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!

Irish American News column March 2015

Judge Houli at St. Jarlath'sHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

Billy Lawless, I owe ya.

That’s not exactly what I said to myself when they called me to ask if I would be a judge for the St. Jarlath’s “Dancing for Our Stars” contest out at Gaelic Park last month.

The gal on the phone told me Billy Lawless suggested me as a judge. Billy has been very kind to me over the years so I said, “Sure I will. Is Billy doing it too?”

“Billy had a prior commitment.” Yeah sure he did, so he threw me into the mix instead. Thanks Billy.

I’ve glanced at the TV show “Dancing With the Stars” while channel surfing and it makes my thumb itch watching supposed, “stars” like Rob Kardashian and Kelly Osbourne attempting to tango. Sure I like cheese on my pizza but not piped into my living room.

So I gritted my teeth and thought of ways to try and get out of it. The lovely Mary told me, “You can’t. You made a commitment! And what about Billy Lawless?”

Yes it was so nice of him to “volunteer” me.

I did some research and discovered the St. Jarlath’s Youth GAA is a Gaelic football and hurling club for boys and girls ages 5-18.  They have been in existence since 1977.  Every year they travel to a different city with approximately 10-15 teams to compete in a National Tournament against teams around the U.S. and Canada.  Most of the money raised helps offset the costs of traveling to this tournament, and equipment purchased, jerseys, pizza parties, a Christmas party and other fun events for the kids.

Good for them, but still the idea of a Mario Lopez marathon made me wary.

But that night at Gaelic Park I’m shooting the breeze with my fellow judges and another judge walks in with a drink in each hand. Things are looking up. How do I get one of those?

Downstairs in the dancers waiting room with the sandwiches.

Booze and sandwiches, all of a sudden I’m starting to feel like Arthur Murray.

Are the dancers nervous?

Guy laughs and says, “How could they be nervous with two bottles of whiskey in front of ‘em.”

Fast forward to me sitting on the dais and somebody is bringing me unlimited pints while I look out on a crowd of hundreds of Irish folks laughing, cheering, and ready to have a great time. Okay I just might be in heaven.

We had 8 couples competing. Most had never met until put together for the contest. They practiced two nights a week for 3 months!  Winners are chosen by 60% of the judges score and 40% of the audience votes.  The audience votes can be done on-line or the night of the contest and each vote costs a buck.

So the judges don’t really have the final say because votes can be bought. I like this; I think it’s called Chicagoland!

Speaking of which, during a break I headed into the head and one wise guy sez to me, “Uh oh, one them judges! Hey I got a hundred dollar bill in my pocket, will it help my friend?”

Give it to me and let’s find out.

The beauty of the night was the sheer moxie of the contestants who got out on that dance floor and entertained us with their panache as they worked out the choreography to the music. The program book had bios on each of the couples dancing and at least two guys claimed to have studied at the Polekatz School of Dancing. Polekatz is also coincidentally the name of the topless strip club nearby.

Halfway through the evening I’m enjoying the fun with the audience as the dancers are putting it all out there for charity and I get a text from Skinny in Florida on my phone. “Vote for Maureen Lawless”.

Sure enough the couple dancing at that moment was a gal named Maureen, or so I thought. I gave them a “10” and then got the elbow from judge Siobhainn O’Connor next to me. “Have another Guinness dopey, that’s not Maureen Lawless.”

Ooops. Well they deserved a ten anyway. As a matter of fact I think all the dancers deserved tens and that’s the way I voted for the rest of the night. Hey, “tens for everybody!”

Looking back on the evening it was just one huge blur of laughs and pure entertainment. I can’t even remember who won, but I know that the crowd had an absolute blast that night, myself included.

On my way home, I stopped at White Castle on 147th Street for a late supper. As I gazed out the window chuckling to myself about the evening I almost spit my slider across the table when I noticed the sign lit up outside While Castle, “Don’t Forget to Make Reservations for Valentine’s Day!”

What a night, thanks to you Maureen Gill and all the folks who put the St. Jarlath’s Dancing For Our Stars event together.

