Irish American News Letter to The Editor July 2019.

Dear Editor:

Have to tell you how shocked I was to see your “We Get Letters” section on page 3 of the recent June issue of the Irish American News. The writer, Judy Deever, applauded the IAN and the Irish American Hall of Fame committee for their fairness and good sense, but then went out of her way to trash myself and a couple of other columnists with this bon mot, “Sure, writers like Boyle, Brady and Houli are not always pleasant reading….”

Judy…Judy…Judy! While I’m flattered to be included in their company, Judy, it appears that you haven’t been paying attention. Perhaps if you could drag yourself away from the Rachel Maddow show you would realize that I haven’t written regularly for the IAN for over three years!

While I’m proud of my twenty-year tenure as a columnist in the IAN with my “Hooliganism” column, I stopped writing it in 2016. I haven’t written for IAN since, other than occasional promo pieces on my radio shows, film festival, or trips to Ireland, which my old friend Cliff Carlson has been kind enough to run in the paper.

I’m also proud Judy, of the fact that I obviously made such a lasting impression on you that you still feel my presence three years after I’ve left.

I had a lot of fun with Hooliganism, and it spawned two published anthologies you can purchase online if you’d like to re-read my brilliant yarns Judy. But please be careful, I wouldn’t want to trigger you darling.

Actually there’s been quite a bit of conjecture in the Irish American community as to why I no longer write for the paper. So I’d like to put that to rest.

Many folks thought I was fired for my “offensive and politically incorrect” humor, but that’s nonsense of course. How can you be fired from a gig that doesn’t pay?

I will forever be grateful to Cliff Carlson for giving me an opportunity to indulge my whimsy and entertain myself and hopefully some readers from 1996-2016.

The fact is, I got busy.  In 2014 I founded a public charity dedicated to Irish and Irish American culture and found myself busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. It was tough keeping up with all that culture.

That’s also about the time I became aware of a disease in our culture: misandry. This disease manifests itself in a nihilistic, secular world view, hell bent on destroying the sacred, the spiritual, and even the silly. They want to take the magic away. And much of the laughter as well. They just can’t understand normal thinking!

We know these people as “Houli-haters”, and they’ve followed me throughout my career, casting aspersions and contempt in my wake. Rather than suffer their slings and arrows I chose to walk away, but still you haunt me, don’t you Judy Deever.

My cousin Meghan modeling her new “Houli-Hater” t-shirt.

So here’s my olive branch. My good friend Brian Harms recently designed a terrific new t-shirt specifically for all you Houli-haters out there. You can buy them online at brianharms.threadless.com Go the site, click mens or womens t-shirts, pick your color and size and you’re in business, Judy!

Here’s a photo of my cousin Meghan, modeling her shirt, which she just loves. And yes, ladies, we do carry the Houli-Hater t-shirts in Triple XXXL sizes for all you full figured gals! Order your shirts in pink to match your pussy hats!

Mike Houlihan

Chairman

Hibernian Media NFP

 

Tony Golden:Good Company

Tony Golden

What was the name of the Green Bay Packer running back that Chicago Bear George Connor creamed in Wrigley Field on a cold and grey Sunday in November of 1955?  Connor broke up the Packers flying wedge on a kickoff return and knocked that Packer into next week. They called it the “hit heard round the world”.  Who was that guy that George Connor knocked out?

That’s the kind of question that only Tony Golden could answer. He had an encyclopedic memory for sports trivia and other arcane Chicago folklore. As the Irish say, “He’s the kind of man you don’t meet every day.”

Houli, Tony Golden, Ed Kelly, and Charie Carey at Gene & Georgetti after lunch.

Tony and I and Charlie Carey and a rotating group of characters regularly hung out after lunch at Gene & Georgetti’s. Tony would regale us with long ago exploits of gridiron greatness, debauchery, and bravery in battle. He could make you laugh and make you cry.

Anthony, “Tony” Golden died last week at the age of 90 surrounded by his wife Kay, and sons Kevin, Terry, and Tim. He’d received the last rites from Father Tom Hurley and was ready to pack it in. He lived every minute of those ninety years to the hilt, defiantly and with gusto.

He was born a policeman’s son on the south side of Chicago in 1929. His parents had both emigrated from Swinford, County Mayo Ireland and young Tony attended St. Justin grammar school and Harper HS, graduating in 1947, before playing football at Butler University. He got into the construction business, building homes and remodeling for about thirty years before setting up his own specialty promotional business, Golden Incentives.

