Budapest hosts St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and parade
Festivities to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day were held at Szabadság tér. The festivities started at 1:00 pm Central European time and included Irish folk music performances by the Nightingale Band from Pécs, Irish dance and majorette performances, Irish Wolfhound demonstrations, free balloon twisting, crosswords and games for children, Irish Gaelic football and hurling demonstrations organized by Irish students at the University of Veterinary Medicine who are members of the GAA Club in Hungary, and charity face painting and glitter spraying organized by teachers at the English Garden Nursery and Pre-School Budapest in collaboration with the Őrzők Foundation to support the treatment of childhood cancer at the Tűzoltó street Children’s Clinic. To support their initiative, please visit the following GoGetFunding page: bit.ly/3TyFV4r
Beer and whiskey stations that sold Guinness on tap, street food stations, and a desk that sold decorated green T-shirts and Irish hats also welcomed event participants during the festivities.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade details
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade started marching at Szabadság tér at 3:00 pm Central European time and was led by IHBC president Damien O’Kane and Ireland’s Ambassador to Hungary Ronan Gargan. Besides event participants, the parade was joined by bagpipers, performers at the festivities, St. Patrick’s statue, a giant leprechaun statue, two giant snakes made of textiles, and the Irish Wolfhounds.
After starting off at Szabadság tér, the parade marched through Kossuth Lajos tér, the Shoes on the Danube Bank, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, and St. Stephen’s Basilica, after which they returned to Szabadság tér.
Participants’ views on the events
Event participants Imre Gubucz, Erzsébet Gubucz, Viktória Bálint, and Viktor Bálint have been attending the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and festivities for many years. “We have been attending these events since they started organizing them,” they told the Budapest Times. “We like Irish people, Irish traditions, Irish music, and Irish beer. The atmosphere is good, so we also feel good,” they added.
They considered the bagpipe performances, Irish folk music performances, the training and exhibition of Irish Wolfhounds, and the availability of Guinness highlights of the festivities and the parade.
However, they also told the Budapest Times that like many other events, the St. Patrick’s Day events were also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since 2019, this is the first parade,” they said. “Based on our memories of the previous festivities and parades, there used to be more tents and stations, and this year’s celebrations and parade are also somewhat shorter compared to those of the pre-COVID-19 years.” They also noted differences in the ways the festivities and the parade were advertised this year compared to previous years.
“But more and more people will come to the celebrations,” they added. “We will definitely be watching the appearance of St. Patrick’s statue and the performances, because they will be enjoyable, especially when the weather is also good.”
The Nightingale Band and band leader Attila Kónya’s comments
For the Nightingale Band from Pécs, this is the first time performing at the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Budapest. “We are a very old band, and we have loved to play Irish folk music,” Kónya told the Budapest Times.
Regarding the band’s formation, Kónya stated that although it was only established by two people, the band has experienced an expansion recently. The band now consists of Hungarian singers and flute, string instrument, banjo, mandolin, and drum performers. Performing at a bluegrass festival in Abaliget in August is also on their agenda.
Kónya noted that performing at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations was fantastic. “The weather is fantastic, and people are also very, very good. We love it.”
Kónya would like to convey with the band’s music “the happiness of Irish people”. “Not only Irish people but everyone else can love these very nice songs (which are also) very easy to understand,” he stated.
O’Kane told the Budapest Times that the purpose of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is really to celebrate St. Patrick, the Irish patron saint. “We celebrate this as a big day back in Ireland, and for the Irish abroad, it’s always a big day – it gives us an opportunity to celebrate the excitement of the parade.”
“What we’re trying to do is also to bring our culture to our host here in Hungary. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade here in Budapest has been going for ten years,” O’Kane said. Regarding the history of organizing the parades in Budapest, he stated that a group of Irish people in Hungary including Charles Griffin, Mary Murphy, and Mark Downey initiated them.