Billy Lawless, I guess I do owe ya.

 

 

 

October 2014 Column from the Irish American News

 Hooliganism

by

Mike Houihan

 

Deep in slumber I thought I heard the voice of Henry McGlade, the guy who does the entertainment report on Sean Ginnelly’s Good Morning Ireland show, reporting on the shock and awe of people in Ireland when they discovered that the new Rose of Tralee had come out as a lesbian.

I gotta be dreaming, I thought to myself.

Then I heard McGlade’s excited voice break into his best rendition of Bill Zwecker when he reported the following.

The Hollywood Reporter brings us this exclusive! International film star and Academy Award winner Daniel Day Lewis has signed a multi-million dollar contract to play the coveted role of Irish diplomat Aidan Cronin in the film adaptation of the NY Times best-selling non-fiction paperback book for the last 52 weeks, “The Ambassador”.

“The Ambassador” has been a runaway hit since its debut, written by investigative reporter Izzy Cusack. It’s a potboiler about espionage and terrorist activity in Chicago in the summer of 2013. The terrorist plot was thwarted by the intrepid deeds of Irish Consul General Cronin and the book lifts the veil on the shadowy world of international intrigue that bubbled over in the Irish community of Chicago that summer.

Hollywood hopes to turn “The Ambassador” into an Irish James Bond style blockbuster next year. The story has enough twists and turns to excite audiences globally.

As most of us know by now, the terrorists had been plotting to poison a shipment of Guinness to Chicago that summer. Tracking down the suspects and making sure “the black stuff” was potable for drinking involved a labyrinthine society of Irish and irish-American Chicagoans.

Key to the investigation was the role played by an undercover agent of Interpol, a man from Clare, who posed as a mild-mannered retired all Ireland football and hurling champion named P.J. O’Dea.

PJ would call the office of the Consul General on a regular basis and speak with embassy administrator Pat Neary, with what seemed like Chicago political minutia and gossip, but was actually a highly clandestine code to set up an elaborate wire tap system designed to snuff out one of the prime suspects, an Irish accordion player named Joe Cullen.

The investigation ultimately cleared Cullen but the book went to great lengths cracking the code of PJ and Pat Neary’s conversations, including the cryptic remark O’Dea shouted into the phone as he concluded each coded conversation, hanging up the phone, “Let me speak to Marie!”

It was later discovered that the poisoning plot was triggered by rumors, panic and paranoia triggered by a pious pledge of a boycott of Guinness by an Irish-American radio personality named “Houli”, who was angered by Guinness pulling sponsorship of the Boston and New York St. Patrick’s Day parades and he labeled them “anti-Catholic”. Houli held to the boycott for six months but later acquiesced when Cardinal Dolan accepted the Grand Marshall post in the NYC parade and radio host Sean Ginnelly offered to buy him a pint one night just weeks before Houli was heading to Ireland, conveniently enough.

MGM also announced additional casting of the film, including Brendan Gleeson in the role of publican and immigration champion Billy Lawless, Finoula Flanagan as Pat Neary, Jim Carrey as Joe Cullen, Michael Fassbender as Vice-Consul Nick Michael, Olivia Wilde as Maedhbh Cronin, and the late Irish character actor Cyril Cusack as radio personality Skinny Sheahan.

Wait, what? And that’s when I woke up!

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September 2013 Irish American News Column

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Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Cartographers in ancient times, having no knowledge or research into the frontiers on the other side of the ocean, would label those sections of their maps as “terra incognita”, i.e., unknown territory.

Debate raged about what was out there in the “terra incognita”? Monsters?  There might be dragons out there on the South Seas.

There’s been lots of talk of prejudice lately, an irrational dislike of those who aren’t exactly like us. Many in our community fear these groups, scoff at them, assuming those tribes have not evolved to the sophistication of the rest of us.

Here in Chicago, those fears can escalate to outright bigotry, as it did last July in an ugly exchange at The Irish American Heritage Center Irish Fest.

