September 2016 Irish American News Column

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

My pal Skinny Sheahan mocks me on the radio by telling folks “Houli has become a PI, a professional Irishman.”

But, I feel no shame in loving Ireland, the land of my ancestors, and I’m mighty proud to have founded Hibernian Transmedia NFP with my family, to promote and preserve Irish and Irish American culture. We’re currently producing three weekly Irish American radio programs, one of which stars Skinny on the air every week smooching Democrats butts.

Add to that a dozen or so projects in the works with Irish American film, music, and literature and I’m happy to have eejits like Skinny calling me a “PI” while scoffing at my endeavors, although I prefer the term “cultural warrior”.

I’ve certainly paid my dues over the last 40 odd years working with “American culture’’ until I finally decided that most modern American culture is crap, notwithstanding stellar talents like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus.

Irish culture saved me.

I think that’s because Irish culture is as old as the earth itself. Sure America has an interesting history, but Ireland is forever. And exploring our Irish culture is a never ending adventure when we can dive into recent stories like the Easter rebellion or go deep with stuff like St. Patrick’s dialogue in “The Wanderings of Oisin”.

Hibernian Transmedia is also involved with bringing Irish and Irish American filmmakers to Chicago with our 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, running at the Siskel Film Center September 30th through October 2nd.

I’ve said before how visiting Ireland is a “preview of heaven” and you all have an opportunity to see Ireland as never before when Fís na Fuiseoige or The Lark’s View, makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sunday October 2nd at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The film was shot extensively with drones across all four provinces and seasons in Ireland, and it marries the otherworldly Irish landscape with some of her greatest living poets speaking Irish.

And I say “her” because as we all know, Ireland is actually Kathleen Ni Houlihan.

Here’s what Film Ireland had to say: Fís na Fuiseoige, the directorial debut by west Kerry man Aodh Ó Coileáin brings to the fore the voluptuousness of the Irish language in both the history it carries, its connection to place and the differing understandings of life that it carries… Using the ever increasing quality of drone technology, Ó Coileáin offers us a slow contemplative picture of the Irish landscape seldom captured so evocatively before. With such stunning aerial cinematography, the timelessness of the Irish landscape is evoked as the camera reflects over places as diverse as the Iveragh Peninsula, the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glendalough amongst others. In each of these various locations, a contributor guides us through the connection of the strong links between the Irish language and place, a connection so strong that in ancient Ireland it even inspired its own literary tradition, ‘dinnseanchas’.

This literary tradition still exists on the fringes of Irish literary life as highlighted by the contributions by the Irish language poets in this documentary, who continue to pursue a knowledge of the land’s relationship with language. In their contributions, the Irish language is associated with a reverence to place itself that pays not only homage to the land but evokes a sense of this land as being timeless, as if its history is ever recurring.

Now what about this dinnseanchas in regards to the Southside Irish? Well there’s a connection there as well. The director, Aodh Ó Coileáin, also known as “Hughie” to some members of his family, spent several months in Mt. Greenwood at his Aunt Mary’s home back in the late eighties. Hugh was even a bartender at Gaelic Park in his salad days. No doubt Hugh experienced the unique sense of being “Southside Irish” and the personalities of our streets.

We were lucky enough to have Hugh’s aunt Mary on The Skinny & Houli Show last month, and we phoned Hugh around midnight in Ireland to talk up his film. Check out the podcast from Saturday August 20, 2016 at http://skinnyhouli.com

Take the opportunity to see Fís na Fuiseoige, or “The Lark’s View” on Sunday October 2nd at the Siskel Film Center. And you can meet Hughie there as well, he’s coming to Chicago with his wife and kids and after a weekend as a guest at the Hilton, they are all headed to Aunt Mary’s in Mt. Greenwood to get reacquainted with the dinnseanchas of the Southside of Chicago.

See this film, you will love it, and take the time to meet Hugh and his Aunt, Mary Corcoran, and their delightful family after the screening. Let’s all go for a pint at The Emerald Loop after the show!

Skinny’s buying!

August 2016 Irish American News Column

Doctor Aidan MacCarthy from A Doctor's Sword

Doctor Aidan MacCarthy

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

“May you live in interesting times…” is an old apocryphal Chinese curse.

Looking around lately, you’d think we all might be on the wrong end of that curse. The world seems to be spinning faster and faster into a terrifying gyre of violence, racism, false prophets, mendacity and infanticide. And that’s just from the Democratic candidate!

But is this the end of western civilization? Or is it just the beginning of the end? The world keeps on turning and the best we can do is to hang on and pray to Almighty God for the best.

Yes, the world can be a very scary place, but it has always been so. Look back to World War II and the “greatest generation” and you wonder how they survived the horrors of that time and the emotional and physical terror of man’s inhumanity to man. What was the source of their obvious fortitude in those “interesting times?”

Faith, of course.

On Saturday night October 1st, The 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley will screen A DOCTOR’S SWORD, the terrific film about an Irish doctor who survived just about every major horror of WWII.

