolfhounds to the beat of the Irish Prison Service Pipe Band. Back in 2011, 546 people showed up for the first St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest. I’m sure of the number because I was the official counter. Last year, it was over 4000. The crowd starts amassing around 1.30 pm at Szabadság tér for face-painting and the like with the parade itself starting at 3 pm. It’ll wind its way through the streets of Budapest, ending up at Instant VIII, on Akácfa utca 49-51, where the craic will continue. Bring along a musical instrument and join in one of the many sessions going on throughout the venue. Billed as one of the biggest St Patrick’s Day parades in Central Europe, it’s not one to be missed.

And, if you feel like getting a head start on the shenanigans, that crazy Irish band Firkin are playing Akvárium on Thursday night. Just what you need to get the green going.

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

First published in the Budapest Times March 2017

How I could have held my head high and called myself Irish when there’s so much that I didn’t know about St Patrick is beyond me.  I can’t explain this recent obsession with the man. Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis of sorts. Never before was I so curious about him and yet despite all my research, I still have little more than a cup of tea and two biscuit’s worth of information. I started off being a tad embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, given that I’m Irish through and through, but in hindsight, I doubt very much that I’m the only Irish person with such a knowledge deficit.

IMG_3413 (600x800)I never knew, for instance, that St Patrick was the patron saint of paralegals and engineers. Or that his patronage extended not alone to Ireland but also to Nigeria and Montserrat. I had never heard that it took him so long to drum the religion into us that the walking stick he had stuck in the ground took root and grew into a tree. And while I am familiar with the wearing of shamrock and perhaps a harp on St Patrick’s Day, I’d never heard of the two St Patrick’s crosses.

For years I’ve been trying to persuade people that the shamrock is not a clover only to find that for years I’ve been wrong. The name shamrock comes from the Irish seamróg, which is the diminutive version of the Irish word for clover, meaning ‘little clover’. Another bubble burst… the embarrassment.

Despite being known the world over as St Patrick, Patrick was never formally canonised by a pope. And I never knew that when he died there was a fight to see who’d get the body – the Battle for the Body of St Patrick went over my head. Or that when he was buried he was watched over for 12 days and nights, or more like 12 long days as night never came – it was daylight the entire time.

IMG_3396 (800x599) (800x599)The first St Patrick’s Day parade was in New York back in the 1762 when some Irish soldiers serving with the British Army apparently marched across the city to a pub in Manhattan. Funny … the first one in Budapest was in 2011 and we ended up Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant.  mmmm… maybe it’s all finally beginning to make sense.

At the end of what has been another hectic week, I’m grateful for the fact  I have retained enough Irish to be able to wish the blessings of St Patrick’s Day on you all. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir. Wherever you are tomorrow, how ever you’re celebrating, know that I’ll be with ye in spirit. And if you’re in Budapest – mine’s a Jameson and ginger!

I’m not one given to pageantry. I have little time for pomp and ceremony. I dread networking events and am allergic to structured meet and greets. I abhor public displays of emotion (unless they’re focused on a rugby pitch or a green) and rarely get excited about anything to such a degree that said excitement is visible to others. And yet, today, on 1 March, I find myself in the oddest of moods.

Yes, it’s St David’s day and for the Welsh, perhaps a reason to celebrate. But that’s nowt to do with my mood. What has my blood racing a little faster than usual is that it’s the first of March. And, while I still can’t quite believe that I’m saying this, that means that Paddy’s Day is just around the corner. I know – shock horrors. How uncool is it to be looking forward to Paddy’s Day for God’s sake? The sophisticated me is having a right olde barney with the kid in me.

IMG_3392 (600x800)Regular readers may remember my public confession a couple of years ago to being a parade-pooper. And you might also remember my excitement (albeit it contained) at last year’s event. But even I’m surprising myself this year at how much I’m looking forward to the day. No, self-correct. Not just to the day, but to the week. And it all starts in just 14 days time! Forget advent calendars – surely there’s money to be made in a Paddy’s Day countdown.

My good mates Messes Stein and Nugent are hitting townIMG_3375 (600x800) on the 13th just in time for the Gift of the Gab final on 14 March. This is going to be a sell-out. In fact, if you don’t get your ticket this weekend from the Caledonia Scottish Pub, you may not be there on the night to witness the fierce competition to see who will take home the GOTG 2013 trophy along with the accompanying kudos.  The venue is the splendiforous New Orleans on Lovag utca and Friday is a holiday – so no excuse not to party. The two lovelies – Attila and Csaba – aka The Jookers will be on hand with special guests to get everyone out on the dance floor and dancing. Book me now if you want to boogie as my dance card is getting rather full!

So, given that, in all likelihood, heads may be hurtin’ on Friday, what better place to recover than at the Irish Film Festival which kicks off at 4pm in Toldi Mozi. I went last year and it was a great event. Am waiting with bated breath to see which films will be screened this year. Jameson’s will be on hand to provide the hair of the dog to those who need it.

And if that wasn’t enough, on Saturday night at Le Meridian, there’s the St Patrick’s  gala dinner . This annual event is attracting some regular followers and with the best of Irish fare on offer, it’s a night not to be missed. Tickets are on sale now. If you’ve never danced an Irish jig, now’s the time to start.

IMG_3430 (800x600)Of course, these events all lead up to the day itself – the day of the big parade. The day when Budapest goes green. The day when leprechauns hit the streets and the world and her mother (and her granny) march to the tunes of  pipe bands and wend their way from Szabadság tér to Deak tér for the last hurrah. Just under 1000 people (998 – I know, because I counted them) showed up last year and this year, we expect even more. According to the Facebook page, 400 are signed up already!

As I was saying, I’m not one for pageantry, or pomp and ceremony, but there’s something about Paddy’s week in Budapest that warms the cockles of my heart and get my blood racing.