Edited by Anna Popper

St. Patrick’s Day is observed annually on 17 March, commemorating the anniversary of his death in the 5th century. He was a Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop revered as the primary patron saint of Ireland. Despite encountering numerous challenges in his mission to convert the Irish people to Christianity, Patrick remained steadfast in his faith, persistently preaching the message of Christianity throughout Ireland.

One of the notable symbols of St Patrick’s Day celebrations is the shamrock. According to famous legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock to elucidate the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people. Tradition holds that Patrick plucked a shamrock from the ground and utilized its three leaves to illustrate the three persons of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This simple yet impactful analogy is believed to have facilitated the conversion of many Irish people to Christianity. Consequently, the shamrock became associated with the holiday and is often worn as a symbol of Irish heritage and good fortune. The tradition of donning shamrock on Saint Patrick’s Day can be traced back to the early 1700s.

Another prominent symbol is the colour green. Green is deeply intertwined with Irish culture and history, symbolizing not only the lush, verdant landscape of Ireland, but also the country’s Catholic heritage. On St. Patrick’s Day, cities around the world are adorned with green decorations and revellers don green attire to partake the festivities. Beyond its cultural significance, green also symbolizes rebirth and the onset of spring, adding to the celebratory atmosphere of the day.

Ireland’s history is marked by significant emigration due to famine and the pursuit of opportunity. As former President of the Irish Republic Mary Robinson, the first woman to hold this office, aptly stated: “After all, immigration isn’t just a chronicle of sorrow and regret, but also a powerful story of contribution and adaptation.”

With over 80 million people worldwide having a connection to Ireland, the national holiday has been a source of immense pride and joyous global celebrations.

This year, the vibrant St. Patrick’s Day Parade conveniently fell on Sunday, 17th March. Held in the heart of Budapest, Hungary, it was organised by the Irish-Hungarian Business Circle (IHBC) and featured an array of music, lively dancing and other festivities. Since 2011, this annual event has been a cherished tradition, bringing together Irish nationals alongside Hungarians and others from diverse backgrounds to embrace Ireland’s rich cultural heritage, fostering unity and sharing joy among all participants.

On the occasion of St Patrick’s Day, H.E. Mr. Ragnar Almqvist, Ambassador of Ireland to Hungary along with Ms. Ailbhe Keating in association with Enterprise Ireland hosted a reception at Aranytíz Cultural Centre in Budapest. The event drew notable attendees, including Hungarian officials, representatives of the Hungarian National Assembly, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Irish nationals and friends of the Emerald Isle.

The National Day celebration commenced with stirring renditions of the national anthems of Ireland, Hungary and the European Union, performed live by the talented ensemble Green Fields.

Following this captivating musical start, Ambassador Almqvist took the stage and warmly welcomed all guests, partly in Hungarian. Despite only recently assuming his role, he showcased exceptional linguistic prowess by quickly mastering the Hungarian language, coupled with an impressive depth of knowledge and affection for both Irish and Hungarian literature and history, while delivering his address:

Legelőször szeretnék köszönetet mondani csodálatos hárfa művészünknek, Annának, valamint zenekarunknak a Green Fieldsnek. (Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude to our wonderful harpist, Anna. And our band, the Green Fields.) Weren’t these anthems beautiful, friends? And later, if I can paraphrase the poster, they’ll be back with some tunes you really can dance to. Now I’ve spent the few months since my family and I arrived here trying to learn Magyarul (Hungarian). And to understand the intricacies of Hungarian history and politics. And the phrase I keep returning to – in both cases – is: Ez nehéz. Nagyon nehéz. (This is difficult. Very difficult.)

Often enough, I’m asked what my favourite Magyar word is. That’s easy. ‘Ír’ means both ‘Irish’ and ‘write’. For a nation like ours, shaped by writers, it’s perfect. All the more for me, the son of a novelist. And, after all, like my native Dublin, Budapest is a writers’ city. Arany János utca (of a great Hungarian poet) – where we gather now – is one of the many streets here dedicated to poets.

We’ve just marked 15 March. Seamus Heaney (Irish poet, playwright and translator, Nobel Prize winner in Literature 1995) once remarked that ‘a poem never stopped a tank’. But in 1848, Sándor Petőfi’s ‘Nemzeti Dal’ (Patriotic National Song) sparked a revolution.

Decades later, William Butler Yeats immortalised the ‘terrible beauty’ of Ireland’s own spring uprising of 1916. Less known is one of his earlier poems, ‘How Ferencz Renyi Kept Silent’. In it, our Nobel laureate drew inspiration from the heroes of 1848, lamenting that in Ireland:

‘We, too, have seen our bravest and our best

To prisons go, and mossy ruin rest

Where homes once whitened vale and mountain crest;

Therefore, O nation of the bleeding breast,

Libations, from the Hungary of the West.’

Distant as we are geographically, Yeats’s verse affirmed a centuries-old kinship between our peoples. Perhaps that explains why our greatest writer, James Joyce, chose a Szombathely Jew (from a Hungarian city) as the hero of his masterpiece, Ulysses.

Why in 1956, Ireland volunteered to shelter 540 Hungarians fleeing Soviet tanks – the first UN refugee programme our young state ever hosted.

And why we in Dublin felt such deep pride when, holding the EU Presidency in 2004, we welcomed Hungary – and nine other states – as fellow members. On that marvellous May Day, we offered ‘libations’ to friends joining not just a single market. But a community of shared values. Built on principles of solidarity and sincere cooperation.

In a few weeks, we are looking forward to marking the 20th anniversary of Hungary’s EU accession – naturally, we have a poem for the occasion. And we’re set for the start of Hungary’s own EU Presidency soon after that.