I was working a table selling my books and DVDs, like any other honest merchant of his trade. Chicago author John Linehan split the table with me and we drank beer and worked the room as fest goers cruised through. Linehan is from the south side, went to Leo and St. Justin Martyr grammar school. He’s written a great book “City Life: Coming of Age in Chicago”.   I highly recommend this very funny roman a’ clef of Linehan’s days as an Andy Frain usher all over Chicago in the seventies.

John and I huckstered at the people as they strolled by our table, hoping to lure them in and talk them into buying our books.  An aging bimbo picked up my book, “Hooliganism”, looked it over while John and I tossed out sweet nothings to her. She finally said, “Oh, it’s about Southside Irish!”

She spit out the words “Southside” with particular disdain, as if something fuzzy was in her mouth.  Her hands curdled around the book, a wicked twitch as she dropped it back on our table.  She sneered as she walked away “Euuwwuh South-side”.

John and I turned to each other aghast. Had this woman actually just dissed the South Side Irish? We were stunned by her blatant bigotry.

If only Al Sharpton were there to record this woman’s bile and help us make some money out of it.

Linehan and I were of course deeply wounded by this venom directed our way as native Southsiders.

In the interest of transparency I will disclose that I was born in Evanston, baptized at St. Margaret Mary parish, just a couple blocks from my folks two flat on Estes Avenue. So I have North Side Irish blood.

I’m not ashamed to admit it, proud to have those drops of blood in my character. I still have friends in my old parish, like Anne Marie Grogan, who my brothers tormented by hiding the baby, me, behind the shower curtain in the tub when she was babysitting.

But we moved to the south side when I was two years old, emigrated to Christ the King parish. And for the next twenty odd years I matriculated as a Southsider and earned my street cred as a member of the Mt. Carmel Caravan. So it ain’t like I’m a Cub fan or anything.

So yes, I am deeply hurt when some old Milwaukee Avenue skank dares to besmirch the reputation of the great South Side. Sadly, this is the not my first encounter with this ugly prejudice.

But being Southside Irish has served me well in life and enabled me to tell many people in high places to “feck off!”

I’m happy to confirm to those flat-earthers, that of course there are “dragons” there and I’ve drank with many of them. And while we have our geniuses, surgeons, inventors, and even playwrights, we also have our monsters and thank God for them. It wouldn’t be the south side without ‘em.

So let me offer this olive branch to the rest of our community. We on the South Side love you. We are all part of a big family and when we come together to work or play, all of Chicago’s Irish together can work wonders. That’s what’s out there for those who dare to sail into the terra incognita.

So be like Ponce de Leon, Magellan, and Bob Hope! Explore and you just might find the Fountain of Youth

The great gathering of all Chicago Irish was evident a few years ago when the Irish community of Chicago came together to help Natasha McShane, the young Irish girl who was brutally attacked by a villain with a baseball bat as she and her friend walked home. The trial is starting soon for Natasha’s attacker and let’s pray that JUSTICE BE DONE.

That justice might include, not prison, but releasing the criminal who did this to the entire Chicagoland Irish community. Then the world could watch us work together in harmony.

The West Side Irish could get some of their best city workers together to introduce the bat wielder to the marvels of a Streets and San steamroller.

The Northside Irish could have some of their gorgeous women castrate the hombre on a Saturday night in front of Vaughn’s.

And we Southsiders would love the opportunity to bring this devil to Gaelic Park where we could all remove his head and kick it about like an aul’ football.

I know the entire Irish community would be as one as we greet him in unison, “Welcome to Terra Incognita Amigo!”

You can take the kid out of the Southside, but you’ll never take the Southside out of the kid.

Irish American News Column August 2013

Kathleen Keane w:pintHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Wanna know what heaven is like? Then come to Ireland with Skinny Sheahan and me this October.

Those of you who’ve been there know what I’m talking about. And those of you who’ve never been, well prepare to find the key to your soul.

Many of us are lucky enough to have ancestors who started in Ireland. This tiny island nation is where all our charm, beauty, poetry, and laughter began.

