Irish American News July 2015 Column

IAMIRELAND

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

The other night I glimpsed a revelation of Irish revolution through music and songs hundreds of years old. Seated in an ancient mansion along the lake I watched an Irishman stand in half-light to tell us the story of our nation.

With three musicians behind him, and a bodhrán in his grasp, he led us through the darkness along the path to freedom that Michael Collins spoke of so long ago.

Everybody in the room was spellbound by this seanachi peeling the onion on our legacy and culture as he took us back to 1798 and the birth of the Gaelic spirit fighting against oppression.

Many of us in the audience had heard the songs before, sure hadn’t we sung them ourselves as our grandparents taught us. But tonight the man in our midst gave us the back story of each of these Irish treasures and they took on a new and more fervent meaning for all us and by the end of the evening all the folks in the room were on their feet singing in full throated response to the fella leading us in “A Nation Once Again”.

We’d been intoxicated already with renditions of “Róisín Dubh”, “Skibbereen”, and “The West’s Awake” and a dozen more.

Rain splattered the roof above us and in the garden just outside the room we sat, lightning and thunder punctuated the tales of patriots, famine, and lovers in anguish over their native land.

I’ve been to Ireland several times but I never felt more Irish than the night Paddy Homan pierced the tempestuous night with his crystal clear tenor and sang the story of Ireland.

 I’d been invited by Paddy to the home of Devon and Yvonne Bruce for a preview of his new show “I Am Ireland”, which will premiere in Chicago at the Beverly Art Center on October 10th for one night only before embarking on a cross country tour to celebrate the Easter Rising Centennial.

See it.

In October you can watch Paddy deliver Robert Emmet’s speech from the dock on the eve of his execution.

Listen to Paddy Homan recreate Padraic Pearse’s oration at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa and you too will be “re-baptized in the Fenian faith.”

Watch this man from Cork as he performs a one-man show that takes us all back in time to hear Michael Collins talk of Thomas Davis and how he “spoke to the soul of a sleeping nation drunk with the water of forgetfullness.”

Feel the hair on the back of your neck curl as Paddy Homan tells the real story and then sings “The Rising of the Moon.”

If you have only one drop of Irish blood, see this show and you will feel that drop of blood replicating throughout your soul and stirring your heart to sing along with Paddy.

Paddy tells us, “In singing these songs, we make the spirit of that person, who in writing the song or story, come alive. So it’s not about the person singing it but the immortal story within this song. And so I think that all those years ago, as people fought, died, and starved; one abiding mode of survival were songs and stories. It was the people’s connection to their past, passed down from generation to generation, or to put it another way it was their mode of Social Media!”

When you see the show onstage you’ll have the advantage of full screen projections of the Irish heroes Paddy portrays, the brilliant Irish musicians and a professional lighting design to capture the dramatic arc of the evening. Although it will be tough to top the special effects of the claps of thunder and lightning provided by the man upstairs that night in Lake Forest.

This show, I AM IRELAND, is one we can all be proud of and claim as Chicago’s gift to the Irish Centennial celebrations in 2016.

For more information on the show and to check for upcoming dates go to http://www.paddyhoman.com/i-am-ireland

 

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Irish American News column for June 2015

james-cagney-224x300-1Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I auditioned for the Clifford Odets play “Awake and Sing” back in the late 1970s when I was a young actor in New York. After I finished reading for the part, the director, Ken Frankel, asked me to sit down. Oh boy, I felt like I had just nailed it. He looked at me strangely and said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

In retrospect of course it was a good question. I was a young Irish kid trying to play a Jewish guy named Ralph Berger. Hey, but I’m an actor, I can do anything, right?

“No,” he said. He went on to explain that it didn’t make a bit of difference how good an actor I was, there was no way I was going to be cast as a young Jewish fella, especially in New York city where there were millions of young Jewish actors. “Are you nuts?”

Of course, I’ve been hearing that question my whole life. But Frankel’s advice was to stick with who I was already, at that place and time. And for me that was a narrowback Irish kid, albeit a shockingly handsome Irish-American lad!

It wasn’t long after that I was cast as Captain Brennan in Sean O’Casey’s classic “The Plough and the Stars.” This was more like it. I did some research and discovered that my grandfather, Denis Cusack, was a member of the Irish Citizen Army back in the day.

