June 2014 Hooliganism Column from The Irish American News


Cardinal Francis George with Irish President Michael D. Higgins and First Lady Sabina Higgins

Cardinal Francis George with Irish President Michael D. Higgins and First Lady Sabina Higgins



Mike Houlihan

Snobs have given culture a bad name.

But culture is all around us in the simplest things. The roman orator Cicero first used the term, and it meant literally, “cultivation of the soul”.

I got a good look at our culture last month. Kudos to Consul General Aidan Cronin on the way he and his office handled the visit last week of Irish President Michael D. Higgins to Chicago.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Sunday night appearance by the President at The Irish American Heritage Center as well as the reception in his honor at the Drake Hotel on Monday night.

I was excited about meeting the President but also had an ulterior motive. As a filmmaker I’ve been trying to screen my film, “OUR IRISH COUSINS” in Ireland at one of their prestigious film festivals. I’m not naïve enough to think that you just submit your film and cross your fingers. I’m from Chicago, and I know that the best way to get into the club is to have your clout put in a good word for you. It goes back to the old adage of ward politics when precinct captains instructed those looking for a city job, “We don’t want nobody, nobody sent!”

So I’ve been soliciting my friends in Ireland to help me lobby for the film. The film has a strong message for the Diaspora to “come home” to Ireland and will increase tourism to the Emerald Isle. And I’ve got the reviews and newspaper clippings to prove it. An Irish premiere would raise the profile of “OUR IRISH COUSINS” considerably for the good of dear aul’ Ireland.

So who better to lobby for “OUR IRISH COUSINS” than the President of Ireland himself, Michael D. Higgins? I put together a plan to get the film into his hands while he was in Chicago last month.

My welcoming gift to Chicago for Michael D. included a DVD of the film with press clips and a letter entreating him, I’m asking you, Mr. President, to be our champion. Please join me in calling the Diaspora home to Ireland. And come home they will, to stimulate Irish tourism and ultimately benefit Kathleen Ni Houlihan.

I brought my welcoming gift with me on Sunday night to the Heritage Center. It was sold out and expectation was in the air as I grabbed a seat and tried to figure out how I was going to get the package into the President’s hands.

Musicians gathered on the stage and the Heritage Center choir sang in Irish from the balcony before he made his appearance. A nice touch I thought as I sat back and continued plotting my delivery. Then a group of young Irish dancers took the stage, and put on a rousing performance. The Trinity Irish Dancers had just returned from the World Irish Dance Championships with a gold medal. They were terrific and put on a hard shoe routine that rivaled Flatley’s best and I suddenly felt myself brimming over with pride for these Chicago kids showing the President of Ireland their moves.

When the President finally spoke he talked of Irish and Irish-American culture and how it unites us all. I’m paraphrasing but what hit home for me was when he said culture was a living, breathing thing, constantly changing and morphing into an ever evolving celebration of the society that creates it. And right there, at that moment I could feel it. We were all a part of it, our Irish culture: mystical, spiritual, and enveloping us all in the love we share in our communal heritage.

President Higgins liberated Irish culture for me that night and reminded all of us that it starts in the heart of our very being and should be celebrated with song, dance, laughter and conversation. It’s the craic!

A great thirst came upon me then and I left my seat to find refreshment and maybe a way backstage to deliver my gift. I roamed the hall of the IAHC and saw security everywhere and then happened upon a friendly face, Consul General Aidan Cronin himself. I’m sure he was slightly busy at that moment but I asked him anyway, “How can I get this into the President’s hands?”

Leave it with me; I’ll see that he gets it.

Jackpot! Now I could relax and have a pint.

Not taking anything to chance I put together an exact replica of the welcoming gift on Monday night for the reception at the Drake. It’s not that I doubted Aidan but I wanted to put my film directly in Michael D’s hands myself if the opportunity presented itself.

And it did.

I met my pal Mike Joyce and his lovely wife Jamillah Ali for the reception and was immediately enveloped in more Irish culture, Chicago style. One after another I happily engaged with friends in the community who have helped me over the years, all gathered in the ballroom of the Drake. I got in the receiving line and met the President and his wife Sabina and put my gift in his hands! Cliff Carlson took a picture!

Later on I watched Cardinal Francis George make his way up to the line to shake the hand of Michael D. Here’s a guy who is undergoing chemo and is no doubt in terrible pain but made a special visit to meet the President of Ireland that night, to take part in our Irish culture.

“Cultivation of the soul”, indeed!