Dr. Aidan MacCarthy was his name and this extraordinary film will leave you emotionally spent and so very proud to be Irish.

Tara Brady of the Irish Times said about the film. “The doctor was Aidan MacCarthy, one of a family of 10 children from Castletownbere, Co Cork. From his youth, MacCarthy proved a capable fellow: a champion swimmer and the recipient of a Muster senior medal for rugby, he graduated from Clongowes, then UCC, before departing for London in search of work.

Having signed up with the Royal Air Force, he survived the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the fall of Singapore and four years in a Japanese POW camp on a diet of maggot and rice soup.

From there he was transported to Nagasaki – he was one of only 38 people out of 780 prisoners to make it after the cargo ship on which they were travelling was torpedoed – where he witnessed the atomic bombing of that city.

His efforts during World War II did not go unrecognised: he received a George Medal for pulling five men from the wreckage of an RAF bomber, an OBE and a Papal Medal. But being part of a more reticent generation, he seldom spoke of his experiences, or about the ancestral Japanese sword that still hangs in the family bar in Castletownbere

A Doctor’s Sword follows his daughter Nicola as she journeys to Japan to discover more about its original owner. It’s a tricky piece of detective work: some 60 years have elapsed since the blade came into her late father’s possession.

Director Gary Lennon makes terrific use of Aidan MacCarthy’s own testimony (recorded for an RTÉ radio documentary that aired just days after his death in 1995), archive footage and Ronan Coyle’s imaginative animation to recount the extraordinary events of the doctor’s life.

Even before the film closes in on Isao Kusuno, the 2nd lieutenant who previously owned the sword, we’re embroiled in a gripping saga, guided by Aidan MacCarthy’s calm, matter-of-fact narration; as capable as ever.”.

A DOCTOR’S SWORD was an emotional experience for me to watch and I am thrilled to be able to present this film to our audience at the Siskel Film Center on Saturday, October 1st at 8PM. The line that clinched it for me is when the BBC interviewer asks Dr. MacCarthy how he survived, “Well, it’s a combination really of my Irish Catholic heritage, my family background, and lots and lots of luck.”

Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2nd,  at The Siskel Film Center, for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet the producer Bob Jackson and other filmmakers premiering their movies that weekend.

The Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley is sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, The Emerald Loop, IAN, Hilton Chicago, Kitty O’Shea’s, and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.

See you at the movies.

July 2016 Irish American News Column

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Hooligansim

by

Mike Houlihan

 

“When I go see a movie, I want to feel like I’m peeking through a keyhole…just gimme the truth as best you can.”

So says first generation Irish American filmmaker and writer Kevin Baggott. The disciple of the late novelist Nelson Algren, is an “enigmatic cat”, much like his dead mentor.Kevin won the “Best Actor” Award at the Winter Film Fest in NYC last February, (for “Why Do You Smell Like the Ocean?”), and he’s premiering his film BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS to kick off the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sept. 30th in Chicago.

Baggott’s unique and funny odyssey, about an Irish American guy taking his mother’s ashes back to Ireland, is a tough adventure for this Brooklyn auteur, who plays the lead as well as directing this totally original story that walks a wobbly line between melancholy and zany. Baggott’s character, Bobby, a Brooklyn tenement super, has enough trouble surviving the wacky New York characters in his life, until he gets to Ireland and encounters Irish men and women of epic personalities and things quickly escalate to a mythical stage.

Starring with Kevin Baggott in “Beneath Disheveled Stars” are Nicole Roderick, Vic Martino, Danny Gilfeather, and Ireland’s own Colin Martin. The film also features a terrific original score by Estelle Bajou that transports the audience to Ireland as well as an Ireland of the mind.

Are they just “having some fun with the yank”, or are their motives more sinister? In the best spirit of indie film, Baggott is also the cinematographer of this haunting and comic road movie.

Baggott’s film is the cornerstone of a trio of Chicago premieres scheduled for the Hooley in the windy city this fall. The other two masterpieces are yet to be chosen, but will eventually join BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS on the marquee at the Gene Siskel Film Center, once again the home of the Annual Irish American Movie Hooley.

Kevin’s dad is from Galway and his mom from Cavan. He grew up in the Bronx, where his mother “used to beat me with the Irish Echo when I wouldn’t go to school.”

A street kid who could have easily wound up like Rocky Sullivan in the Cagney classic ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, Kevin yearned for NYU Film School, but “those bastards wouldn’t let me in.”

He wound up at CCNY, put together his first film on 16 millimeter in Coney Island, The Village Voice raved, festivals clammered, and Baggott’s revenge was sweet. “So they had me going down to NYU every year…to show their students the film.”

Shot in  West Cork in the village of Kilcrohane, Baggott recruited his crew of three for BENEATH DISHEVELD STARS: his wife and a kid from a local farm they hired to work sound, and himself.Without a script he made it up as he went along, meeting the people of the town and recruiting them as characters in the film. They turned out to be terrific actors and briliant improvisers. Kevin told me, “Oscar Wilde says the Irish talk their books away.”