In other areas our views will differ. Like Hungary, Ireland’s independence was hard-won. And so we treasure sovereignty. But, we should be wary of measures that, in the name of protecting it, risk restricting the civil society and free media on which all democracies depend.

Ireland does not agree with every Commission communiqué or Parliament proposal. But we recognise both institutions as partners to the Council – working to the same good ends. And deserving of the same respect. Finally, Ireland’s own dark history of institutional abuse means that we understand all too well how vital child protection is. But that same experience teaches that security cannot be strengthened through shame. That stigma will not make children safer. That shutting books will never open minds. When – in reinforcing EU competitiveness, accelerating enlargement and much else – Hungary can be assured of Ireland’s support.

Barátaim, a chairde, Friends,

As we gather in friendship today, others, nearby are huddling in fear. Ireland’s stance on the conflicts that cause such suffering is clear. For the valiant people of Ukraine, 100,000 of whom now call Ireland home, we desire nothing more than a just and durable peace. But that cannot be secured through appeasement. Russia must be held accountable for its unprovoked aggression – starting with the annexation of Crimea a decade ago this week. Ukraine must be backed. Including in its path to EU membership.

In the Middle East, Ireland has been unequivocal in condemning Hamas’s heinous attacks on 7 October 2023. We mourn the innocents murdered that day – and every day since. And we continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. At the same time, we cannot avert our eyes from the terrible suffering in Gaza. Where the threat of famine – which we Irish know too well – is now all too real. That’s why, alongside President Biden on Sunday, our Taoiseach (the prime minister of Ireland) again called for an urgent ceasefire. And a sustained scale up in humanitarian assistance – through UNWRA and others.

Like our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, I’m the son of an immigrant to Ireland. And this day reminds me that history’s most celebrated Irishman – the Saint we honour with this shamrock – was also an immigrant. As a boy he was abducted in his native Briton and taken across the Irish Sea. For six years he was a slave, a solitary shepherd on a stony Antrim hillside, then escaped and returned home. But like many who fled her shores, Ireland never left his soul. And decades later, he braved the narrow seas once more. Converting our country to Christianity.

My father, a Swedish scholar, was no saint. When he moved to Dublin half a century ago, few followed that path. Poor and peripheral, ours was a nation of emigration. But today, at the centre of the EU, almost one in five of our residents was born overseas. Including some 10,000 Magyar. Ireland is a better place for their presence.

Just as Hungary is enriched by the Irish here today. ‘Kicsi a bors, de erős’ says a Magyar proverb. (Pepper is small but strong.) So too Budapest’s Irish community. According to the census, just over 700 of our citizens live here. But four times that number showed up at Szabadság tér on Sunday to turn the blue Danube green. In Arán, in its stunning Jewish quarter, Budapest is home to the best Irish bakery on the continent. At Becketts, Jack Doyle’s, and James Joyce, we boast some of the best – and most poetic – pubs in the city.

We have a thriving GAA-club (Gaelic Athletic Association). Maraon le Gaeltacht beág. And, through the Irish-Hungarian Business Circle and our friends at Enterprise Ireland, a network of dynamic businesses employing over 4,000 Hungarians.

Our Embassy is not a business. But we too employ some Hungarians. So, before I finish, let me thank our own ‘kicsi, de erős’ team – Gabi, Timi, Zoli, Marianna, Nargiza, and Zsuzsa – for organising tonight’s festivities. And for keeping James and me on track these first few months – most of the time.

Barátaim, my friends, as a folklorist, my father was delighted in the wisdom of proverbs – what in Irish we call sean-fhocail, literally old words.

As I grapple with – and more often than not mangle – the marvellous Magyar language, I learn the most by studying közmondás (proverb). Folklore is built on the rule of three. So no surprise that one of my favourites is: ‘Három a Magyar igazság’ (Three is the Hungarian truth). Well, like the leaves of St Patrick’s shamrock, Irish justice is also three.

So, barátaim, a chairde, friends, please join me in raising your glasses. And tipping them three times. To our people, scattered across this globe, but bound together through heritage. To our island, still very far from perfect, but very much at peace. To all the many Magyar who inspire us in Ireland. And to the Irish who’ve come to call Hungary home.

Photo credit: Matt Sayles

And finally – especially for the good people of Cork – and of course all Cork people are good – to the wisdom of their celebrated son, Cillian Murphy (Irish actor, Oscar winner for the Best Actor 2024, playing the titular scientist in the biopic Oppenheimer).

He ended his Oscar speech on 11 March observing that: ‘For better or for worse, we all live in Oppenheimer’s world’. And pay tribute to the peacemakers – and the peacekeepers. Mar a dúirt Cillian an óiche sin, ‘Go raibh míle maith agaibh.’ – (As Cillian said that night, Thank you very much.)

Köszönöm, a chairde! Thank you, friends!

Egészségedre! Cheers!

Boldog St Patrick napot! Happy St Patrick’s Day!”

After concluding the formal proceedings of the event, attendees enjoyed lively music and a variety of traditional Irish treats, among them the renowned Guinness. With its unmistakable taste and robust character, Guinness is a unique brew and stands as an internationally recognized symbol of Ireland. This iconic Irish beverage, proudly featuring the emblematic Irish harp on every vessel, has long been synonymous with Irish culture and heritage, even preceding its adoption as a national symbol. It serves as a poignant emblem of the nation’s identity, enduring spirit and deep pride.

“If you’re enough lucky to be Irish… You’re lucky enough!”

Source: Embassy of Ireland in Budapest

Photos by the Embassy of Ireland in Budapest and DPA