May 2016 Column from The Irish American News

Capone's grave

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I’ve been trying to limit my candor on Facebook ever since inadvertently insulting a friend’s mother.

But of course Facebook friends are not real friends. They are mostly for our own self-amusement whilst goofing off on the internet.

And the Internet can be a scary place. That’s why I never “accept” the friendship of those anonymous hot chicks who keep hitting on me. I know I’m gorgeous gals, but I ain’t that stupid.

However, the other day I got a friend request that taught me a valuable lesson.

I was amusing myself on Facebook, throwing bombs at Hillary and linking to weird news stories from wacky tabloids, when I get a friend request. Who’s this? Stephen Mullen, name doesn’t ring a bell, so I check out his page, he’s a young guy from Ireland. Well that’s good enough for me.

Mr. Mullen proceeds to tell me he is visiting Chicago from Tuam and his dad suggested he try to contact some old friends. “Would the names PJ O’Dea or The Notre Dame Inn mean anything to you?”

Would they? PJ O’Dea, “the man from Clare”, is a true GAA legend who played with 2 clubs in 11 cities and in four countries. He won his first county medal in 1939 and represented Clare in minor, junior, and senior hurling and also played senior football with Clare and with the Munster teams in 1951 and ’52. He won an All-Ireland hurling medal and then emigrated to the US where he played hurling and football in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and was the proprietor of the Notre Dame Inn here in Chicago for years. He’s been my friend for over 30 years and is the narrator of the Irish epic film, OUR IRISH COUSINS.

Long story short, I put Mr. Stephen Mullen in touch with Mary and PJ O’Dea and the next day I’m picking him up at the Metra station to bring him to meet the O’Dea’s on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

As I sat in the O’Dea’s living room and watched this young man tell the story of his father Frank from Knocknagur, and his fond memories of Mary and PJ, a Celtic connection was made. PJ had clippings for Stephen to bring back to Frank along with his best wishes. Later that day I took Stephen out to Queen of Heaven cemetery so he could visit the graves of his aunts Nell and Bridie and before dropping him back at his hotel I insisted we visit one more grave in Mt. Carmel cemetery.

On the way back he said, “My dad will be gobsmacked…it was a day of meeting extraordinary people like Mick Houlihan, PJ O’Dea and his wife Mary, the grave sites of my grand aunts, and to top it all off…along with all those great and fantastic people, the last place we visited was the grave of Al Capone!”

I figured if the kid was gonna see Chicagoland, might as well show him the sights.

Stephen’s father Frank sent me a note the other day.

When Stephen was going to Chicago for a few days over the Easter he asked me if there were any of my old friends that he might look up. I told him as it was almost 44 years since I was in Chicago, that many of the people I knew then would be quite elderly and some may even have passed on to their eternal reward.

       I mentioned a few names one of whom was PJ O’Dea and the Notre Dame Inn. PJ was so kind to me when I was in Chicago in 1972 and 73 as a college student on a J1 Visa.

        I hadn’t heard from PJ or had any contact with him since I left Chicago 43 years ago. Just imagine my amazement when Stephen, informed me that, thanks to you, he had located PJ, who was hale and hearty, and was able to visit with him and his good wife Mary.  Stephen video recorded PJ and I was absolutely thrilled to hear him recall some of the events in Chicago when I was there 44 years ago. I was amazed at how vividly he recalled some of the incidents that happened in the Notre Dame Inn and on the football field almost a lifetime ago.

       Mary, his wife, was the first person I met when I arrived in Chicago in ’72. It was such a coincidence as Mary is originally from my parish Kilconly in Co. Galway.

        I had such a brilliant time in Chicago, playing football with St Mels… and all the wonderful people I met – Mike Moran, Batty Boyle, Pat McGrath, Mike Scanlon, Mike O’Connor are a few that readily come to mind. I often think about them and wonder what became of them all?

       One of my outstanding memories was celebrating in the Notre Dame Inn, with PJ O’Dea -a Clare man, and all those crazy Limerick men, after Limerick winning the McCarthy Cup in ’73. Boy did they love their hurling!