Now I was awakened to my own Irish heritage and I went at it with a vengeance. But it was tough to “stick with your own”; there weren’t many films or plays that featured Irish-American stories in those days. It wasn’t like that golden age of Irish American cinema in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s that launched giants like Jimmy Cagney, Pat O’Brien or Spencer Tracy, or directors like John Huston, John Ford, or Preston Sturges.

Now the gangsters were all Italian and audiences relished the anti-hero genius of De Niro, Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

But the Italian-American mafiosos I would never play, and the Jewish American scruffy idealists I should never be allowed to portray, shared their origins with those Irish-American giants in film history.

Children of immigrants all, their stories were forged in the ethnic tenements of New York, Chicago, or Boston. The pinching poverty and bare-knuckled brawling was salted heavily with religion and romance. That stew produced storytellers. I say the best storytellers in this world.

Does talent like that skip generations? No. The ancient myths and romantic tales created by Irish-Americans over just the last two centuries in America are passed on in our DNA. We need to encourage it, and nurture the future of Irish-American cinema. It’s time for a new generation of Irish storytellers to “awake and sing.”

I’ve played tons of Irish-American cops, bartenders and priests in my 40 years since that “Awake and Sing” audition. And I want to keep doing it. But we need to discover the next wave of Irish-American storytellers who can bring their ethnic swagger to the screen.

That’s why we’re now calling for entries for our first annual “Irish American Movie Hooley.” We’re looking to discover the next John Ford or Grace Kelly or maybe you, Eamonn McGillicuddy.

So if you’re an Irish-American indie filmmaker, or you’re related to one, call and tell them to submit to our festival before July 31.

We’ll be screening the best three Irish-American film premieres on Sept. 25-27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. So tell us your story, show ‘em what you got, and join us in Chicago next September.

And if you need an older fat guy to play an Irish American cop or priest in your film, get in touch!

You can learn more about the first annual Irish American Movie Hooley by visiting hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley.

***

Irish American News Column May 2015

John-Doyle-from-Liverpool-who-has-become-a-Youtube-sensation-for-popping-his-eyes-out-2245411

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Many old school South Side Irish remember being told stories of the mythological Ferocious Frank O’Hooligan by their grandparents. Frank had learned his Druid powers from his father Finbar in Kilrush and the not infrequent occasions of their use are what nurtured his legend. Here’s one of my faves.

Frank was just a young cop in those days, probably back in the late sixties, when he was working the Englewood district, not far from his alma mater Mt. Carmel.

He and his partner Ed Szibinski, also a Carmel guy, were working the midnight shift on a Friday night when they got a radio call about a disturbance at the Zanzibar Motel on Stony Island around three AM.

The cops put on the siren and wheeled into the parking lot of the Zanzibar and ran into the motel office to find out what was going on. Behind the counter night manager Sadie Coleman screamed at them, “Thank the Lawd, you’se here! We got a crazy Irish guy pulled a butcher knife on a couple hookers in Room 237!”

The “Irish guy” in question was one Bugeye Brian O’Boyle, who was renting a kitchenette at the Zanzibar in those days while driving a cab at night all over the south side. He earned his nickname because of his bulging eyeballs whenever he got angry, which was quite often according to his family and friends. He’d been given a tip by one of his fares the night before and won six hundred bucks on a horse named “She’s My Coochie” at Washington Park.

Driving back that night he’d thrown on quite a load and picked up the Kazooka sisters on Stony Island for a party in his room at the Zanzibar. They’d had a delightful time together until Brian came out of the john and found his empty cigar box on the floor and the cash gone. The Kazookas were having trouble unlocking the door however and ol’ Bugeye went into a rage as he picked up the butcher knife and backed the gals up against the wall.

Accusations were tossed back and forth and finally Helen Kazooka, the elder sister, grabbed the phone and called Sadie Coleman for some room service, who called the cops.

The standoff in room 237 would soon come to an end when Frank and his partner Ed broke down the door, slapped Bugeye silly as he dropped the knife and shoved the ladies onto the bed and told them all to “shut the feck up!”

Of course the Kazooka sisters wanted Bugeye arrested for attempted murder and O’Boyle wanted the hookers locked up for theft. “Shut up the both of you’se!” Frank admonished them and then picked up the empty cigar box and nodded at his partner Szibinski.

