February 2016 Irish American News column

nun surprised-1

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom had been passed on, the value of enemies.

January 2016 Irish American News Column

lipstick-on-a-pig-2a

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year everybody!

December 2015 column from The Irish American News

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

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

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

The spirit speaks louder in Ireland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I’m just practicing. “

Well keep it up, you sound great!

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

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

The thunderbolt!

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

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

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

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

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

“And what was his mother’s name?”

Catherine Quinn.

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

The lightening bolt again!

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

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

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

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

The spirit speaks louder in Ireland.

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 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 May 2015

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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 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!”

August 2014 Column from The Irish American News

A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis) - Cmdt. Ned Daly (Owen McDonnell) prepares to shoot a British Lancer

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

I played Captain Brennan in Sean O’Casey’s epic play THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS back in 1977 when I was a green actor with The Syracuse Stage Theatre company.

It was an epiphany for this young Irish-American lad who knew little of the history of Ireland. My knowledge at the time was limited to “The Quiet Man” and Clancy Brothers albums that my older brothers played continuously throughout the sixties.

Brennan was a Dublin chicken butcher and Captain in the Irish Citizen Army, a zealot with fervent dreams of patriotism in the midst of the Easter uprising of 1916. I poured myself into the play and consumed research of the rebellion in songs and stories.

On opening night I asked one of the fellas to take a photo of me in our dressing room, I wore “the full uniform of the Irish Citizen Army: green suit; slouch green hat caught up at one side by a small Red Hand badge; Sam Browne belt, with a revolver in the holster.” I sent the photograph to my mother back home in Chicago.

I had a vague remembrance of mom telling me about her father, my grandfather, Denis Cusack, (long dead before my birth but born in Ireland in 1869), and his being a staunch IRA man. My mother’s emotional response to the photo stoked my feverish performance of Captain Brennan and my rousing embrace of Irish nationalism. It didn’t hurt when I learned the significance of Cathleen ni Houlihan in Irish history.

I was blessed then to live in the world of O’Casey’s genius for eight shows a week as he weaved his story of the people in a 1916 Dublin tenement courageously dealing with the tragic events of Easter week.

That experience was a baptism into my life long search for my Hibernian heritage and a never-ending exploration of our culture. We’ve been blessed indeed with Irish blood, and let’s never forget that a lot of Irish blood was spilled fighting for the freedom of this island nation.

I watched a film recently that brought it all back home, “A Terrible Beauty”.

My friend Barbara Scharres at The Siskel Film Center invited me to take a look at a screener of the film, which she was considering for a September engagement at her theatre. I slid the DVD into my computer and was immediately plunged back into O’Casey’s world of THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS.

“A Terrible Beauty” is a dazzling docu-drama, which covers the six days of the Easter rebellion in 1916 Ireland through the eyes of the men and women who fought and died in that conflict. Yes, many were patriots, but others were just poor unfortunate souls caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The filmmakers, Dave Farrell and his sons Keith and Colin, are also interested in meeting folks with connections or oral history information, perhaps gleaned from relatives, on the events of that week. More info on this fascinating film and project can be found at www.1916film.com.

Please do visit the website for a look behind the scenes of “A Terrible Beauty”. As we quickly approach the centennial of the 1916 revolution, it’s good for our souls to take a look back and connect with our history and the lessons left behind for all of us. I’d love to share the experience of this film with you.

Please join us on Friday Sept. 26th at 8PM or Sunday Sept. 28th at 3PM for “A Terrible Beauty”. Like all great Irish stories you might shed a tear, share a laugh, or have your soul stirred by the spirit of our people.

Let’s show the Farrell family what a great Chicago fáilte is all about. Purchase your tickets now!  Hope to see you at The Siskel in September!

 

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