If you could meet your great great grandmother in the flesh, what would you say to her? Don’t worry about it because she would be doing most of the talking. Would you pass up the opportunity for her to take you in her arms and kiss you on both cheeks and then feed you and offer you a glass of something delightful?

I know you wouldn’t. So what are you waiting for? You could be dead soon and find yourself at the pearly gates and God will ask you, “Why didn’t you go to Ireland so you could touch the place from where your family started? Why did you keep putting it off? You could have gone with Skinny and Houli and a group of friends and had the time of your life, but no, you wanted to sit on your arse and watch the Bears stink up another season. You could have stayed in some of the Emerald Isle’s nicest hotels and traveled to Dublin, Galway, Ennis, Killarney in the Kingdom of Kerry, and back to Dublin again. But no, you wanted to stay in Chicago that week and watch your dog hump the futon in front of the TV. What is wrong with you?”

Then you’ll be sorry you didn’t go. And God will be very disappointed in you. He’ll tell you, “You must be daft! You had the opportunity to meet the ghosts of your ancestors, and Skinny and Houli’s pals Black Dave Cahill, Mike Monaghan, Jimmy Deenihan, the Irish Minister of Culture, and Niall “Botty” O’Callaghan, the former Mayor of Killarney, and tons of other wonderful Irish characters, and you didn’t go?”

What are you gonna tell Our Lord then? He might even add, “And the deal was great! $2499 included airfare, hotel, meals, everything…except booze!”

“Frankie Moran went to Ireland with the Skinny & Houli Show, that’s like having Irish comedian Pat Roche with you for the whole trip! And so did Dean Vallas, Mary Ann Wilson, Mike Miller, Brendan O’Brien, Mary Ann Moran, Skip Carey, Denny Kearns, and Froggie McGuire!”

You’ll start to sweat then when God says, “I’m not sure if heaven is the right place for you! You had the opportunity to experience a mystical, almost supernatural event and you passed because you wanted to wait and go “some day”. The nation of Ireland needed your help, 2013 was the Gathering and you opted not to go that year because that was the week of the wedding of your second cousin’s horrible daughter? Are you absolutely cracked?”

By then you will be on your knees and begging God to “Send me back and I will go to Ireland with Skinny and Houli for sure Lord! I know I was foolish, I know now I should have gone, please Lord, send me back so I can go the old country with the rest of the gang before I actually die!”

And the Lord might say, “I can do that, I can send you back to the beginning of August. But you have to call Cathy Featherstone at 847-542-1539 or email her at [email protected] and you have to get your deposit to her immediately!”

Yes Lord I will, send me back, please. I want to go to Ireland.

“Why, why do you want to go to Ireland with Skinny and Houli?”

Because I know it will be fun, romantic, memorable, and I will be laughing so hard and crying tears of joy to travel into the mystic that I will never forget it.

And then the Lord will tell you, “And because life is short kid, don’t forget that!”

Sure hope you can make it before you die. Ireland with Skinny & Houli, Oct. 17-24th. See you in heaven!

N.B.-As we went to press it was announced that international Irish singing sensation/fiddle player/flute player/and Irish dancer Kathleen Keane, (pictured above), will be joining the Skinny & Houli Ireland Tour as our musical guest! Kathleen will serenade us all as we explore the auld country! Don’t miss this preview of Heaven on earth!

April Column from Irish American News

Hooliganism
By Mike Houlihan

I actually thought I was going to die, on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day.

It was like getting called back into the huddle, you’ve broken a couple ribs, your left ankle is shot, two teeth gone, and you don’t think you’ll ever father another child, but the coach turns to you and says, “Get in there kid, we need ‘ya!”

So there I was on Columbus Drive, a balmy 70 degrees and I’m marching with the Emerald Society. Might as well go out in glory I figured because this St. Patrick’s Day season was a killer.

The high holy days traditionally begin in late January at Plumber’s Hall corned beef & cabbage fundraiser. As always, it was a gas.