He opened the box and pointed at it as he questioned Bugeye, “Is this where your keep your money, ya’ amadon?”

Bugeye was practically frothing at the mouth as the veins in he necks pulsated, “Yeah, they stole it, search ‘em, you’ll find the dough for sure, six hundred bucks!”

Szibinski wasn’t crazy about the idea of searching the girls and he smirked at Frank. But Frank winked at him and began speaking in Gaelic as he blew into the box and the dust from the old cigars settled on the Kazooka sisters and they were immediately transformed into the finest pair of swine hogs ever to grace the Dupage County Fairgrounds.

They lay on the motel bed grunting and squealing and the money was laid bare by their side. Bugeye was now scared and astounded and he grabbed for the money.

“Not so fast, Bugeyes!”

Frank swept the dough up off the bed as Szibinski’s jaw hit the floor. Frank bounced the cigar box off Bugeye’s head and counted the dough. “There’s six hundred and twenty-six bucks here, you’re gonna pay these nice ladies a couple hundred for the lovely evening and they are going to go home, got it?”

Bugeye shook his head yes in absolute fear. Frank yanked the bedspread off and the pigs turned back into the Kazooka sisters, who had no idea what had just happened. Frank handed them their share and told them, “Goodnight ladies, and don’t let me catch you out on the street anymore tonight or we’ll be pinchin’ ya for sure.”

The gals left and Frank handed Bugeye the rest of the dough, minus fifty bucks, “for Sadie and the trouble you put her through.”

Frank pulled a rosary out of his pocket and told O’Boyle, “Take this and use it and don’t be bringin’ any more oinkers back to the Zanzibar motel and threatening to butcher them. Keep your mouth shut, your nose clean, and go back to church. You just walked on an attempted murder beef.”

Bugeye meekly offered up a hundred, “Can I buy you guys breakfast?”

Szibinski grabbed it and said, “Thanks, we’re going to the Pump Room for breakfast after this one.”

And that is how it happened.

Brian O’Boyle became a priest several years later and went on to become pastor of St. Felicitas on the South Side. He told only a close few the story of his encounter with the Druid powers of Ferocious Frank O’Hooligan but after all these years it can be revealed that the late Ed Szibinski inherited the rosary when Father Bugeye passed in the early nineties.

Amen.

 

Irish American News Column April 2015

Chuy St. RitaHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

After watching the mayoral race for the last six weeks, I wish St. Patrick could jump forward in a time machine and rid us of the reptiles in Chicago politics.

He wasn’t the most articulate dude in the bunch, but I think Dr. Willie Wilson got it right when he called an opponent, “an old snake in a new skin.”

On Tuesday April 7th Chicago will make a decision between the “devil we know” and Jesus Chuy Garcia.

How do you feel after four years of watching a generation of young black men murder each other, as well as innocent kids, just standing on the corner? How do you feel about the school closings and teacher strikes and crooked crime stats? Rigged red light cameras and soaring water bills?

Do you think it’s going to get any better? Are you scared? You should be.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.”

Maybe it’s time to saddle up, like the Saint Patrick’s battalion in the Mexican American War of 1846-48, Los San Patricios. They were mostly Irishmen who had fled the famine in Ireland, came to America and suffered anti-Catholic bigotry in the US Army. They heard the bells of the Angelus calling them to fight for Mexico and they defected. They heard the words of their leader, John Riley, when he told them, “A more hospitable and friendly people than the Mexican there exists not on the face of the earth…especially to an Irishman.”

I met Chuy Garcia on Super Bowl Sunday as he hit fourteen bars in a record-breaking blizzard, campaigning up and down Western Avenue. He proudly wore his St. Rita Mustang hoodie and wherever we went Chicago Irish men and women warmly welcomed him.

I’m a pretty good judge of character. I can spot a phony at fifty yards and my BS detector is a finely tuned instrument of discernment. This guy is an honest and honorable hombre.

Chuy wants what’s best for Chicago, not the ruling class.

Skeptics may scoff but I like to think of the words of the late, great Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

History says, don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracle

And cures and healing wells.

Sure it’s a long shot, but in a fight like this, my money is always gonna be on the guy named Jesus. Please vote for Chuy Garcia on Tuesday April 7th.

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.

