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

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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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September 2013 Irish American News Column

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Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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