“Everybody we asked, ‘we’re doing this movie, we don’t have any money, we can’t pay you anything, would you like to be in it?” The response that came back was, “Sure I can do that!”

He shot for a month with “a camera the size of a box of cracker jacks” and then returned to NYC to film the beginning of the movie with his friends. It worked, it’s brilliant, and captures the Irish from a unique and funny perspective; that of a guy with “Ireland in his DNA” who’d been away too long.

BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS premiered at the Cork Film Festival in 2014 and the entire village of Kilcrohane turned up to see it, and loved it. “It’s nice hearing a lot of laughter.”

He’ll be hearing it again when the film makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 30th at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Kevin gets diffident when asked what he hopes the audience will get out of BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS, and after a few hems and haws tells me, “I don’t know.” he said. “I hope they will all move back to Ireland!”

Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2nd for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet Kevin Baggott and other filmmakers premiering their movies-and of course, you’ll likely feel like moving back to Ireland yourself!

The Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley is sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, The Emerald Loop, IAN, Hilton Chicago, Kitty O’Shea’s, and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.

June 2016 Column from The Irish American News

Charlotte Houlihan

Charlotte Houlihan

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I’ll admit it. I’m a naturally nosey person.

Even as a kid I loved rummaging through my mom’s purse to see what was in there. Nor was I averse to copping a finnski out of her purse while she was asleep. That type of perfidy came back to haunt me one drunken night in college when I was caught rifling purses in the cloak room of a pub. I was promptly taken out in the back alley and pummeled.

In the words of my late mother, “The bitter lesson is best taught.”

So I’ve abstained from searching ladies’ wallets since then. Until last weekend.

I was hanging out with my favorite granddaughter Charlotte Houlihan and we had planned an afternoon of fun at the aptly named “Monkey Island” in Melrose Park. That turned out to be a nightmare for me and nirvana for Charlotte as she ran wild with hundreds of other kids screaming and squealing as they climbed all over the slides, bouncy houses, and assorted obstacles.

Like any sophisticated six-year-old, Charlotte had brought her purse with her in the car when I picked her up that day. The next day as I glanced in the back seat I noticed she had left it behind.

I eyeballed this little pocket purse with zipper and Dooney and Bourke logos all over it and my old instincts kicked in. Of course there wouldn’t be any money or makeup in it so what in the world would a six-year-old girl keep in her purse?

I took it upstairs, opened it up, and spread the contents on my kitchen table.

Inside were a half-eaten pack of Watermelon flavored gum, two sticks left.

Some chicklets as well, three pieces.

A tiny little doll figurine about an inch high.

One piece of a tiny pair of black and white dice, made by Bicycle, the playing card company.

A little purple treasure chest, from a doll house, empty.

A miniature plastic cupcake, also obviously from a doll house.

A dried flower, purple, probably a lilac.

Two quarters, two nickels, and a dime.

That doesn’t sound like much, but the purse was so small with all these things jammed into it, which gave the diminutive purse the appearance of bounty.

It seemed to me to be the perfect metaphor for Charlotte.

Yes, she is small and very young but packed with character. She is after all, a first grader who is going to be seven in August as she constantly reminds me.

The next day we went through the contents of her purse together, and yes she had a story for each item. Finally, she pulled a small rubber band bracelet from the purse that I had overlooked and asked me, “Did you see my key to heaven?”

The bracelet was one she had made herself from her supply of tiny colored rubber bands interwoven to create a braid and attached was a small liturgical looking key.

The key to heaven, she called it.key to heaven

Now I know Charlotte is familiar with the concept of heaven because we talk about it often. It’s where my mother and father are, along with my brothers, and many other relatives who have died. It’s also where Jesus lives and she knows that too.

I took a photo of Charlotte’s key to heaven on her wrist and told her I was going to write about her purse and all the wonderful items she keeps in it.

She seemed flattered, “Are you going to say, ‘my granddaughter Charlotte’s purse?’”

I am, and I’m also going to say that I think MY key to heaven is my little darling Charlotte.

May 2016 Column from The Irish American News

Capone's grave

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I’ve been trying to limit my candor on Facebook ever since inadvertently insulting a friend’s mother.

But of course Facebook friends are not real friends. They are mostly for our own self-amusement whilst goofing off on the internet.

And the Internet can be a scary place. That’s why I never “accept” the friendship of those anonymous hot chicks who keep hitting on me. I know I’m gorgeous gals, but I ain’t that stupid.

However, the other day I got a friend request that taught me a valuable lesson.

I was amusing myself on Facebook, throwing bombs at Hillary and linking to weird news stories from wacky tabloids, when I get a friend request. Who’s this? Stephen Mullen, name doesn’t ring a bell, so I check out his page, he’s a young guy from Ireland. Well that’s good enough for me.