 

 

 

Irish American News column February 2015

Tom Fitzgibbon
Hooliganism

by

Mike Houlihan

I thought he was a gangster when I first met him. It was back in the eighties one night at Lino’s on Ontario Street after a long night of drinking. Tom Fitzgibbon sat at the bar with his French cuffs and moustache and bought me a drink. He had a heavy New York accent and I had just moved back to Chicago from New York after twelve years of trodding the boards on Broadway.

We started shooting the biscuit at the bar, talking about Gotham and proud to learn we were both Irish. Tommy Fitz offered me a ride home to Elmwood Park and I took it.

Over the years we’d bump into each other in saloons and political events. I found out he was a union big shot and he always greeted me with a grin and bought me a drink. I’m always on the lookout for philanthropists and Tom’s name went on my list as a potential patron of the arts.

And that’s way it went for the next twenty-five years. Then one afternoon I ran into Tommy at Gene & Geogetti’s and he told me, “I keep getting your notes about your productions, keep sending ‘em.”

I handed him a brochure for my film “Our Irish Cousins”, and said, “Here’s the latest!”

Two days later I got a check in the mail for several hundred bucks. I sent Tom a rough cut DVD of the film and he called me on the phone. “Your movie made me cry.”

He told me of his personal trips to Ireland and his sons asking him on the ferry crossing the Shannon River, “Why are you crying Dad?”

A couple days later I got another check, this one had a lot of zeros on it. We couldn’t have finished the film without his help so you want to keep a guy like that close.

We became good friends. He and his wife Yvonne invited me everywhere and when my new book came out last spring they bought tons of copies and gifted them to all their friends. I learned he’d had great success in his life and terrible tragedy as well. Two of his sons died of cancer in the prime of their young adult lives.

I learned he was a sentimental ol’ Irishman, just like me.

He said to me once, “You’re the only person who calls me ‘Tommy’.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, maybe he didn’t like it, but my brother’s name was Tommy so it just felt natural for me. It was like he was my older Irish gangster brother from New Yawk.

Tommy died on New Year’s Day.

It wasn’t a surprise, but it was. I opened the Sun-Times and there he was in the Irish scratch sheet. His photo ran alongside the obit, a tough guy to the very end, God bless him.

Over the next couple days I learned of Tommy’s benevolence to all kinds of folks in need of a helping hand or encouragement. They told me, “At just the right moment he was there.”

At the wake I ran into John Doerrer. He told me years ago he was in college tending bar at Faddy and Yerkies and Tom used to hang out there. He gave him a real job working for the union and John told me stories of the good old days.

One night after midnight, way after, Tommy dragged John over to Frank O’Neill’s pub on North Avenue, pounding on the door til Frank got out of bed and got them a final drink. John had to sleep on the floor of the bar he was so tired as he listened to Tommy and Frank O’Neill talk into the morning telling tales of Irish patriots.

Father Jack Clare gave a masterful eulogy at Tommy’s funeral. He told of the family gathering round when Jack gave Fitz the last rites. Tom was semi-concious through the prayers but finally when Jack said, “I forgive you of all the sins of your entire life.” he watched Tommy come alive, stretch out his hands behind his head, lean back with a smile and say, “Wow!”

“That’s faith”, said Father Jack, “and what a wonderful gift for a priest to witness.”

Alderman Ed Burke then took the pulpit at Old St. Pat’s. He told a story of a trip he and Tom had taken to London and on a visit to “Poets Corner” in Westminster Abbey they encountered a bust of Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon and this quote,

Life is mostly froth and bubble.

Two things stand likes stone.

Kindness in another’s trouble,

Courage in your own.

Well that was Tommy Fitzgibbon in a nutshell. His obit quoted his favorite Irish aphorism, “In order to have a friend, you have to be a friend.”

My old pal Tommy Finnegan from the Shannon Rovers played the farewell tune on his bagpipes after the mass. Then I mooched a ride from him back to LaSalle Street. “At just the right moment, he was there.”

The irony of a bagpiper named Tommy at Tommy’s funeral, yeah I know, mystical.

The great ones are going fast, gang. They are the stuff of Irish legends among us.

Irish-American Mythology

darby-ogill-and-the-little-people-800-75

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 We had a sleep-over with our 5 year old grand daughter Charlotte over the holidays. I stopped by the Berwyn library to pick out some films I thought she might enjoy. Keeping her busy was my main goal, although I’d heard so much about “Frozen”, I’ll admit to being a bit curious.