       Please pass on my best wishes to PJ O’Dea and his lovely wife Mary. Though I never had any contact with them since I left Chicago in ’73 I never forgot their kindness to me all those years ago.

So there’s the lesson, a simple act of kindness goes a long, long way in making real friends. An Irish welcome can last forever.

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!

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 column February 2015

Tom Fitzgibbon
Hooliganism

by

Mike Houlihan

I thought he was a gangster when I first met him. It was back in the eighties one night at Lino’s on Ontario Street after a long night of drinking. Tom Fitzgibbon sat at the bar with his French cuffs and moustache and bought me a drink. He had a heavy New York accent and I had just moved back to Chicago from New York after twelve years of trodding the boards on Broadway.

We started shooting the biscuit at the bar, talking about Gotham and proud to learn we were both Irish. Tommy Fitz offered me a ride home to Elmwood Park and I took it.

Over the years we’d bump into each other in saloons and political events. I found out he was a union big shot and he always greeted me with a grin and bought me a drink. I’m always on the lookout for philanthropists and Tom’s name went on my list as a potential patron of the arts.

And that’s way it went for the next twenty-five years. Then one afternoon I ran into Tommy at Gene & Geogetti’s and he told me, “I keep getting your notes about your productions, keep sending ‘em.”

I handed him a brochure for my film “Our Irish Cousins”, and said, “Here’s the latest!”

Two days later I got a check in the mail for several hundred bucks. I sent Tom a rough cut DVD of the film and he called me on the phone. “Your movie made me cry.”

He told me of his personal trips to Ireland and his sons asking him on the ferry crossing the Shannon River, “Why are you crying Dad?”

A couple days later I got another check, this one had a lot of zeros on it. We couldn’t have finished the film without his help so you want to keep a guy like that close.

We became good friends. He and his wife Yvonne invited me everywhere and when my new book came out last spring they bought tons of copies and gifted them to all their friends. I learned he’d had great success in his life and terrible tragedy as well. Two of his sons died of cancer in the prime of their young adult lives.

I learned he was a sentimental ol’ Irishman, just like me.

He said to me once, “You’re the only person who calls me ‘Tommy’.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, maybe he didn’t like it, but my brother’s name was Tommy so it just felt natural for me. It was like he was my older Irish gangster brother from New Yawk.

Tommy died on New Year’s Day.

It wasn’t a surprise, but it was. I opened the Sun-Times and there he was in the Irish scratch sheet. His photo ran alongside the obit, a tough guy to the very end, God bless him.

Over the next couple days I learned of Tommy’s benevolence to all kinds of folks in need of a helping hand or encouragement. They told me, “At just the right moment he was there.”

At the wake I ran into John Doerrer. He told me years ago he was in college tending bar at Faddy and Yerkies and Tom used to hang out there. He gave him a real job working for the union and John told me stories of the good old days.

One night after midnight, way after, Tommy dragged John over to Frank O’Neill’s pub on North Avenue, pounding on the door til Frank got out of bed and got them a final drink. John had to sleep on the floor of the bar he was so tired as he listened to Tommy and Frank O’Neill talk into the morning telling tales of Irish patriots.

Father Jack Clare gave a masterful eulogy at Tommy’s funeral. He told of the family gathering round when Jack gave Fitz the last rites. Tom was semi-concious through the prayers but finally when Jack said, “I forgive you of all the sins of your entire life.” he watched Tommy come alive, stretch out his hands behind his head, lean back with a smile and say, “Wow!”

“That’s faith”, said Father Jack, “and what a wonderful gift for a priest to witness.”

Alderman Ed Burke then took the pulpit at Old St. Pat’s. He told a story of a trip he and Tom had taken to London and on a visit to “Poets Corner” in Westminster Abbey they encountered a bust of Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon and this quote,

Life is mostly froth and bubble.

Two things stand likes stone.

Kindness in another’s trouble,

Courage in your own.

Well that was Tommy Fitzgibbon in a nutshell. His obit quoted his favorite Irish aphorism, “In order to have a friend, you have to be a friend.”