Mr. Mullen proceeds to tell me he is visiting Chicago from Tuam and his dad suggested he try to contact some old friends. “Would the names PJ O’Dea or The Notre Dame Inn mean anything to you?”

Would they? PJ O’Dea, “the man from Clare”, is a true GAA legend who played with 2 clubs in 11 cities and in four countries. He won his first county medal in 1939 and represented Clare in minor, junior, and senior hurling and also played senior football with Clare and with the Munster teams in 1951 and ’52. He won an All-Ireland hurling medal and then emigrated to the US where he played hurling and football in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and was the proprietor of the Notre Dame Inn here in Chicago for years. He’s been my friend for over 30 years and is the narrator of the Irish epic film, OUR IRISH COUSINS.

Long story short, I put Mr. Stephen Mullen in touch with Mary and PJ O’Dea and the next day I’m picking him up at the Metra station to bring him to meet the O’Dea’s on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

As I sat in the O’Dea’s living room and watched this young man tell the story of his father Frank from Knocknagur, and his fond memories of Mary and PJ, a Celtic connection was made. PJ had clippings for Stephen to bring back to Frank along with his best wishes. Later that day I took Stephen out to Queen of Heaven cemetery so he could visit the graves of his aunts Nell and Bridie and before dropping him back at his hotel I insisted we visit one more grave in Mt. Carmel cemetery.

On the way back he said, “My dad will be gobsmacked…it was a day of meeting extraordinary people like Mick Houlihan, PJ O’Dea and his wife Mary, the grave sites of my grand aunts, and to top it all off…along with all those great and fantastic people, the last place we visited was the grave of Al Capone!”

I figured if the kid was gonna see Chicagoland, might as well show him the sights.

Stephen’s father Frank sent me a note the other day.

When Stephen was going to Chicago for a few days over the Easter he asked me if there were any of my old friends that he might look up. I told him as it was almost 44 years since I was in Chicago, that many of the people I knew then would be quite elderly and some may even have passed on to their eternal reward.

       I mentioned a few names one of whom was PJ O’Dea and the Notre Dame Inn. PJ was so kind to me when I was in Chicago in 1972 and 73 as a college student on a J1 Visa.

        I hadn’t heard from PJ or had any contact with him since I left Chicago 43 years ago. Just imagine my amazement when Stephen, informed me that, thanks to you, he had located PJ, who was hale and hearty, and was able to visit with him and his good wife Mary.  Stephen video recorded PJ and I was absolutely thrilled to hear him recall some of the events in Chicago when I was there 44 years ago. I was amazed at how vividly he recalled some of the incidents that happened in the Notre Dame Inn and on the football field almost a lifetime ago.

       Mary, his wife, was the first person I met when I arrived in Chicago in ’72. It was such a coincidence as Mary is originally from my parish Kilconly in Co. Galway.

        I had such a brilliant time in Chicago, playing football with St Mels… and all the wonderful people I met – Mike Moran, Batty Boyle, Pat McGrath, Mike Scanlon, Mike O’Connor are a few that readily come to mind. I often think about them and wonder what became of them all?

       One of my outstanding memories was celebrating in the Notre Dame Inn, with PJ O’Dea -a Clare man, and all those crazy Limerick men, after Limerick winning the McCarthy Cup in ’73. Boy did they love their hurling!

       Please pass on my best wishes to PJ O’Dea and his lovely wife Mary. Though I never had any contact with them since I left Chicago in ’73 I never forgot their kindness to me all those years ago.

So there’s the lesson, a simple act of kindness goes a long, long way in making real friends. An Irish welcome can last forever.

April 2016 Column from The Irish American News

A cultural warrior leaving Texas.

A cultural warrior leaving Texas.

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I had one beer on St. Patrick’s Day.

Unusual I know.

But I’d been guzzling gallons before it and by Paddy’s day itself I was hobbling around like a cripple with a cane. I was wounded. Why wouldn’t I be? In Chicago St. Patrick’s Day starts the day after Christmas for cripes sake! It’s nuts.

It started for me on Saturday March 5th as I boarded a plane for Austin, Texas where The Lone Star Shamrocks would be screening my film OUR IRISH COUSINS on Monday night. The Lone Star Shamrocks were the brainchild of my old pal Dennis Kearns, who had started the organization many years ago when he moved to Austin and began hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party for all the rednecks with Irish blood.

We’ve been pals since first grade and I was looking forward to meeting the Lone Star Shamrocks and knew there would be shenanigans involved but got thrown a curve as soon as my lovely wife dropped me at O’Hare.

I grabbed my bags and turned to find a red cap and my knee blew out. Ouch!

I’d been having some mild muscle pain for the last week after an ill advised return to power walking but this was the zammo! I staggered at the departure area as my wife drove away and I realized I could barely walk. Feck it, I’m still going.