As luck would have it, they had it!

I grabbed a handful of other kid flicks just in case. While browsing the stacks I came across an old favorite, ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People”.

“Frozen” turned out to be great, but it was Darby O’Gill that I watched a half dozen times that weekend. Charlotte was too “Frozen” obsessed to appreciate the rich history of Irish mythology in “Darby” I was hoping to teach her.

Walt Disney released “Darby O’Gill” in 1959. It’s a folksy tale of how crafty old codger Darby and his daughter Katie outsmart all the leprechauns in Ireland. The film featured a young Sean Connery as Michael McBride, Katies’s future hubby.

What makes the film so fun is the delightful performance of the late Irish comedian Jimmy O’Dea as Brian Connors, the King of the Leprechauns. O’Dea is perfect as the conniving mischievous king with a thirsty weakness for poitin. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Jimmy O’Dea is somehow an Irish cousin of our own Man from Clare, PJ O’Dea!

You gotta hand it to the great Walt Disney. No way would they make a film like that today.

But what if they did?

Ireland has a rich history of mythology with stories that have stood the test of time. What about some of our own Irish-American mythology? What about a film based on probably the most mythological South Side Irish hero ever known? The Legendary Ferocious Frank O’Hooligan.

Born in Kilrush, County Clare in 1939, Ferocious Frank O’Hooligan, was the seventh son of Finbar and Mary O’Hooligan. The family emigrated to Chicago in 1946 where Finbar opened a tavern on 79th Street, not far from Sheehy’s Funeral Home and Riley’s Trick Shop.

Young Frank was enrolled at Little Flower where he would become the youngest altar boy in their history when he learned all the Latin for the mass in first grade. By second grade he knew all the priest’s Latin as well, and did not endear himself to many of the priests when he would ocassionally correct their pronunciation after mass.

Of course things were different in those days. A priest wouldn’t think twice about cracking the little wiseass across the kisser for his insolence. But Ferocious Frankie would have none of it and many’s the morning the sacristan would arrive to find one of the priests knocked out cold as Frankie polished off the remaining wine in the cruets and beat it out of the sacristy, “Hiya Mrs. Hickey, gotta run, late for class, I think Father fell down and hit his head!”

By the time Frankie entered Mt. Carmel as a freshman he was 6’6”, weighted 200 lbs, and the hair on his knuckles was like wire.

In sophomore year, he won a bet one day during Lent when he wolfed down thirty-six tuna sandwiches in one lunch period at Carmel. And these were the kind with the pickles in the tuna salad.

In the city championship game against Tilden at Soldier Field, O’Hooligan threw six touchdown passes, and caught three of them himself! Yes, he was mighty!

After declining a football scholarship to Notre Dame he married his childhood sweetheart, Mary, the most beautiful girl on 79th Street, the daughter of the proprietor of Riley’s Trick Shop. Yes he married Riley’s Daughter.

Frank and Mary had 11 kids in the old neighborhood. On his first day on the job for the Chicago Police Department he foiled a bank robbery in the Loop. Frank was cashing out his account on Christmas eve when two masked men pulled out shotguns and announced themselves and the hold-up.

O’Hooligan overpowered them both with a mystical wrestling hold he had learned in Kilrush from his father Finbar and instantly turned the two assailants into donkeys. Incredulous reporters asked him later how he did it, and Frankie told them he, “Just gave them the ol’ ass-hat!”

Probably his greatest feat was at Plumber’s Hall in 1968 at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade fundraiser. A faulty sound system had triggered an unusual outbreak of incoherence among all those attending, almost like the Tower of Babel. The demonic possession had everyone in the hall speaking in alien tongues.

Frank ran into the kitchen where they were cooking the corned beef and poured a fifth of Paddy’s Whiskey into the boilers.

When the food was served it had a calming effect on the crowd and suddenly all could once again communicate and the babbling was reduced to a comfy murmur of intellectual repartee. The incident became known as “Frank O’Hooligan and the Corned Beef of Wisdom.”

But who am I kidding? Hollywood would never go for Southside Irish mythology. Except for maybe the final scene of the film at Frank’s wake.

His body was sent back to Dublin for burial and the Jewish undertaker, a cousin of Briscoe, was overhead telling his assistant, “I couldn’t close the casket with the size of his shillelagh!”