He met his wife Kay at “The Store” down on Rush Street. Her father, an Irish patriot also from Mayo, had opened a tavern on Diversey just off Halsted. She was every Irishman’s dream, a pretty gal whose dad owned a saloon.

Kay and Tony got married in 1965, 54 years ago.

A legendary sportsman, Tony was the first race director of the Chicago Marathon, founded by his good friend Lee Flaherty. Tony ran over 42 marathons, including Chicago, Boston, and New York on several occasions. He told me    he and Notre Dame great Buddy Ruel had hopped in a taxi after the Boston race and Buddy got into it with a huge Italian cab driver after making a crack about his ancestry. Tony held the door while Buddy cleaned the cabbie’s clock.

In 1969 Tony and Mike Lind commandeered a horse named “Lady” and her carriage, from in front of a Rush Street tavern around 4AM and trotted over to Buckingham Fountain for a nightcap with “Lady”, while cops issued an all-points bulletin for the horse thieves. It was in all the papers the next day, but the lads were never caught.

Tony and his pal, Bogie the cop, had been entertaining Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle one night and the Mick wanted to drive Bogie’s squad car, which he did while speeding down a Chicago expressway with sirens blaring.

Tony finally quit the booze and hadn’t had a drop for over 40 years when he died. But he still loved to tell his stories and we relished listening, with names and dates he never forgot.

He took me under his wing over twenty years ago and introduced me to many Chicago legends, guys like Committeeman Ed Kelly of the Fighting 47th Ward and General Superintendent of The Chicago Park District. Ed ran his annual “Giant Awards” dinner at the White Eagle on Milwaukee Avenue and Tony always held a seat for freeloaders like me at his table. He helped found the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame with his childhood pal George Connor.

When I was shooting my film “Tapioca” in 2006, I played a sleazy used car salesman and we needed a little old lady to play the foil in the opening scene. Tony recruited his 100-year-old mother in law. I don’t think he told Mrs. Kelly what she was in for, because the look on her face when my character went off on her was priceless. I told Tony later that I might have shocked her, and he told me, “Are you kiddin’? She owned a tavern for fifty years, she’s been around the block, twice!”

Tony Golden circled that block dozens of times himself, peeling back the history of Chicago with each story. He knew all the big shoulders of this toddling town. He had an institutional memory cuz he was there.

Sure gonna miss those lunches with Tony. We’re hoping you can all make it to his final send off at Old St. Pat’s, 700 West Adams in Chicago, on Friday May 3rd, starting at 9AM, with funeral mass at 10.

And oh yeah, who was the Green Bay Packer laid out by George Connor that November day at Wrigley Field?

Charlie Carey and I were on the phone last week when we heard the news of Tony’s passing and Charlie said to me, “Man I was gonna call him this weekend, we were trying to figure out who was the guy who took “the hit heard round the world” and I couldn’t remember…. oh wait a minute, it just came to me, Veryl Switzer! Thank you Tony!”

I looked it up. Veryl Switzer admitted that when he was hit by George Connor on a kickoff return, it almost took his head off. Connor’s resounding tackle of Green Bay’s Veryl Switzer on a kick return in Wrigley Field will live forever in Bears lore. Switzer’s helmet flew one way, the ball another, and Bears linebacker Bill George recovered the fumble for a touchdown.

Thanks Tony, for the memories. Say hello to Veryl Switzer if he’s up there.

*******

No Elephants in Our Irish Pub

Katie Grennan and John Williams in OUR IRISH PUB

Paddy my bartender used to love telling the story of the guy who came to his saloon every night and cried in his beers about how much he hated his job. Finally Paddy asked him, “Well what kind of work are you in pal?” Your man explained that he’d been working in the circus for the last several years following the elephants with his shovel and bucket and cleaning up their shite. Paddy finally asked, “Well why don’t you quit?” To which your man replied, “Are you kidding? And give up show biz?”

Those who have never worked in show biz might find that hard to believe. But there is much to be said for the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd. It gets in your blood, and before you know it you’re calling it “culture”.

Defining culture has been tough for most folks over the last thousand years or so. My cultural epiphany came a few years ago at the Irish American Heritage Center listening to Irish President Michael D. Higgins give a speech before the reception.

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 music, song, dance, laughter and conversation. It’s the craic!