I requested a wheel chair when I checked in and then wondered why I had never done this before. The guy pushing me through the airport was great, and I was brought to the front of every line and zipped through TSA without removing my shoes or trousers.

I duked him a double sawbuck, gimped the ramp to the plane, plopped into my upgraded first class seat and started drinking. Sure it was painful to walk but Conor McGregor was fighting that night and he was my inspiration for the weekend.

Dennis picked me up at the airport and whisked me back to his palatial hacienda, which included a very private apartment upstairs for my visit so he and his wife Jane could hide from me later. Luckily he’d had knee problems of his own in the past and lent me a snappy cane and knee brace to wear.  Managing the stairs was rough but I learned to navigate them once I learned where they kept the 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey!

While they were at mass I tripped over a large cardboard box in the foyer on my way back from the bar. I looked inside and discovered it was the 5,000 flyers promoting the screening I had shipped to Dennis a month earlier to get the word out about the Texas premiere of my film. It looked like there were only about 4, 850 left in the box!

“More feckin’ whiskey!”, I screamed as their dog Blanca looked at me in puzzlement.

The next two days were a blur of self-medicating through the pain. We went bar-hopping on Sunday as I hobbled up Congress Street on the cane and wound up in CBoys Heart and Soul dive bar serenaded by a three foot tall chanteuse in a cowboy hat backed by a handful of bearded pluckers singing about “Texas in my heart”. Of course it was “Terri and The Tagalongs”.

We played “chickenshit bingo” all afternoon, which is a game of chance involving a live chicken placed in a 3×3 foot cage with numbers on its floor. If the chicken dumps on your number, you win! I was havin’ a good ol’ time!

Until I found out about Conor McGregor tapping out the night before.

Still he handled defeat with class and I was going to do the same. I returned to to the hacienda after a long day of boozing and Tex Mex food and after I dropped the big one, I slept til the next day. I’m sure Los Alamos has nothing on Dennis and Jane’s upstairs bathroom after my visit.

On Monday night The Lone Star Shamrocks were sorta MIA for the film premiere. Probably not a great idea for me to come to Austin the week before SXSW to premiere a film. But it was my Paddy’s day kickoff and among the audience was Ann Soule and Austin’s own version of The Flood Brothers, Matt and Mike Flood, both Chicago Expatriates, who now live and work in Austin. We had some laughs and started plotting the rebirth of The Lone Star Shamrocks for my next cultural expedition.

If you’re reading this in Austin, get in touch at [email protected],  and we will make sure you’re invited for our next cultural event.

I can walk with both legs again and look forward to stepping back in the arena a wiser man, and just like Conor McGregor, this cultural warrior shall return. I had too much fun not to go back!

Irish American News column March 2016

Lattner leads the parade

photo by Dean Battaglia

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

He flirted with Marilyn Monroe.

Graced the cover of Time Magazine.

And went to early morning mass every day.

John Joseph Lattner. Sure you know him as 1953 Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Lattner. But of course he was much more than that.

One of the great pleasures of my life was interviewing Johnny for my St. Patrick’s Day Diary in the Sun-Times back in 2003. He’s also featured in my film, “Our Irish Cousins”, leading the parade with the banner of St. Patrick. He’d been leading Chicago’s Irish since 1965.

Johnny died February 13th, a few months after his 83rd birthday.

Like everybody who ever met Johnny, I never forgot him. And unbelievably, he never forgot me. He welcomed everybody into his world, like an old friend who knew you when.

Back when I lived in St. Luke parish, I would kneel just a couple pews behind Johnny at 6:30AM mass. He always reached back to put the kneeler down on the pew behind him, to give his legs room to stretch. I looked forward to shaking his hand for the “sign of peace” and hearing him say “Hiya Mike.”

He always seemed glad to see me.

Terry Hanson posted news of Johnny’s death early that morning.

I rummaged around and discovered the old audio tape from our interview. Started listening to it and knew I had struck gold.

My sons Bill and Paddy had both tended bar and waited on Johnny for years at Kevil’s in Forest Park. They told me, “He was terrific, a great tipper.”

John would know about that, having owned a saloon himself.

Paddy and I went to his wake at Fenwick, lucky to be late because thousands had streamed through before us to pay respects. We ran into Charlie and Linda Carey in the crowd and exchanged Lattner stories. Everybody has one.

Got to the funeral at St. Vincent’s and it was packed, not a seat in the church, except for the one Mark Vanecko saved for me. It was a magnificent send-off to a favorite son of Chicago put on by the Friars, Johnny’s eight kids, and 26 grandchildren.

And then last night I listened to the tape. Suddenly it was just me and Lattner, just shooting the bull as he unspooled the stories of his life, each one better than the other.