Pillowgate!

skinny surrenders the pillowHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

Having just recovered from our second annual Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland tour, I bring sad news from Northern Ireland.

Sectarian violence once again broke out last week in the Irish border city of Derry, when Skinny Sheahan left a “dirty bomb” in the toilet of the Tower Hotel.

The incident was triggered when a Buddhist named Ronan McNamara was leading our group along the walls of Derry. Skinny sidled up to me and said, “Ask him where the nearest bathroom is, it’s an emergency! And don’t bring attention to me!”

I raised my hand and asked the question, which was met by laughter from the group. And even more laughter when Skinny broke from the crowd with a butt-clenched trot in the direction Ronan had indicated.

I could write a book about the puny man’s many peccadilloes while in Ireland but probably the most offensive breach in our cultural relationship with Eire came to be known as “Pillow-gate”.

Regrettably I wasn’t aware of Skinny’s malfeasance until it was too late. We were staying in a charming little hotel in Stranorlar in County Donegal one night whilst traveling across the island. The Kees Hotel hosted a sumptuous dinner for our entire group.

Our driver and tour guide, the inimitable Philip Duffy, took me aside. We’d been invited to bring our entire group next-door for a music session with our Irish fiddler Katie Grennan. “You’ll have the whole bar to yourselves and Katie can put on a private show in the back room.”

Sounds great I said, but Duffy then cautioned. “How will you explain to the hotel manager that you are taking the whole crowd to the pub next door?”

It was indeed a breach of etiquette since the Kees Hotel has a cozy bar of their own we could spend our money in, but they had music booked of their own. I told Philip I would simply make an announcement after dinner informing the group that we would just be popping next door to The Snug for our private concert and then return to the warmth of The Kees at 9:30. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Before I could make any announcement the hotel manager, an imposing fella named Liam McElhinney, appeared at my table inquiring, “Which one of youse is Houli?”

That would be me.

“What the hell are you trying to pull? Your partner tells me you’re taking all 30 of your group to the pub next door, and me just serving you all this great dinner!”

I turned to see the giggling face of Skinny laughing as he watched me once again being ground under the wheels of the bus he had thrown me under. I managed to mollify Mr. McElhinney by telling him we would be back by 9:30, plenty of time to spend oodles of dough in his establishment.

Suddenly our driver, Philip Duffy, summons me and says, “I need to speak to you in private! ‘Tis very important!”

He then steers me over to Skinny’s table where he is having a grand old time, toasting the ladies at his table and basking in their adoration. Duffy beckons Skinny with his finger, “I need to speak to you both privately!. Skinny saunters over with a big stupid grin on his face and Duffy grimly looks at Skinny and says, “Did you steal a pillow from the Europa Hotel in Belfast?”

Looking squeamish, Skinny points at me, “He did it!”

Duffy says, “We know it was you. The guarda have driven down from Belfast and are waiting outside to speak to you, come on now the both of youse and we will speak to them, You’re in a heap of trouble. That pillow cost over 350 Euro!”

He then hustles us both out the door of the hotel and out to the street where the guarda are waiting. On the way, Skinny starts double-talking.

How the hell could it cost 350 Euro?

“It was embroidered.”

My sister gets headaches, she needed the pillow, and I took it for her!

I was starting to enjoy watching Skinny squirm.

We came out of the hotel and our bus was parked in front, but no sign of the guarda.

We looked at Duffy, where’s the cops?

He laughed at us and led us into the pub next door. “Come on, I’m going to buy you two amadons a drink!

That’s the funny thing about Ireland, everybody likes to get in on the joke. The whole pillow-gate incident was Philip Duffy having us on. Well Skinny did steal the pillow, that much was true. The three of us then concocted the story some more, kept it going, and I was sent back into the hotel to inform Skinny’s sister Mary that she was now implicated in the crime and would have to give up her credit card number to pay for the pillow. The story spread among our group like wildfire and the next thing we knew, Skinny had become Public Enemy Number One in Belfast.

Freddy the Lithuanian, one of the more colorful members of our tour group, took Skinny aside and told hm, “Take it from me Skinny, I come from a criminal background: deny, deny, deny!”

Katie was transcendent playing her fiddle and we all headed back to the Kee’s Hotel for our nightcaps. As I walked into the lobby, Liam McElhinney, ran out from behind the counter in a faux rage, “What the hell time do ya call this Houli? You told me 9:30 and it’s now 10:30!”