And what better place to celebrate our culture but in an Irish pub, with a pint in your hand and some music, singing, and even dancing to elevate our spirits?

Later this summer I’ll be shooting a special for Chicago Public Television with the very snobby title of “Our Irish Pub.”

We’ve been working on this show for the last few years, trying to get it right, and now we are right on the brink. Our host is the telegenic Irish fiddler Katie Grennan, currently on tour with the great Irish band, Gaelic Storm.

Katie takes us on a tour of three pubs to meet a variety of musicians sharing the history and music of each pub along the way. The craic will be mighty!

We’d love to have you join us on this adventure! We need our friends to help with small donations to help us reach our goal and finance the production. We’re almost there so please get on board. You can learn more about the show, watch clips and sizzle reels and get information on each of our pubs online at OUR IRISH PUB.

Please join us as together we celebrate our culture in OUR IRISH PUB.

And we promise there won’t be an elephant in sight. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Get Raunered!

Stop this weasel on election day! Take a Republican ballot and vote Jeanne Ives!

Sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of a firestorm and wonder which way to turn.

I’m excited about the candidacy of Jeanne Ives for Governor in the upcoming Republican primary on March 20th. She’s the only pro-life candidate in the race and is bringing a breath of honesty and grace to the millionaire pinball machine that make up our only other options. That’s why I organized a little party on March 5th at Reilly’s Daughter called “Irish for Ives”.

Last week I was invited to a luncheon at the Union League Club to meet Jeanne once again. My last visit to the Union League Club was about ten years ago when I was interviewed for membership.

I didn’t make the cut, somebody blackballed me. To quote from my book, Hooliganism: I’m not naïve enough to think I haven’t made enemies over the years. I’m an outspoken chronicler of hypocrisy and absurdity and I take pride in that. But which of my attributes can take the blame for my blackballing?

 I discussed this with my lovely wife and she reeled off a litany of my character traits that could have led to my ostracism. “Well, maybe it was because you always paid your bill late at the CAA. They could have said you’re a deadbeat…or a lush…or maybe it was… your fatness…you’re very crude…your clothes don’t fit…or the way you eat like a slob…or…” That’s quite enough, I said, I get the picture.

 Long story short, those anti-Catholic poseurs didn’t want me in their club. And yet there I was last week looking over my shoulder for those patrician fakers.

I got there early because I wanted to distribute some postcards and posters for the Irish for Ives event. At the coat check counter I encountered the same disdain as I had years earlier. “You can’t leave any literature here sir.”

I gathered up my stuff in umbrage and turned to my left to discover my old friend Rusty O’Toole checking his coat. He glanced at my posters incredulously, “Houli, are you a Republican?”

I am, and proud of it, been a Republican since 1985 when my old pal George Ryan helped me get a job after busting out in Gotham. It was easy, there was no initiation ceremony and no interview and they have never tried to blackball me like those jerks at The Union League Club.

But Rusty O’Toole was offended. If I wanted to waste another breath talking to him I would have told him how the Democratic party abandoned me when they embraced abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, transsexualism, and the suppression of Christianity in our schools, institutions, and supposedly free press.

But I really didn’t have time to debate this tool. His third cousin was once Attorney General and Rusty had been playing off that connection for over thirty years.

I asked the concierge the location of our event and headed to the elevator. Once again Rusty O’Toole approached me with his Union League pals, “What would your ancestors say if they knew you’d become a Republican?”

“Feck off!” I said, and headed for another elevator. Rusty was now playing the “Irish card”, and it really ticked me off.

What would my ancestors say? I thought about that. Well my ancestors were all Catholic when they came to this country. This was long before legalized abortion and the church has consistently denounced it as the very personification of evil. It was then, and still is considered the taking of a human life, murder.

Generations of Irish Americans have voted Democratic ever since the famine days, and when the progressive wing of the party took over in the late 1970’s, they kept right on doing it. I blame the Kennedys. Teddy sold his soul to the devil.

That night I had a dream. My great, great grandfather, Ferocious Frank O’Hooligan, from Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland, slid onto the stool next to me at the bar. He’s been in heaven for over a century and wanted to know how I was doing.

It was my connection to Frank that the Irish government considered when granting me citizenship a few years ago and I thanked him for that. His son, Frank Jr., was an Iron Worker in Chicago who fell to his death from a building in 1915, leaving my father an orphan at 11. My dad toughed it out with his two older policeman brothers, went on to great success, married my mom and fathered six sons and one girl, of which I am the youngest.

