October Column from Irish American News

Still waiting for IAN to post some old columns. Here they are for your enjoyment. Hope to see you all at O’Donovan’s on Wed. night, see below for details. Merry Christmas!

Mike Houlihan

A good story never really ends. Maybe you’ve heard a few from me before, but like the story of our lives, it continues to unravel in directions we never imagined.

Back in the early eighties I was living in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. I’d only been married a few years and my twins were still in diapers. I was a young actor-producer then, continually on the hustle. I lived in subsidized housing and around the corner from my apartment was a row of Off-Off Broadway theatres where I wheeled and dealed my bag of tricks. I was romantically broke in those days, “a dweller on the threshold.”

Across the street was the Blarney Rock pub, just fifty yards west of Holy Cross Catholic church. My search for spirituality ping-ponged between those two institutions; mass in the morning and halcyon nights and earlier mornings at the Blarney Rock.

My shaman at the bar was Mike Monaghan, a lad from the old country who’d just gotten married himself. Mike the bartender was from Galway and his wife Cindy waited tables at the Rock.

Blarney Rock was a beacon of bonhomie late at night after trodding the boards of 42nd Street. It was cheap, close to home, and they served food as well as booze. They had steam tables and the guy with the paper hat would carve up sandwiches or whatever you wanted: mostly meat ‘n potatoes dishes.

And then there was the lad from Galway, skinny then with big ol’ glasses. “How are ye Mike?” he’d say through a wise guy grin as he put my glass on the bar.

The joint was usually empty by midnight and I’d find myself sitting in the corner of the bar as it stretched out fifty feet to the door, with a window onto 42nd Street. Mike and I would watch the transvestite hookers out the window as they assaulted drunk frat boys from Jersey. Magic Johnson with boobs and high heels smacking the mopes, as they would leap from the car, “She took my wallet!”

Mike Monaghan would stand at the door and shout, “HE took your wallet, ya amadon!”

Mike drank Hennessy then, a gentlemen’s drink that could kick your ass. Just like Mike. Many a night I would sit at that bar and listen to Mike tell me stories of Ireland. The Quiet Man was our favorite movie. I’d tell Mike of my show business schemes, and he’d offer advice. We even pooled some dough to put on a show with a couple of phony brothers from Limerick. They turned out to be scoundrels though, “the Irish are a treacherous race.”

When the Hennessy was cooking, Monaghan would put his foot against the beer cooler behind the bar and lean back against the bottle rack with a very serious look about him. His brogue would lilt, “Didja ever hear the story of Children of Lir, Osin of Tir na Nog, Cuchillin, Finn Mac Cool, and the Salmon of Wisdom? These stories are well tested thru the centuries.”

I’d have him fill my glass and then relax while Mike Monaghan painted the pictures of Irish mythology. We’d sit there til two am, sometimes three, and finally Mike would take my glass and say, “All right now get the fook out of here!”

And I’d go home. I finally did get the fook out of New York in ’85. Twenty-six years ago.

Then in November of 2006 I got an email from my old pal Mike Monaghan. “I’m still alive, just about. I’m back in Ireland since ’86. Still married to Cindy. Make contact if you want me to expand further.”

My old pal Mike Monaghan. Well I wrote back immediately and within a half hour of back and forth blarney we were on the phone talking. It was later at night for Mike, so he was pretty talkative.

We caught up on our families, both proud to be married to the same women. These days, that’s a feat. When Mary was pregnant with our twins in New York she wore her grandmother’s big old camel hair coat. It was warm and roomy and sat in our closet til Cindy was preggers with her own twins and we handed it off to her. I told Mike I would have to come to Galway and get that coat back.

Mike wrote me, “When you come to Ireland, we will take care of everything. You can stay with us in Headford, a little village 16 miles north of Galway. Cindy will not be here, she will be in the Sahara on a camel coat-knitting course. We’ll have great Craic, when you come over to Galway.”

And we did indeed. Mike told me on the phone, “When you come to Ireland, I’ll be your Barry Fitzgerald.” It was as close to being Sean Thornton as I was ever going to get. It was March of ’09 and both sets of twins were now grown men and we could all drink together!

As we sat in Mike’s living room after a dinner of Irish stew, Mike popped The Quiet Man into his VCR and we quoted the lines as we celebrated the reunion of a couple of “Irish cousins”.

That reunion is one of the highlights of the documentary film I’ve been working on for the last three years, “Our Irish Cousins”. The Monaghans of Headford are featured in the film as well as many of you who came to signings of my book, “Hooliganism” in Chicago and on the road at some of the Irish Festivals of 2008 and 2009.

The film should be finished early next year, but in the meantime you can meet Mike Monaghan and some of the friends we made on our journey when you visit http://ouririshcousins, and watch the trailer.

“Our Irish Cousins” must be a pretty good story, because this isn’t the end of it.

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