“It does take a lot of organization – what you see here today with all the tents, the burger vans, you need permits for all of them. It’s almost like a six-month campaign to get everything going at the right time,” he remarked.
Regarding why the St. Patrick’s Day parades in Budapest have been this popular, O’Kane said: “It’s a strange one, really. We probably have about a thousand Irish people in Hungary, 600 to 700 of whom are in the city. In the past years, we had 1,500 to 3,000 people turn up to the parade. I think it’s the curiosity and the idea that it’s a great day just to have a bit of fun.”
“For one day, everybody is Irish,” he said. “Come along, join us, have some fun, and make that an appropriate motto for your life!”
Having stayed in Hungary for five years as an Irish expatriate, O’Kane’s highlights have been visiting sites outside of Budapest and tasting Hungarian wine, which were seconded by Gargan.
Besides the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and festivities, the IHBC also plans to organize Friday events at the beginning of April, where attendees meet at one of the Irish pubs and engage in social networking.
Regarding the significance of St. Patrick in Ireland, Gargan told the Budapest Times: “He converted the Irish to Christianity. Ultimately, what St. Patrick was all about was kindness and love. He was actually an immigrant from England or Wales who came to Ireland. Therefore, the message around St. Patrick’s Day for us as Irish people is inclusiveness, openness, and friendliness, which I think are all the ideas that St. Patrick bestowed on us.”
“Over the last centuries, the Irish have gone all over the world – we have 70 million people around the world that have claimed Irish ancestry. St. Patrick’s Day actually started with the Irish community that went abroad from Ireland,” Gargan added. “The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually in New York in 1746. Since then, it’s been a tradition all over the world.”
As to the lives of Irish expatriates in Hungary, Gargan noted: “We have about 200 Irish students who came here to study mostly veterinary medicine, and there are also some medical students and some music students. Most people who came here maybe came here in the 1990s after the transition, set up businesses here, settled here, got married to Hungarians, and they have now lived here and are mostly retired. It’s a really great, vibrant, and enthusiastic Irish community here.”
Gargan also noted “similar personalities” and “similar senses of humor” between the Hungarians and the Irish. “We had some parallels in our history and similar cultures as well – some of the folk dancing and folk music are quite similar to the Irish.” He added that the Celts, who include the Irish, explored Central Europe first and only then moved towards the west.
The message Gargan wanted to convey to the Irish and the Hungarians was that he is grateful for what they do on a daily basis in maintaining and growing the relationship between Hungary and Ireland and in spreading Ireland’s values across the world. Gargan also extended his thanks to the IHBC for organizing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and celebrations.
The Embassy of Ireland in Hungary has also organized several events over the past few months, including a St. Brigid’s Day contemporary arts exhibition by female artists on February 1 to celebrate the creativity of women and a Hungarian Academy of Sciences event on March 21 to mark Ireland’s 50th anniversary as an EU member state. Upcoming events by the Irish Embassy include Bloomsday celebrations to commemorate Irish poet and novelist James Joyce and Halloween festivities.
An event participant trying out an Irish hat with the help of a member of the GAA Club in Hungary - Photo: Canqi Li
Face painting, glitter spraying, and balloon twisting - Photo: Canqi Li
Irish Wolfhounds - Photo: Canqi Li
Majorette performances - Photo: Canqi Li
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade marching on the streets of downtown Budapest - Photo: Canqi Li
The giant leprechaun statue marching with event participants - Photo: Canqi Li
St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2023 marches up the Hungarian Parliament under the leadership of IHBC president Damien O’Kane (left, in a kilt) and Ireland’s Ambassador to Hungary Ronan Gargan (center, in a suit) - Photo: Canqi Li
Bagpipers marching and performing in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica - Photo: Canqi Li
St. Patrick’s statue and the giant textile snakes marching in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. According to the legend, it was St. Patrick who eliminated the snakes from Ireland - Photo: Canqi Li
Irish dance performances - Photo: Canqi Li
The Nightingale Band during rehearsals - Photo: Canqi Li