I had plenty to tell Ferocious Frank, but the words of Rusty O’Toole haunted me, “What will you say to your ancestors?”

So I ordered us both a pint and a shot of Irish whiskey and blurted it out, “Grandpa, I’ve been a Republican since 1985.”

He sipped his drink and smiled, “We don’t have politics in heaven, that’s why they call it heaven.”

I explained our “motley insurgency” to elect Jeanne Ives, and why I always take a Republican ballot by going over some of the sordid history of our country: the secularization of our society, the promotion of deviant lifestyles over the rest, the surrender to government in solving every problem, how our unions were infected with this disease and embraced it, forcing members to choose between the state or their religious beliefs, career politicians who lined their pockets while pretending to help the poor, political correctness destroying comedy for a generation, a mainstream media trying to shape the will of the American people with “fake news”, and…well you know the story.

Grandpa’s jaw was practically hitting the floor. “Rusty O’Toole, did you say? I knew his ancestors. I think somebody pissed in his gene pool! They took inbreeding to new heights. His family tree looks like a telephone pole.”

So what should I do, Grandpa?

“It’s obvious, lad. Jeanne Ives is our last chance! The only other candidates are left wing wacko billionaires! You’ve got to encourage all your friends to cross over, take a Republican ballot in the primary and vote for her before it’s too late!”

But he has tons of dough, Grandpa! He’s spreading lies about her in mailings and on TV and radio, some people are actually starting to believe Rauner’s bullshit!

Ferocious Frank O’Hooligan, drained his glass and slammed it on the bar.

“Don’t get Raunered! All he’s got is a checkbook, all Jeanne has is the truth. Who do you trust?”

And then he was gone. Maybe I can get him to show up at Reilly’s Daughter on Monday, March 5th for IRISH FOR IVES. Please join us, the craic will be mighty!

Houli’s 69th Birthday!

Censored Photo of Baby Houli getting a bath!

Today is my 69th birthday! These days a proclamation like that could get me into trouble. But it’s legit, I was born on December 16, 1948.

Soixante-neuf is how it’s pronounced in French, and the mere mention of that number has triggered wry smiles and raised eyebrows going all the way back to the Kama Sutra.

But I won’t dwell on that, not much anyway. It’s just another reminder that I’m an old fart, albeit an old fart with a helluva lot of going on. I did come across that old baby picture you see above of “Baby Houli”. Yeah, that was taken when the gal next door, Fiona, used to come over and help my mom with the kids. She used to give me a lot of special attention as the youngest of the seven kids.

My brothers tell me Fiona came over a lot and that I was her favorite…especially at bath time!

But enough of that ribaldry, I’d just like to say that I’m proud of my 69 years so far, in spite of the fact that I look like Santa Claus after he shaved. I’ve been married to a saint for almost 40 years, have two great sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two rambunctious grandchildren who I love more than anything.  As a writer, actor, producer, journalist, radio personality, film festival founder, and flim-flam man I’m also doing okay with a career in show biz of almost 50 years.

Some folks say I’m shameless and it’s true. I’m a shameless self-promoter, but I’ve had to survive on my wits alone, unlike certain friends in the 19th Ward with three government pensions. You know who you are!

And while we’re on the subject of self-promotion, I feel compelled to plug my upcoming book signings of NOTHIN’S ON THE SQUARE. I’ll be at The Curragh Irish Pub this Sunday Dec. 17th from 4-7PM at 6705 N. Northwest Hwy in Edison Park, also at Fitzgerald’s Sidebar, 6615 Roosevelt Rd. in Berwyn on Thursday night Dec. 21st from 9-11PM with the band “Over the Side”, and for you last minute shoppers I’ll be at Mollie’s Public House 31 Forest in Riverside on Saturday, Dec. 23rd from 4-7PM. Would love to see you all and share Christmas cheer.

Speaking of Christmas, here’s my message for all of you. The other night on the street in Berwyn, (where I am the Baron), I was stopped by a Christmas angel and she asked me for dough, but I said no.

Mike Courtney, musician and owner of The Twisted Shamrock, invited me to join him and his band for a last minute bash to sell my book and share the stage with them at Fitzgerald’s this coming week. It would be another opportunity to pick up a few bucks so I leapt at it.