He spent the rest of the night and into the next day busting my balls. Gotta love Ireland, everybody gets in on the act!

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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 2014 Hooliganism Column from The Irish American News

quietman

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

I’ll be in heaven next month. Just for a preview.

It’s the annual Skinny & Houli pilgrimage to the holy ground, Ireland! Somebody said, “Ireland is where the hand of God touches earth.” And I will give witness to that.

Last year on the Skinny & Houli trip as I sat in front of a pub, reveling in the fun being had by all, retired CFD Chief Mike Miller, stood outside the pub with me and said, “Well, you were right!”

He then quoted my column from August 2013, where I put the reader at the Pearly Gates and God offered reasons for the trip when He finally said, “Because life is short, kid.”

Mike Miller told me that clinched it for him. Guess what? Mike is back again this year for The Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland Tour. So is Brendan O’Brien, Dori Dillion, Denny Kearns, George & Barb Scully, and Froggie McGuire. And this time Froggie is bringing his girl friend Mary Ellen Duffy!

Those veterans of our shenanigans will be joined by more adventurous souls this year as we go north to Belfast, Derry, Donegal, and back to Dublin to hang out once again at the Fitzpatrick Castle. Yeah, everybody wants to go to heaven.

Can you blame them?

Now I know there will be naysayers shouting, “What do you know about heaven, Houli? What you need is a preview of hell!”

Well sorry to disappoint you negative thinkers but I’ve seen hell already and I don’t care to return.

It was many years ago. I was a young college bum in the company of fellow thespian, Rubenesque Rebecca Gould, who was babysitting her little brother Sheldon in her parent’s Lake Point Tower condo. Becky was blessed with a bountiful bosom that beckoned to me from across the room.

We commenced making out on the couch, and just as I was rounding first base, she burst into tears!

That wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for and then I heard the flash of a Polaroid camera behind me and I looked up to discover little Shelly snickering as he held up a photo of me with my hand up his sister’s blouse.

“Ten bucks, shmuck, and you can take the photo with you!”

I wanted to strangle the lil devil but had images of his dad, Dr. Gould, having me arrested. So I paid up and bid Rebecca adieu. As I waited for the elevator in the hallway I heard her inside crying and arguing with Shelly and finally screaming at the top of her gigantic lungs, “You owe me five bucks!”

So yes I have had a glimpse of hell and her name was Becky Gould.

So remember, September is the final window to sign up for the Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland Tour in October, so if you wanna party with the big dogs, while the lovely Katie Grennan serenades us on her Irish fiddle all over the auld sod, call Cathy Featherstone at 847-542-1539 to book your passage. And remember, “Life is short kid.” so call Today!

I understand that not everybody can make it this year but you can come close to the experience by joining me for one or another of the following great events this month.

On Wednesday Sept. 10th we’ll be celebrating the 5th Anniversary of The Skinny & Houli Show at Lizzie McNeill’s Irish Pub. Join us and meet Irish Consul General Aidan Cronin, our special guest that night on the show, starting at 6PM. Gifts are not required but certainly encouraged!

Wed. Sept 17th hope to see you all at The Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame dinner at Hawthorne Racecourse when Minnie Minoso will be honored along with about twenty sports legends including our old pal from Mayo, boxing coach Marty McGarry, who will be picking up a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. More info at chicagolandsportshalloffame.com

And don’t forget Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day on Friday night Sept 19 at Plumber’s Hall, 1340 West Washington, Chicago. chicagostpatsparade.com for more info.

This is a fundraiser for the Chicago parade and the second annual celebration put together by Local 130 Business Manager Jim Coyne. Forty bucks at the door includes food, beer, wine and soda with live music from “Hey Jimmy” and The Shannon Rovers. I will be there with my friend John Linehan selling our books, so hope to see you there. Last year was a blast!

Finally on Friday Sept 26 & Sunday Sept. 28, please join me in welcoming filmmakers Dave and Colin Farrell to The Gene Siskel Film Centre for the Chicago premiere of their dazzling documentary “A Terrible Beauty” based on the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland. This terrific film should be seen by every Irish-American seeking enlightenment. Hope to see you there!

So this month offers us a variety of heavens. And if that doesn’t float your boat, try finding Becky Gould in the phone book, just for the hell of it!

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