“Nyír – egyház”
The first written record of the name Nyíregyháza is from 1209. In the 14th century, it was already mentioned as a place with church. After the Ottoman and Tartarian attacks, the first settlers in the deserted settlement were the Hajdú (Hungarian herdsmen). Immigration grew after the Rákóczi War of Independence. The significant increase of the population and the “rebirth” of the place were considered unexampled even on national level. Its real development started as of 1753, when the seigneur of the settlement Count Ferenc Károlyi promised considerable preferences to settlers. Among others: free practice of religion, tax exemption for 3 years and wood for their houses free of charge. The settler group was the Slovak-speaking Tirpáks.
In Tirpák land everybody is Tirpák, or will be
But who are they? Everyone knows the pejorative meaning of the word: rustic, rude man. To put it bluntly: a hick of Szabolcs. In the 18th century, the Slovak-speaking but Magyarized settlers coming from Békés county, Upper Hungary and from abroad were called Tirpáks. The nickname means “sufferer”. Master bootmaker János Petrikovics recruited settlers from Békés county. Altogether 214 families moved to the settlement of Nyírség from Békéscsaba, Szarvas, Gyula, Mezőberény and Tótkomlós. Károlyi and Petrikovics are still respected as city founders in Nyíregyháza. The Slovak-speaking settlers built farms on the land they received; which are called “bush farms”. About sixty of them still exist. The most significant ones are: Salamon-, Sulyán-, Róka-, Antal-, Vajda- and Manda bush. They lived on the periphery from spring till autumn and spent winters in the city, mainly in their houses in Szarvas Street, whose name refers to their place of origin. Despite the promise, they were persecuted due to their Evangelical religion in the beginning, which they endured with obstinate dignity; but owing to their persistency, they became appreciated members of society later.
It was author Gyula Krúdy, who spread the idea that everyone is or will be Tirpák in the city.
“The former Tirpák, who used to blush and be ashamed of the mocking word, now beats his chest proudly: Yes, I am a Tirpák. My forefather founded this beautiful city, here on the quicksand of Nyírség. We cultivated the lick and marshy land that was no good for grassland either, which was visited by witches, wild-birds and fleeing outlaws.”
Anyway, already in the 20th century, a kind of nostalgia could be felt in the case: even those who were not, declared themselves to be Tirpáks. It was also due to the tendency that the ethnic group names developed from nicknames – like Matyó or Csángó – lose their scornful edges after a certain time. Anyway, the demand to give a positive meaning to the “identity” in question still exists. Is “tirpák” a negative attribute? It is certainly not in Szabolcs. Regarding the Tirpáks’ history, their number decreased significantly after the WW II, when based on the Beneš Decrees, 4506 people who declared themselves Slovak were relocated in the Levice District of Upper Hungary (Czechoslovakia then).
A county seat is born
The most important event in the lives of the population of Nyíregyháza was the abolition of serfdom in 1824, when they could buy themselves off from seigneurial jurisdiction. Thus in 1837, Nyíregyháza received the title of city. The county assembly decided in 1867 that the county seat of Szabolcs County will be Nyíregyháza instead of Nagykálló, which was also due to the fact that the railway line was constructed towards the city Nyíregyháza.
The railroad construction was followed by the prosperity of industry and trade. In the former seat Nagykálló, the lords opposed the railway tooth and nail, allegedly. In fact, the reason was the unsettled property conditions and the lack of money. The parliament ratified the new county seat in 1876.
Large-scale development and constructions started in the new seat. The City Hall is an eclectic building with an arcaded entrance and renaissance atmosphere. Its ground floor was finished in 1842, and the first floor was built in 1872. The ill-famed “trial of Tiszaeszlár” was held in the assembly hall of the building, with the participation of Károly Eötvös and Kálmán Mikszáth. There are two Justitia statues on the two sides of the façade, above the balcony facing the square, which hinted that there was no separate building for a law court. The memorial monument of Lajos Kossuth stands in the middle of the square, created by Gyula Bethlen in 1912.
The Korona Hotel, built according to Ignác Alpár’s plans in 1895, is just a few steps away from the square. Its three façades show different faces to visitors. Its speciality is that the first electric lighting in the city was switched on at the ball organised for its inauguration. However, much earlier in the county in 1888, the population of Mátészalka could already enjoy the benefits of electric lighting.
The Roman Catholic church called Patroness of Hungary Cathedral – that was built according to Virgil Nagy’s plans in 1904 – stands next to the hotel. The most beautiful part of the three-nave basilica is the monumental transept. The marble pulpit can be found here as well, with the embossed figures of the four evangelists.
Tram traffic started in the city in 1911, which connected the city with the increasingly popular thermal baths of Sóstógyógyfürdő. The tramway cannot be found today, because the forced motorisation and the cheap fuel meant the end of the tram transport in Nyíregyháza. The last tram rolled along the city on 31 May, 1969.
The lungs of the city, Sóstó
According to the legend, the forest of Nyíregyháza can owe its existence to an accidental misspelling. In the 18th century, the seigneur who spent his time and money in Vienna got the wind that the price of poppy-seed increased and decided to grow poppy on his land in Nyíregyháza. He wrote to his land-steward and ordered to plant an area of a thousand acres with poppy-seed (mák). When he returned after a year, he saw appalled that little oak saplings adorned the huge area instead of poppy-heads. When he brought him to book, it turned out that the seigneur did not write an accent on the word, hurriedly, thus they planted acorns (makk) instead of poppy-seeds. This is how the still magnificent ancient oak forest was born. In fact, the forest of Sóstó is definitely a remnant of the primeval forests of Nyírség.
For the local people, Sóstó is not only a forest, but also a lake. You can find here a salt-marsh lake with an average depth of 1.5 metres. Allegedly, it was known already in the era of King Matthias, under the name “Igrice”. People believed that its water healed scrofulosis, rheumatism, and arthritis. It is certain that the thermal water classified as medicinal water is very good at easing spinal complaints, rheumatic and musculoskeletal disorders.
A proof of the appeal of medicinal water and the forest is the Alpine-style Swiss Lodge built in 1866, where also celebrities like Lujza Blaha, Gyula Krúdy and Frigyes Karinthy stayed. A beloved meeting place of middle-class citizens was the Krúdy Hotel and its terrace, which was built in 1911 and was renovated a few years ago.
I trust that a city, my city, can be proud not only of its listed sights, but also of its spirituality. That its citizens were welcoming and ambitious two hundred years ago: they built up and boosted a city that we only have to keep.
Translated by Zita Aknai