“I was born in Oak Park hospital…my dad wasn’t workin’…we lost the apartment in Forest Park and had to move to Chicago…St. Thomas Aquinas parish, in an apartment at Madison and Lavergne…my brother Bill had a restaurant in Forest Park, called ‘Two Bills’, it’s O’Sullivan’s now…met my wife Peg, she went to Trinity, a buddy of mine was dating her girlfriend…I said to him on my 16th birthday, I said, listen I’d like to get a date with that Peggy McAllister…we didn’t get married til ’58…Two T’s in Lattner, it’s Renttal spelled backwards…it’s German…they think I’m Irish! My mother was Irish, so I’m half Irish…my dad was a machinist and he moved here after World War One, got married to my mother…they had a little corner grocery store …right across from Garfield Park…and he used to repair slot machines…in those days the Marlboro Theater at Madison and Karlov used to telecast the Notre Dame games…all the West Side would go to the games, people used to say it was like goin’ to the Notre Dame game, it was great…my dad died in freshman year…”

Listening to his voice on the tape, just a kid from the West Side who’d never left really. He spoke with pride of all his kids. Still hanging out with his old pals at Healy’s, Doc Ryan’s, Kevils, loved the “Has-Been” luncheons at Hawthorne, and the Como Inn, listening to Ziggy Czarobski sing at the bar.

What’s your message for St. Patrick’s Day?

“Have a good time, it’s legitimately the only time a good Irishman can get a load on without feelin’ guilty.”

As I was leaving, I asked for his autograph, sign it to my sons Bill and Paddy. He wrote, “To a great set of twins, good luck!”

I wisecracked, that’s what I told Jayne Mansfield.

His face lit up. “I should tell ya the story about when I met Marilyn Monroe.

I was a sophomore; we were playing the University of Southern Cal out there.

We went over to RKO Studio after practice, Friday, and we met Marilyn, she was filming this picture called ‘Clash by Night’, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, they were all in it… for two hours we talked to her like I’m talking to you Mike, back and forth bs, she says I’ll drive you back, there were six of us, but before that she says do you want my autograph? We all would love it Marilyn. What should I say on it? uh to John, thanks for that wonderful night we had together, love and kisses, with her phone number, … She was a nice lady, just a nice lady.”

Not as nice as you John Lattner. God rest your lovely soul.

February 2016 Irish American News column

nun surprised-1

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Frank O’Hooligan learned the “value of enemies” in a most enlightening way, when he was a fifth grader at Little Flower many years ago.

Many of you are familiar with the heroic exploits of Ferocious Frank O’Hooligan, son of Finbar Hooligan from Kilrush, County Clare. The stories of Ferocious Frank have been passed down in Southside Irish families for generations.

But a recent encounter reminded me of the lesson Frank learned in his 79th Street neighborhood oh so long ago.

Young Frankie was a tough tyke but had yet to come into his Druid powers at this age. His father Finbar feared that bestowing the magic on his son too early would foster exploitation of enchantment. Finbar instead chose to enlighten his son with the wisdom of generations of O’Hooligan giants.

Back in the old neighborhood, the O’Hooligans were generally respected but like the Montagues and Capulets, or the Hatfields and McCoys’, there had always been bad blood between the O’Hooligans and the Ztupalino family. Back in fifth grade Frankie’s mortal enemy was Zeke Ztupalino, a wiry little Italian lad who Frankie could pulverize physically but Zeke was very resourceful in pushing Frankie’s buttons.

Zeke would constantly make loud fart noises in class whenever Sister Mary Philomena had her back turned and Frankie would get blamed and dealt a crack, much to Zeke’s delight.

The O’Hooligan family was known in the parish as a cop family while most of the Ztupallino family had embraced a life of crime. Zeke’s father was the custodian for the school and moonlighted as the Alderman’s driver. His mother Sophie was very religious and did the laundry for all the nuns in the convent.

Zeke also had an older sister, Zelda, who had “blossomed early” in high school and hung out behind the bowling alley with sleazy greasers smoking cigs and igniting impure thoughts in Frankie’ O’Hooligan’s brain.

The Ztupalinos not withstanding, in fifth grade at Little Flower, Frankie O’Hooligan’s real nemesis was that nun, Sister Mary Philomena.

Her breath smelled like Auschwitz and she was a begrudger’s begrudger, seizing every opportunity to belittle and badger young Frankie O’Hooligan as he entered the cusp of puberty. His homework would be personally examined every morning by this skinny harridan as she grasped his ear with her bony fingers and befouled the air with her putrid gasps of pedagoguery.

The nasty nun was also regularly busting the chops of young Zeke Ztupalino as she made disparaging remarks about his family of “garlic chompers”. Frankie often complained to his dad about the nun and Finbar wasn’t too crazy about her either as she regularly called the house to complain about the kids. Somehow in passing young Frank had told his da how Sister Philomena also regularly tormented Zeke Ztupalino.

As Finbar imbibed from a fresh pint in the kitchen he dropped this pearl of wisdom on his son Frank’s ears, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

With those words in the back of his head, Frankie remarked to Zeke the next day, “Don’tcha just hate that witch Philomena? What would you like to do to her?”

Without missing a beat Zeke confessed to Frankie, “I’d like to put a tarantula in her underwear!”