So Mike and I were standing in front of my building in Berwyn, as I gave him some posters for the gig. Caught up in our animated conversation we suddenly felt the presence of another in our midst on that cold December night.

A young woman stood just a few feet from us in the night looking cold. She looked tired and scared and was bundled up in a parka and pajama bottoms. “Can I help you?”, I asked, and then she went into her pitch, just got out of the hospital, got bad news, etc. could either of us spare a couple bucks? It was a familiar spiel and at first seemed like a scam so we declined.

But as she walked away I looked at her again and remembered that it was Christmas. The blessed mother was probably just about her age on a cold December night over two thousand years ago, and had been turned away with her husband Joseph as they searched for a place to give birth to the baby Jesus. As she drifted off into the darkness I immediately regretted not helping her. Later at home in bed I was haunted by her face and wished I could take that moment back. I said a prayer for that kid and vowed to help every panhandler I saw in the future. The next day I thought of her as one after another unfortunate souls hit me up in the car at streetlights all along Ogden Avenue. I handed over plenty of cash but the image of that young lady continues to haunt me.

So let’s never forget the message of every Christmas season and the good news Jesus brought with him when he told us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and clothe the naked.

It’s a time of rejoicing, so reach into your pocket and spread the cheer to all who need it and especially remember “Baby Houli” when you clothe the naked!

Merry Christmas everybody!

-30-

September 2016 Irish American News Column

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

My pal Skinny Sheahan mocks me on the radio by telling folks “Houli has become a PI, a professional Irishman.”

But, I feel no shame in loving Ireland, the land of my ancestors, and I’m mighty proud to have founded Hibernian Transmedia NFP with my family, to promote and preserve Irish and Irish American culture. We’re currently producing three weekly Irish American radio programs, one of which stars Skinny on the air every week smooching Democrats butts.

Add to that a dozen or so projects in the works with Irish American film, music, and literature and I’m happy to have eejits like Skinny calling me a “PI” while scoffing at my endeavors, although I prefer the term “cultural warrior”.

I’ve certainly paid my dues over the last 40 odd years working with “American culture’’ until I finally decided that most modern American culture is crap, notwithstanding stellar talents like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus.

Irish culture saved me.

I think that’s because Irish culture is as old as the earth itself. Sure America has an interesting history, but Ireland is forever. And exploring our Irish culture is a never ending adventure when we can dive into recent stories like the Easter rebellion or go deep with stuff like St. Patrick’s dialogue in “The Wanderings of Oisin”.

Hibernian Transmedia is also involved with bringing Irish and Irish American filmmakers to Chicago with our 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, running at the Siskel Film Center September 30th through October 2nd.

I’ve said before how visiting Ireland is a “preview of heaven” and you all have an opportunity to see Ireland as never before when Fís na Fuiseoige or The Lark’s View, makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sunday October 2nd at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The film was shot extensively with drones across all four provinces and seasons in Ireland, and it marries the otherworldly Irish landscape with some of her greatest living poets speaking Irish.

And I say “her” because as we all know, Ireland is actually Kathleen Ni Houlihan.

Here’s what Film Ireland had to say: Fís na Fuiseoige, the directorial debut by west Kerry man Aodh Ó Coileáin brings to the fore the voluptuousness of the Irish language in both the history it carries, its connection to place and the differing understandings of life that it carries… Using the ever increasing quality of drone technology, Ó Coileáin offers us a slow contemplative picture of the Irish landscape seldom captured so evocatively before. With such stunning aerial cinematography, the timelessness of the Irish landscape is evoked as the camera reflects over places as diverse as the Iveragh Peninsula, the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glendalough amongst others. In each of these various locations, a contributor guides us through the connection of the strong links between the Irish language and place, a connection so strong that in ancient Ireland it even inspired its own literary tradition, ‘dinnseanchas’.

This literary tradition still exists on the fringes of Irish literary life as highlighted by the contributions by the Irish language poets in this documentary, who continue to pursue a knowledge of the land’s relationship with language. In their contributions, the Irish language is associated with a reverence to place itself that pays not only homage to the land but evokes a sense of this land as being timeless, as if its history is ever recurring.

Now what about this dinnseanchas in regards to the Southside Irish? Well there’s a connection there as well. The director, Aodh Ó Coileáin, also known as “Hughie” to some members of his family, spent several months in Mt. Greenwood at his Aunt Mary’s home back in the late eighties. Hugh was even a bartender at Gaelic Park in his salad days. No doubt Hugh experienced the unique sense of being “Southside Irish” and the personalities of our streets.

