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.

Irish American News Nov. 2015

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

“It’s déjà vu all over again.

The O’Brien family is resurrecting Reilly’s Daughter Irish Pub in Oak Lawn at 111th and Pulaski, where they operated for 27 very successful years.Boz O’Brien tells me, “The day we signed the agreement was the day Yogi Berra died.”

Déjà vu indeed.

Long considered the most popular watering hole in Chicagoland for anybody coming of age in the final three decades of the last century, Reilly’s Daughter spawned a satellite pub in Midway airport in 2002. The family will continue to run that location as well as engaging the next generation of revelers with food and booze, as well as a celebration of their fabled traditions, charity events, live entertainment, and neighborhood advocacy for families all over the south side and Chicagoland.

Boz was 24 when he got his first liquor license. He has sold a lot of beer since then, rivers of it. Reilly’s once did 500 cases of Miller Lite a week. Terry Hayes, of Hayes Beer Distributors, tells me, “They were a great bar for us, always created a lot of excitement. They were our largest account by volume, our largest on-premise retailer in the 80’s and 90’s.”

Tip O’Neill stopped into Reilly’s on his travels through Chicago back in the day. Mayor Rich Daley was practically a regular and so was almost the entire ’85 Bears Super Bowl team. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz did his TV show live from Reilly’s. Many of Chicago’s biggest labor leaders were once bouncers and bartenders at Reilly’s. A young Hawaiian fella named Barack Obama took a leak in the men’s room.

There are a zillion stories of raucous nights in this saloon that sits on the border of Chicago along Pulaski. Boz boasts, “We’ve got 400 parking spots and there’s a cemetery across the street and they never complained about the noise once.”

Boz’s son Brendan was born into this maelstrom. Brendan’s baptismal party was at Reilly’s and he’s been hanging around ever since.

One St. Patrick’s Day when Brendan was three, he somehow got lost in the crowd. The place was bumper to bumper and somebody lifts Brendan up over the mosh pit in the beer garden and shouts out “Pass him to Boz!”

Boz tells me, “He crowd surfed all the way to the bar and he had this big smile on his face as if it was the time of his life. So he’s always had a natural affinity for the business.”

Does he ever.

Boz says, “We had Christmas with Santa every year and Brendan would always force me to go up in the helicopter with him and Santa, but I was scared stiff of flying. You do stuff for your kid you wouldn’t do for yourself. So he was always here.”

When Brendan was 16 and finally got his driver’s license, he’d be working clean-up and was often pressed into service to drive guys home from the bar. “I loved it until I kept hearing the same story over and over again.”

Boz sez, “I always thought he was the only ten year old with 40 year old friends.”

“When I first came back last week and it was the first day we had the keys and … I just kept shaking my head, just can’t believe this, I was walking behind the bar like I did so many times and we were talking sports and politics and I felt like I was 30 years old again. And then I turned and glanced in the mirror… and I knew I wasn’t 30 years old anymore, not with that guy staring back at me.”

Maybe not, but the Irish Diaspora’s culture is preserved through tradition.

Brendan says, “So that’s it Houls, carrying the torch, father to son, growing up here my whole life, learning the business and being around him all the time working side by side.”

Talk with this father and son and you find yourself sharing their mutual pride of each other. The good vibe is contagious. These are professional publicans, good company, both of them.

Brendan is now 32 and has been running Midway’s Reilly’s Daughter. They’ve experienced a 47% growth spurt in revenue over the last five years according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Brendan is more experienced than Boz was when he started back in ’76.

They promise to bring back all the old traditions like the live turkey on Thanksgiving, the Irish Coffee and Soda Bread contests and hope to have Johnny Lattner’s Heisman Trophy on display for the Grand Opening.

Hundreds of folks have stopped by to reminisce while work goes on getting the joint ready for opening. So many, in fact, that they’ve had to lock the door. Boz laughs, “Everybody has been so gracious and excited to have us back. One guy called us,

‘Is this gonna be the original Reilly’s?’

Yes it is.

‘Who is this?’

Well I’m Boz O’Brien.

‘Wow, I thought you were dead!”

He is far from it and Brendan has learned from the master. “There’s a reason we were filled for 27 years, what he did and the things I’ve learned from him, keeping that going takes work. It’s the family atmosphere, it’s generational. The people he had as regulars, I want their kids, the descendants of the people who hung out here.”

Boz philosophizes with the words of Coach Lou Holtz advising a dying young man years ago, “The only time I’m afraid is when I’m unprepared. If you’re squared away with God and squared away with your family, you have nothing to be afraid of.”