Frankie said, “I don’t know where to get a tarantula…but my old man has this powder from the farm inIreland that made our dog spend almost the whole day trying to bite off his red thing. We finally had to hose him off behind the house.”

Zeke’s eyes widened. A plot was hatched, the powder delivered, and applied to the pair of panties with Sister Philomena’s name sewn into them in the nuns’ clean laundry basket in Ztupalino’s basement.

The lads became the most attentive students in the class on Monday as they watched the nun and waited.

Sister had been playing volleyball with the girls at recess when she returned to the classroom looking flushed. Frankie and Zeke studied her face while the kids read aloud from their geography books.

Philomena slowly began to squirm in her seat and a small drop of sweat appeared just below her wimple and danced its way down her skeletal face. A faint smile crossed her lips which leisurely gave way to befuddlement and finally a look of complete horror as she rose from her chair and started doing a quick time jig. Before you knew it Philomena was on her feet shimmying in front of her desk as the kids burst out laughing. She started moaning and then shrieking and then raced out of the room, running down the hall screaming.

They never saw her again. A substitute teacher arrived the following day and finished the school year and the kids loved her.

Frankie overheard his mother talking to his da in the kitchen. “Didja hear about that poor nun Sister Philomena over at the school? They’re sayin’ she couldn’t handle the children and had a nervous breakdown!”

Finbar remarked, “Ah sure that wan was wrapped too tight altogether anyway, right Frankie?”

Frankie winked at his da, “Sure she woulda made a great dancer!”

Wisdom had been passed on, the value of enemies.

January 2016 Irish American News Column

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Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I’ve nominated myself for the Irish American Hall of Fame several times over the last five or six years, but they never call me.

Bob McNamara put me on the nominating committee years ago and I figured that’s the only way I’d get invited is to keep throwing my name in the ring. The Awards dinner is mucho expensive so I’ve never been to that.

But today I’ve decided I no longer want anything to do with this dog show.

I got my nomination form via email yesterday and I was looking over the candidates and could easily understand why I never got the nod, what with Spencer Tracy, Nolan Ryan, and many other illustrious luminaries in contention. Frank McCourt and Father Andrew Greely were also on the ballot and I made a mental note of avoiding those two dead fakers.

I scanned the rest of the names and was suddenly brought short and shocked by the name “Margaret Sanger”, listed under “public service”. WTF?

That’s got to be a joke I thought as I checked for her bio. Sure enough there were instructions that read, Candidate bios can be viewed by clicking the link under the category name on the ballet form.” (sic)

I clicked the link under the ballot thinking maybe this Margaret Sanger was a ballerina, not the she-devil who founded Planned Parenthood.

But nope, there she was with lots of platitudes in her bio about “women’s rights” but nothing about her role as probably the most malicious and immoral woman in civilized history.

You won’t find it in her “Irish American Hall of Fame” bio but Margaret Sanger was the patron saint of eugenics and a fierce advocate for the murder of babies. Back in the twenties, the lovely Margaret famously said, “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”

Isn’t that nice? Sure, let’s put her in the Hall of Fame.

Referring to immigrants, blacks, and poor people, Margaret called them, “human weeds,’ ‘reckless breeders,’ ‘spawning… human beings who never should have been born.”

Sanger shaped the eugenics movement in America and beyond in the 1930s and 1940s. Her views and those of her peers in the movement contributed to compulsory sterilization laws in 30 U.S. states that resulted in more than 60,000 sterilizations of vulnerable people, including people she considered “feeble-minded,” “idiots” and “morons.”

You can do your own research on this malevolent witch but I’m thinking the real “morons” are the folks at the Irish American Hall of Fame who nominated Margaret Sanger.

Here’s one more little bon mot, just for all our Irish American Catholics who might consider honoring Margaret Sanger at their annual Hall of Fame dinner. Sanger said, “THE MOST serious evil of our times is that of encouraging the bringing into the world of large families. The most immoral practice of the day is breeding too many children.”

It seems to me that somebody at the Irish American Hall of Fame has an “agenda” they’d like to advance through this organization. Honoring Irish Americans who have made great contributions to our society is laudable, but honoring those who have worked to destroy our traditional Catholic values seems specious at best.

It’s particularly alarming with the recent release of a series of undercover videos capturing Planned Parenthood officials gleefully discussing the wholesale merchandising of baby body parts recovered from their busy abortion mills.

Maybe they’ll be serving those for dessert at the Hall of Fame dinner. Your $200 per plate dinner offers you cocktails of baby’s blood on the rocks with baby brains h’ordeuvres, served on golden trays delivered to your table by effeminate Irish waiters wearing green ass-less chaps. Won’t that be a fitting tribute to Hall of Famer Margaret Sanger?

Evidently Ms. Sanger won’t even be sending in a videotaped acceptance speech for the dinner because she’s going to be very busy that weekend in hell.