We were lucky enough to have Hugh’s aunt Mary on The Skinny & Houli Show last month, and we phoned Hugh around midnight in Ireland to talk up his film. Check out the podcast from Saturday August 20, 2016 at http://skinnyhouli.com

Take the opportunity to see Fís na Fuiseoige, or “The Lark’s View” on Sunday October 2nd at the Siskel Film Center. And you can meet Hughie there as well, he’s coming to Chicago with his wife and kids and after a weekend as a guest at the Hilton, they are all headed to Aunt Mary’s in Mt. Greenwood to get reacquainted with the dinnseanchas of the Southside of Chicago.

See this film, you will love it, and take the time to meet Hugh and his Aunt, Mary Corcoran, and their delightful family after the screening. Let’s all go for a pint at The Emerald Loop after the show!

Skinny’s buying!

July 2016 Irish American News Column

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Hooligansim

by

Mike Houlihan

 

“When I go see a movie, I want to feel like I’m peeking through a keyhole…just gimme the truth as best you can.”

So says first generation Irish American filmmaker and writer Kevin Baggott. The disciple of the late novelist Nelson Algren, is an “enigmatic cat”, much like his dead mentor.Kevin won the “Best Actor” Award at the Winter Film Fest in NYC last February, (for “Why Do You Smell Like the Ocean?”), and he’s premiering his film BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS to kick off the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sept. 30th in Chicago.

Baggott’s unique and funny odyssey, about an Irish American guy taking his mother’s ashes back to Ireland, is a tough adventure for this Brooklyn auteur, who plays the lead as well as directing this totally original story that walks a wobbly line between melancholy and zany. Baggott’s character, Bobby, a Brooklyn tenement super, has enough trouble surviving the wacky New York characters in his life, until he gets to Ireland and encounters Irish men and women of epic personalities and things quickly escalate to a mythical stage.

Starring with Kevin Baggott in “Beneath Disheveled Stars” are Nicole Roderick, Vic Martino, Danny Gilfeather, and Ireland’s own Colin Martin. The film also features a terrific original score by Estelle Bajou that transports the audience to Ireland as well as an Ireland of the mind.

Are they just “having some fun with the yank”, or are their motives more sinister? In the best spirit of indie film, Baggott is also the cinematographer of this haunting and comic road movie.

Baggott’s film is the cornerstone of a trio of Chicago premieres scheduled for the Hooley in the windy city this fall. The other two masterpieces are yet to be chosen, but will eventually join BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS on the marquee at the Gene Siskel Film Center, once again the home of the Annual Irish American Movie Hooley.

Kevin’s dad is from Galway and his mom from Cavan. He grew up in the Bronx, where his mother “used to beat me with the Irish Echo when I wouldn’t go to school.”

A street kid who could have easily wound up like Rocky Sullivan in the Cagney classic ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, Kevin yearned for NYU Film School, but “those bastards wouldn’t let me in.”

He wound up at CCNY, put together his first film on 16 millimeter in Coney Island, The Village Voice raved, festivals clammered, and Baggott’s revenge was sweet. “So they had me going down to NYU every year…to show their students the film.”

Shot in  West Cork in the village of Kilcrohane, Baggott recruited his crew of three for BENEATH DISHEVELD STARS: his wife and a kid from a local farm they hired to work sound, and himself.Without a script he made it up as he went along, meeting the people of the town and recruiting them as characters in the film. They turned out to be terrific actors and briliant improvisers. Kevin told me, “Oscar Wilde says the Irish talk their books away.”

“Everybody we asked, ‘we’re doing this movie, we don’t have any money, we can’t pay you anything, would you like to be in it?” The response that came back was, “Sure I can do that!”

He shot for a month with “a camera the size of a box of cracker jacks” and then returned to NYC to film the beginning of the movie with his friends. It worked, it’s brilliant, and captures the Irish from a unique and funny perspective; that of a guy with “Ireland in his DNA” who’d been away too long.

BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS premiered at the Cork Film Festival in 2014 and the entire village of Kilcrohane turned up to see it, and loved it. “It’s nice hearing a lot of laughter.”