The wisdom of Boz, “He couldn’t have said it any better if he were Thomas Aquinas.”

These wise men are aiming for the middle of November to open and Reilly’s will definitely be rockin’ by Thanksgiving.

Thomas Wolfe, you’re wrong. You can go home again.

Irish American News column September 2015

iamh_logo_72x66_pixelsHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to throw a party.

Case in point-Back in the eighties I was living in New York, City visiting Chicago, and dropped by my late brother Danny’s law office. He introduced me to the office manager Monica Dwyer Fox. (She was already a fox before she married one.)

Monica looks at me incredulously and says to Dan, “This is your brother?”

Dan starts giving me the stink eye, “Yeah?”

Monica laughs and says, “I didn’t know you were related, this is the first guy I ever saw naked!”

Former seminarian Dan turned fifty shades of red and stared daggers at me.

Seems my folks were away one night back in the sixties and word around the neighborhood was that “Houli is having a party”. Monica and her girlfriends come in the front door and yours truly is streaking around the party buck-naked and no it was not my birthday. The nude hello was a little stunt, (literally,) which I used to pull in my teenage years to break the ice and loosen up the crowd sometimes at parties.

Now remember this was fifty years ago and shenanigans like that were considered just harmless hooliganism then. Today of course I’d be arrested and sent to jail much like that Duggar kid was for coppin’ a feel from his sleeping sister.

My birthday suit now is very wrinkled and quite a bit larger to accommodate the several watermelons and barrels of beer I’ve consumed over the last fifty years, so it’s probably not the best ice breaker, but lemme tell ya back when I was a teenager I was an Adonis!

Lately I’ve been forced to learn some new tricks to entertain at parties and I’m throwing a party later this month that promises to be a doozy!

It’s the First Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 25-26-and 27th at The Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street in Chicago. Please join us for the only Irish American film festival in the world. We’re out to discover the next John Ford, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Cagney, or john Huston.

We’ll be premiering three terrific films with Irish American themes and this is our first year so come on out to the Hooley. After each screening we’ll all be heading around the corner over to The Emerald Loop on Wabash to celebrate the “hooley”.

You can read all about the films we’ve chosen elsewhere in The Irish American News or online or at http://hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley/.

Please say hello when you get to the theatre, I’ll be there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I won’t be naked and you’ll be glad I’m not!

But we’ll still have plenty of laughs.

So.

Don’t miss the Hooley!

Irish American News Column May 2015

John-Doyle-from-Liverpool-who-has-become-a-Youtube-sensation-for-popping-his-eyes-out-2245411

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 April 2015

Chuy St. RitaHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

After watching the mayoral race for the last six weeks, I wish St. Patrick could jump forward in a time machine and rid us of the reptiles in Chicago politics.

He wasn’t the most articulate dude in the bunch, but I think Dr. Willie Wilson got it right when he called an opponent, “an old snake in a new skin.”

On Tuesday April 7th Chicago will make a decision between the “devil we know” and Jesus Chuy Garcia.

How do you feel after four years of watching a generation of young black men murder each other, as well as innocent kids, just standing on the corner? How do you feel about the school closings and teacher strikes and crooked crime stats? Rigged red light cameras and soaring water bills?

Do you think it’s going to get any better? Are you scared? You should be.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.”

Maybe it’s time to saddle up, like the Saint Patrick’s battalion in the Mexican American War of 1846-48, Los San Patricios. They were mostly Irishmen who had fled the famine in Ireland, came to America and suffered anti-Catholic bigotry in the US Army. They heard the bells of the Angelus calling them to fight for Mexico and they defected. They heard the words of their leader, John Riley, when he told them, “A more hospitable and friendly people than the Mexican there exists not on the face of the earth…especially to an Irishman.”

I met Chuy Garcia on Super Bowl Sunday as he hit fourteen bars in a record-breaking blizzard, campaigning up and down Western Avenue. He proudly wore his St. Rita Mustang hoodie and wherever we went Chicago Irish men and women warmly welcomed him.

I’m a pretty good judge of character. I can spot a phony at fifty yards and my BS detector is a finely tuned instrument of discernment. This guy is an honest and honorable hombre.

Chuy wants what’s best for Chicago, not the ruling class.

Skeptics may scoff but I like to think of the words of the late, great Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

History says, don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracle

And cures and healing wells.

Sure it’s a long shot, but in a fight like this, my money is always gonna be on the guy named Jesus. Please vote for Chuy Garcia on Tuesday April 7th.

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.