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.

Irish American News Nov. 2015

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

“It’s déjà vu all over again.

The O’Brien family is resurrecting Reilly’s Daughter Irish Pub in Oak Lawn at 111th and Pulaski, where they operated for 27 very successful years.Boz O’Brien tells me, “The day we signed the agreement was the day Yogi Berra died.”

Déjà vu indeed.

Long considered the most popular watering hole in Chicagoland for anybody coming of age in the final three decades of the last century, Reilly’s Daughter spawned a satellite pub in Midway airport in 2002. The family will continue to run that location as well as engaging the next generation of revelers with food and booze, as well as a celebration of their fabled traditions, charity events, live entertainment, and neighborhood advocacy for families all over the south side and Chicagoland.

Boz was 24 when he got his first liquor license. He has sold a lot of beer since then, rivers of it. Reilly’s once did 500 cases of Miller Lite a week. Terry Hayes, of Hayes Beer Distributors, tells me, “They were a great bar for us, always created a lot of excitement. They were our largest account by volume, our largest on-premise retailer in the 80’s and 90’s.”

Tip O’Neill stopped into Reilly’s on his travels through Chicago back in the day. Mayor Rich Daley was practically a regular and so was almost the entire ’85 Bears Super Bowl team. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz did his TV show live from Reilly’s. Many of Chicago’s biggest labor leaders were once bouncers and bartenders at Reilly’s. A young Hawaiian fella named Barack Obama took a leak in the men’s room.

There are a zillion stories of raucous nights in this saloon that sits on the border of Chicago along Pulaski. Boz boasts, “We’ve got 400 parking spots and there’s a cemetery across the street and they never complained about the noise once.”

Boz’s son Brendan was born into this maelstrom. Brendan’s baptismal party was at Reilly’s and he’s been hanging around ever since.

One St. Patrick’s Day when Brendan was three, he somehow got lost in the crowd. The place was bumper to bumper and somebody lifts Brendan up over the mosh pit in the beer garden and shouts out “Pass him to Boz!”

Boz tells me, “He crowd surfed all the way to the bar and he had this big smile on his face as if it was the time of his life. So he’s always had a natural affinity for the business.”

Does he ever.

Boz says, “We had Christmas with Santa every year and Brendan would always force me to go up in the helicopter with him and Santa, but I was scared stiff of flying. You do stuff for your kid you wouldn’t do for yourself. So he was always here.”

When Brendan was 16 and finally got his driver’s license, he’d be working clean-up and was often pressed into service to drive guys home from the bar. “I loved it until I kept hearing the same story over and over again.”

Boz sez, “I always thought he was the only ten year old with 40 year old friends.”

“When I first came back last week and it was the first day we had the keys and … I just kept shaking my head, just can’t believe this, I was walking behind the bar like I did so many times and we were talking sports and politics and I felt like I was 30 years old again. And then I turned and glanced in the mirror… and I knew I wasn’t 30 years old anymore, not with that guy staring back at me.”

Maybe not, but the Irish Diaspora’s culture is preserved through tradition.

Brendan says, “So that’s it Houls, carrying the torch, father to son, growing up here my whole life, learning the business and being around him all the time working side by side.”

Talk with this father and son and you find yourself sharing their mutual pride of each other. The good vibe is contagious. These are professional publicans, good company, both of them.

Brendan is now 32 and has been running Midway’s Reilly’s Daughter. They’ve experienced a 47% growth spurt in revenue over the last five years according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Brendan is more experienced than Boz was when he started back in ’76.

They promise to bring back all the old traditions like the live turkey on Thanksgiving, the Irish Coffee and Soda Bread contests and hope to have Johnny Lattner’s Heisman Trophy on display for the Grand Opening.

Hundreds of folks have stopped by to reminisce while work goes on getting the joint ready for opening. So many, in fact, that they’ve had to lock the door. Boz laughs, “Everybody has been so gracious and excited to have us back. One guy called us,

‘Is this gonna be the original Reilly’s?’

Yes it is.

‘Who is this?’

Well I’m Boz O’Brien.

‘Wow, I thought you were dead!”

He is far from it and Brendan has learned from the master. “There’s a reason we were filled for 27 years, what he did and the things I’ve learned from him, keeping that going takes work. It’s the family atmosphere, it’s generational. The people he had as regulars, I want their kids, the descendants of the people who hung out here.”

Boz philosophizes with the words of Coach Lou Holtz advising a dying young man years ago, “The only time I’m afraid is when I’m unprepared. If you’re squared away with God and squared away with your family, you have nothing to be afraid of.”

The wisdom of Boz, “He couldn’t have said it any better if he were Thomas Aquinas.”

These wise men are aiming for the middle of November to open and Reilly’s will definitely be rockin’ by Thanksgiving.

Thomas Wolfe, you’re wrong. You can go home again.

Irish American News column September 2015

iamh_logo_72x66_pixelsHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to throw a party.

Case in point-Back in the eighties I was living in New York, City visiting Chicago, and dropped by my late brother Danny’s law office. He introduced me to the office manager Monica Dwyer Fox. (She was already a fox before she married one.)

Monica looks at me incredulously and says to Dan, “This is your brother?”

Dan starts giving me the stink eye, “Yeah?”

Monica laughs and says, “I didn’t know you were related, this is the first guy I ever saw naked!”

Former seminarian Dan turned fifty shades of red and stared daggers at me.

Seems my folks were away one night back in the sixties and word around the neighborhood was that “Houli is having a party”. Monica and her girlfriends come in the front door and yours truly is streaking around the party buck-naked and no it was not my birthday. The nude hello was a little stunt, (literally,) which I used to pull in my teenage years to break the ice and loosen up the crowd sometimes at parties.

Now remember this was fifty years ago and shenanigans like that were considered just harmless hooliganism then. Today of course I’d be arrested and sent to jail much like that Duggar kid was for coppin’ a feel from his sleeping sister.

My birthday suit now is very wrinkled and quite a bit larger to accommodate the several watermelons and barrels of beer I’ve consumed over the last fifty years, so it’s probably not the best ice breaker, but lemme tell ya back when I was a teenager I was an Adonis!

Lately I’ve been forced to learn some new tricks to entertain at parties and I’m throwing a party later this month that promises to be a doozy!

It’s the First Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 25-26-and 27th at The Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street in Chicago. Please join us for the only Irish American film festival in the world. We’re out to discover the next John Ford, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Cagney, or john Huston.

We’ll be premiering three terrific films with Irish American themes and this is our first year so come on out to the Hooley. After each screening we’ll all be heading around the corner over to The Emerald Loop on Wabash to celebrate the “hooley”.

You can read all about the films we’ve chosen elsewhere in The Irish American News or online or at http://hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley/.

Please say hello when you get to the theatre, I’ll be there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I won’t be naked and you’ll be glad I’m not!

But we’ll still have plenty of laughs.

So.

Don’t miss the Hooley!

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!

7LdSy2A49c6HlrR4QgdeKR0FYFGhKnFkdHs_iRkyhmqw9uJ7CA0GbTo3L9fDBhaYdpiqhw=s85