He’ll be hearing it again when the film makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 30th at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Kevin gets diffident when asked what he hopes the audience will get out of BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS, and after a few hems and haws tells me, “I don’t know.” he said. “I hope they will all move back to Ireland!”

Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2nd for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet Kevin Baggott and other filmmakers premiering their movies-and of course, you’ll likely feel like moving back to Ireland yourself!

The Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley is sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, The Emerald Loop, IAN, Hilton Chicago, Kitty O’Shea’s, and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.

April 2016 Column from The Irish American News

A cultural warrior leaving Texas.

A cultural warrior leaving Texas.

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I had one beer on St. Patrick’s Day.

Unusual I know.

But I’d been guzzling gallons before it and by Paddy’s day itself I was hobbling around like a cripple with a cane. I was wounded. Why wouldn’t I be? In Chicago St. Patrick’s Day starts the day after Christmas for cripes sake! It’s nuts.

It started for me on Saturday March 5th as I boarded a plane for Austin, Texas where The Lone Star Shamrocks would be screening my film OUR IRISH COUSINS on Monday night. The Lone Star Shamrocks were the brainchild of my old pal Dennis Kearns, who had started the organization many years ago when he moved to Austin and began hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party for all the rednecks with Irish blood.

We’ve been pals since first grade and I was looking forward to meeting the Lone Star Shamrocks and knew there would be shenanigans involved but got thrown a curve as soon as my lovely wife dropped me at O’Hare.

I grabbed my bags and turned to find a red cap and my knee blew out. Ouch!

I’d been having some mild muscle pain for the last week after an ill advised return to power walking but this was the zammo! I staggered at the departure area as my wife drove away and I realized I could barely walk. Feck it, I’m still going.

I requested a wheel chair when I checked in and then wondered why I had never done this before. The guy pushing me through the airport was great, and I was brought to the front of every line and zipped through TSA without removing my shoes or trousers.

I duked him a double sawbuck, gimped the ramp to the plane, plopped into my upgraded first class seat and started drinking. Sure it was painful to walk but Conor McGregor was fighting that night and he was my inspiration for the weekend.

Dennis picked me up at the airport and whisked me back to his palatial hacienda, which included a very private apartment upstairs for my visit so he and his wife Jane could hide from me later. Luckily he’d had knee problems of his own in the past and lent me a snappy cane and knee brace to wear.  Managing the stairs was rough but I learned to navigate them once I learned where they kept the 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey!

While they were at mass I tripped over a large cardboard box in the foyer on my way back from the bar. I looked inside and discovered it was the 5,000 flyers promoting the screening I had shipped to Dennis a month earlier to get the word out about the Texas premiere of my film. It looked like there were only about 4, 850 left in the box!

“More feckin’ whiskey!”, I screamed as their dog Blanca looked at me in puzzlement.

The next two days were a blur of self-medicating through the pain. We went bar-hopping on Sunday as I hobbled up Congress Street on the cane and wound up in CBoys Heart and Soul dive bar serenaded by a three foot tall chanteuse in a cowboy hat backed by a handful of bearded pluckers singing about “Texas in my heart”. Of course it was “Terri and The Tagalongs”.

We played “chickenshit bingo” all afternoon, which is a game of chance involving a live chicken placed in a 3×3 foot cage with numbers on its floor. If the chicken dumps on your number, you win! I was havin’ a good ol’ time!

Until I found out about Conor McGregor tapping out the night before.

Still he handled defeat with class and I was going to do the same. I returned to to the hacienda after a long day of boozing and Tex Mex food and after I dropped the big one, I slept til the next day. I’m sure Los Alamos has nothing on Dennis and Jane’s upstairs bathroom after my visit.

On Monday night The Lone Star Shamrocks were sorta MIA for the film premiere. Probably not a great idea for me to come to Austin the week before SXSW to premiere a film. But it was my Paddy’s day kickoff and among the audience was Ann Soule and Austin’s own version of The Flood Brothers, Matt and Mike Flood, both Chicago Expatriates, who now live and work in Austin. We had some laughs and started plotting the rebirth of The Lone Star Shamrocks for my next cultural expedition.

If you’re reading this in Austin, get in touch at lonestarshamrocks@gmail.com,  and we will make sure you’re invited for our next cultural event.

I can walk with both legs again and look forward to stepping back in the arena a wiser man, and just like Conor McGregor, this cultural warrior shall return. I had too much fun not to go back!

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.

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.