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.