I understand that next year’s Hall of Fame could be nominating Richard Speck, (or as his Irish ancestors knew him, Richard O’Speck), for his contribution to helping nurses back in the sixties.

Happy New Year everybody!

December 2015 column from The Irish American News

Willie Quinn, Houli, Abigail, Dennis Kearns, and Mary Quinn in Inishcuttle, Kilmeena, County Mayo, IRE

Willie Quinn, Houli, Abigail, Dennis Kearns, and Mary Quinn in Inishcuttle, Kilmeena, County Mayo, IRE

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

The spirit speaks louder in Ireland.

Every trip to Eire reminds me that the spirits are leading me back. Like embracing a woman who tells you, yes, you are loved and cared for and all will be well. Kathleen ni’ Houlihan is her name and we’ve been carrying on this mad affair for the last 67 years but it’s just started to get passionate in the last half dozen.

I reported for this year’s “Druid’s Call” at O’Hare on October 1st. My brother on this journey was my old pal Dennis A. Kearns, both of us wisecracking our way through life since first grade when Sister Therese Marie went batshit on him as he stood at the blackboard and pissed his pants, green corduroys if memory serves me right. I’d witnessed Dennis’s aplomb and subversive humor during this horrifying experience and we’ve been pals ever since, meeting at least annually to compare notes on the comic absurdity of getting older.

We’ve danced with the spirits of this island before and we did it again this October.

We were in search of the usual: the Celtic connection that can strike like a thunderbolt or ease onto you like a favorite blanket.

We prepared for our séance with plenty of drinking, on the plane, on the train from Dublin to Galway and then in Headford in the home of our Irish cousins, Mike Monaghan and his wife Cindy. Mike and Cindy and their son Kevin, and Mike’s brother Joe entertained us as we adjusted to being “home.”

We went on a piss-up through the pubs of Headford and traded crummy jokes all along the way. Theirs were better. “Didja hear about the midget who got married? The lads had to put him up to it!”

On Sunday Padraic Walsh drove us to the Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara. Walking through the woods by the castle at dusk, we met an Irish lady, Mary Rooney, who had been visiting the Castle with her husband every October for the last 26 years. She was beguiling. As we parted ways with her we suddenly heard the sound of a tin whistle in the midst of this forest. I’d been talking to Dennis about my late brother Danny, who had died just a couple years back as we came upon the guy playing the whistle. His tune was crystal clear and the melody wafted through the gentle wind over the salmon stream. He was mythological in his look and we complimented him on the music.

“Oh, I’m just practicing. “

Well keep it up, you sound great!

We walked down towards the stream in search of the Salmon of Wisdom and Puck started playing again. I know that song! I know that melody! What is it? Danny Boy!

I turned to Denny, “Do you hear what he’s playing?”

The thunderbolt!

I felt the spirit and my heart leapt. My brother Danny was suddenly there with us in Ireland. Just saying hello.

The next morning my old friend Michael Quinlan picked us up at the castle for a trip to Mayo. We were on a mission to discover whatever we could about James Ambrose Kearns, Denny’s grandfather who had left Ireland for Chicago and would later become Alderman of one of the Southside wards. In Chicago he was known as “Weeping Jim Kearns” because he made a habit of attending every wake in his ward.

All we had to go on was his birth certificate from 1871. Weeping Jim had emigrated to Chicago when he was about 9 years old, with his mother Catherine Quinn and his father James Kearns Sr. The birth certificate gave Kilmeena, Inishscuttle, County Mayo as his birthplace.

We knew Kilmeena was just outside Westport so we just started driving around looking for it and finally found a little road that we followed and discovered the tiny town. We found the church, St. Brendan’s, where Weeping Jim had been baptized and sent Dennis in to say a prayer for his grandfather.

School was just getting out next-door and mothers were arriving to pick up their kids. We chatted with a few ladies who asked what we were up to and we told them the story of Weeping Jim Kearns.

“And what was his mother’s name?”

Catherine Quinn.

“Sure Willie Quinn is just above there in his car, picking up his grand daughter.”

The lightening bolt again!

Denny and I walked over to Willie’s car and knocked on the window. Willie had just undergone surgery and chemo for tongue cancer and I thought he had the thickest brogue I’d ever heard until he explained his trouble speaking. His granddaughter Abigail arrived, the sweetest child with red hair and freckles about nine years old. Willie turned out to be one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met. He explained that “Inishscuttle” is the island where he was born and said he would take us there. He got in his car and said, “Follow me!”

And so we did, and Willie took us into his home and we met his wife Mary and he broke out the whiskey for a toast with his long lost cousin Dennis Kearns from Austin, Texas by way of Chicago.

As Willie passed the bottle around he said, “God bless the givers and the willing takers!”

We all felt the spirit of Weeping Jim Kearns right there in Willie’s home and now it was Dennis’ turn to weep as his emotions took over and he proclaimed his everlasting gratitude for his ancestors and their Catholic faith.

The spirit speaks louder in Ireland.