It’s not just the fabulous architecture, the riverside vistas or the city parks that get me going. It’s not all about the excellent wines, the artery-clogging langós and the famous marzipan. And it’s certainly not limited to the ruin pubs, the garden bars and the rooftop venues. My main brag lately has been the sheer variety of affordable music that’s available any night of the week.

Home-grown talent such as Frenk, Budapest Bár and Quimby. Imported talent such as Ripoff Raskolnikov and Ian Siegal who play in town so often they may as well be local. And Irish talent who pass through on tour.

This time last year, in November, we had the fabulous Little John Nee, who wowed the audience in Beckett’s and had us begging for more of his peculiar brand of story-telling and repartee. This month, we have Niall Connolly returning to Hungary for two nights. He plays Club Pop Up in Zalaegerszeg on Sunday, 12 November and Beckett’s in Budapest on Monday, the 13th.

Connolly is no stranger to Budapest. I first saw him as part of the The Voice & The Verse ensemble in Treehugger Dan’s on Lázár utca back when Treehugger Dan was doing his thing to entertain the masses and ensure quality entertainment at an affordable price. (Dan, we miss you.) The Budapest stops are usually part of epic tours that take in bars in Koloszvár, jazz clubs in Prague, bookstores in Kraków and underground venues in Vienna. These boys will travel. And what both Nee and Connolly bring with them is their innate Irish ability to tell a good story. That, coupled with their talent as songsmiths, makes them special.

Connolly has played international festivals from Glastonbury, UK, to CualaNYC in the USA. He’s played the Prague Fringe, the Cork Folk Festival and the Acoustic Festival in Düsseldorf. Classifying his music is beyond my limited arts vocabulary. I only know that I like it.

But one of those in the know, the Chicago Tribune, describes his stuff as “Terrific. Disarming and beautifully craft folk-pop”. The Irish Independent says his material is very much “in the vein of early Dylan” (and that I can see). No Depression says he’s “among the most vibrant, poignant, and authentic Indie folk artists in New York City.”

And it’s NYC that this Irish lad born in 1970s Cork currently calls home.

In an interview about his album “Sound”, back in 2013, Connolly describes himself (and his songs) thus: “I'm interested in people, and as much as anyone, I'm sensitive to suffering of others, and I get riled up about things. And I love singing. I feel like if I'm going to write a song I better mean it. Because, the reality is, I'm going to sing that song hundreds, if not thousands of times. And I want to mean it every time.” And it’s this authenticity that makes him memorable.

One of the many of his songs that resonate with me is one he wrote to commemorate James Connolly on the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of the Easter Rising last year. He wrote it from the perspective of JC’s daughter. Beautiful stuff. And like everything else about both Connollys, there’s a story to this song, too.

He first performed it as part of the CualaNYC festival at Cooper Union in New York City, in a room where James Connolly himself had spoken many times. Then, later that year, the fab Glen Hansard (the Oscar-winning talent behind the song “Falling Slowly” from the movie “Once) asked him to perform it with him in Coughlan's in Cork, and again on the roof of Apollo House in Dublin as part of the public protest against homelessness in Ireland.

Hansard sings on the studio version of Connolly’s latest album “Dream your way out of this one” and, wait for it, Javier Mas (guitar player with Leonard Cohen for years) features on lead guitar. Our Irish lad has done good.

But, you might think, what appeal, if any, would Connolly and his repertoire have for a Hungarian audience? Funny you should ask. Hungary, not only Budapest but also Győr, Szombathely, Debrecen and Pécs, has strong Irish connections. I’m very fond of quoting a line from James Michener’s 1957 book, “The Bridge at Andau”, in which he describes Hungarians as the Irish of Eastern Europe. We share a sameness.

Speaking with a Hungarian friend some time back, about the similarities between the two peoples, I quoted WB Yeats: “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy that sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” You could easily switch “Irish” for “Hungarian”, I said. And what about “Sírva vigad a Magyar”, they asked … wouldn’t “Sírva vigad az ír” work just as well?

Connolly’s songs are both sad and uplifting. They’re real. They speak to the goodness in people, that need to do something to make the world just a little better (“Samurai). He identifies with universal troubles, with lines such as “to bring home the bacon, you have to work with pigs” that hit hard at modern-day compromises (“Work with pigs).

And lines like “I will not let the hatred in me change the man I try to be” that speak to the fear that is choking 21st-century living (“No cause of alarm). I’ve listened to the album several times now, and find that at each listen, a different song draws me in. And lately, one I’d really like my politicians to listen to, on repeat, is “Open your eyes. Open your eyes to all that’s true and good.

Do yourself a favour. If you’re in town, go see him in Beckett’s on 13 November. He’s live. He's true. And he's good.

Mary Murphy is a freelance writer, travel blogger and public speaker who knows what she likes. Read more at |

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