By the time you hit the Queen Contest in late February you’ll have Guinness coming out your ears. Still, on you roll.

The next two weeks were a series of beer-fueled skirmishes over the return of the Southside St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which looked like a lock until Alderman Weenerpants tried unsuccessfully to stop it.

More corned beef and cabbage heaped on my plate at the Mulliganeers annual fundraiser and a flat tire in the parking lot did not deter me.

Mustering all my grit we headed to Springfield that Friday to entertain the Sons and Daughters of Erin at their annual banquet. Did my act and sold four books. But they made a nice fat donation to my movie, (ouririshcousins.com) and put me and the missus up for the night at a cozy Inn around the corner from the Lincoln Museum.

The next day the lovely Mary and I immerse ourselves in history at the museum, which has special significance for me. When I told my dad I wanted to be an actor 40 years ago he screamed, “John Wilkes Booth was a #%&*’ actor!”

On our way back that Saturday night we hit Bourbon Street for the St. Baldrick’s Parade Preview. We ran into the Queen and her court. The gals tell me they’re not allowed to wear their sashes the next day at the Southside Parade; some sort of protocol mix-up.

I offered to let Queen Sara borrow my own St. Patrick’s Day Parade Queen sash and she looked at me strangely and nixed the idea. My sash was specially made for a bimbo I hired to hustle my book after the last South Side Parade. I took the sash back at the end of the night because Miss Ditz hadn’t sold enough books and it cost me almost a hundred bucks.

Sunday morning I’m on the south side by 8:30AM. Jimmy Smith gives me a lift in his golf cart over to St. Cajetan’s for the parade mass. I walk into the vestibule and there’s my niece Bridget hawking her book about the history of the parade. Later I spy Bridget crawling under her table to hide as the priest reads the gospel about Jesus throwing the moneylenders out of the temple

Filled with grace I hopped a Western Ave bus down to 102nd Street to march on a glorious day that restored the tradition of this great parade. As we marched past Ken’s on 105th Street the wholesomeness of the event started to overwhelm me and I spot Jackie Casto in front of his saloon. I entered the shady gin mill for a better view of the parade out Ken’s window.

Some beers later that afternoon I chomped more corned beef in the backyard of my pal Frankie Moran’s daughter Julie. Battle fatigue was setting in and by the time I trudged over to Cornelius Mass’ house, my butt was dragging. I was starting to feel old when I realized that the actual St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t going to happen for another six days!

Wednesday night I was hired to perform my shtick for the Blue Island Public Library. Two minutes into my bit an old guy in the front row starts heckling me. I quieted him with a look that said, “There is no audience participation in my show pal, so shut the feck up!” Sold six books!

Friday morning I’m having breakfast with the Flood Brothers at the Union League Club, where I was blackballed years ago.

The Taoiseach himself, Enda Kenny, is sitting next to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Shaking his hand I told him I was a friend of Mike Monaghan’s in Headford, County Galway. Suddenly the Taoiseach lit up and said, “Mike is an old friend of mine, please tell him I will be out to see him soon!” I glanced over to the Rahminator thinking, “This is what Irish clout looks like, little man.”

That night I partied at Lizzie McNeill’s with my sons Bill & Paddy to celebrate their birthday, leaving Goldie’s in Forest Park around midnight. Nothing more fun than drinking with the Houlihan brothers.

Popped a couple aspirin Saturday morning and hopped the El downtown for the parade. I met Skinny on the Balbo bridge and then followed him through the crowd. Every three feet a fan would stop him with kudos on the Southside Parade. ‘Twas like playing Pebble Beach with Bob Hope.

In the shade of trees in the park we assembled with the Emerald Society and our fellow marchers: the History Detective Rick Barrett, Neil Maas in his Garda uniform, Potter Palmer IV and his lady friend Erica Meyer.

As the parade stepped off I realized I wasn’t going to croak. Potts took us all back to the Palmer House, (where his great grandmother invented the brownie), and as we toasted Chicago’s Irish I said, “Next year we’ll do it all in one week!”

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