My old pal Tommy Finnegan from the Shannon Rovers played the farewell tune on his bagpipes after the mass. Then I mooched a ride from him back to LaSalle Street. “At just the right moment, he was there.”

The irony of a bagpiper named Tommy at Tommy’s funeral, yeah I know, mystical.

The great ones are going fast, gang. They are the stuff of Irish legends among us.

September 2014 Hooliganism Column from The Irish American News

quietman

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

I’ll be in heaven next month. Just for a preview.

It’s the annual Skinny & Houli pilgrimage to the holy ground, Ireland! Somebody said, “Ireland is where the hand of God touches earth.” And I will give witness to that.

Last year on the Skinny & Houli trip as I sat in front of a pub, reveling in the fun being had by all, retired CFD Chief Mike Miller, stood outside the pub with me and said, “Well, you were right!”

He then quoted my column from August 2013, where I put the reader at the Pearly Gates and God offered reasons for the trip when He finally said, “Because life is short, kid.”

Mike Miller told me that clinched it for him. Guess what? Mike is back again this year for The Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland Tour. So is Brendan O’Brien, Dori Dillion, Denny Kearns, George & Barb Scully, and Froggie McGuire. And this time Froggie is bringing his girl friend Mary Ellen Duffy!

Those veterans of our shenanigans will be joined by more adventurous souls this year as we go north to Belfast, Derry, Donegal, and back to Dublin to hang out once again at the Fitzpatrick Castle. Yeah, everybody wants to go to heaven.

Can you blame them?

Now I know there will be naysayers shouting, “What do you know about heaven, Houli? What you need is a preview of hell!”

Well sorry to disappoint you negative thinkers but I’ve seen hell already and I don’t care to return.

It was many years ago. I was a young college bum in the company of fellow thespian, Rubenesque Rebecca Gould, who was babysitting her little brother Sheldon in her parent’s Lake Point Tower condo. Becky was blessed with a bountiful bosom that beckoned to me from across the room.

We commenced making out on the couch, and just as I was rounding first base, she burst into tears!

That wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for and then I heard the flash of a Polaroid camera behind me and I looked up to discover little Shelly snickering as he held up a photo of me with my hand up his sister’s blouse.

“Ten bucks, shmuck, and you can take the photo with you!”

I wanted to strangle the lil devil but had images of his dad, Dr. Gould, having me arrested. So I paid up and bid Rebecca adieu. As I waited for the elevator in the hallway I heard her inside crying and arguing with Shelly and finally screaming at the top of her gigantic lungs, “You owe me five bucks!”

So yes I have had a glimpse of hell and her name was Becky Gould.

So remember, September is the final window to sign up for the Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland Tour in October, so if you wanna party with the big dogs, while the lovely Katie Grennan serenades us on her Irish fiddle all over the auld sod, call Cathy Featherstone at 847-542-1539 to book your passage. And remember, “Life is short kid.” so call Today!

I understand that not everybody can make it this year but you can come close to the experience by joining me for one or another of the following great events this month.

On Wednesday Sept. 10th we’ll be celebrating the 5th Anniversary of The Skinny & Houli Show at Lizzie McNeill’s Irish Pub. Join us and meet Irish Consul General Aidan Cronin, our special guest that night on the show, starting at 6PM. Gifts are not required but certainly encouraged!

Wed. Sept 17th hope to see you all at The Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame dinner at Hawthorne Racecourse when Minnie Minoso will be honored along with about twenty sports legends including our old pal from Mayo, boxing coach Marty McGarry, who will be picking up a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. More info at chicagolandsportshalloffame.com

And don’t forget Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day on Friday night Sept 19 at Plumber’s Hall, 1340 West Washington, Chicago. chicagostpatsparade.com for more info.

This is a fundraiser for the Chicago parade and the second annual celebration put together by Local 130 Business Manager Jim Coyne. Forty bucks at the door includes food, beer, wine and soda with live music from “Hey Jimmy” and The Shannon Rovers. I will be there with my friend John Linehan selling our books, so hope to see you there. Last year was a blast!

Finally on Friday Sept 26 & Sunday Sept. 28, please join me in welcoming filmmakers Dave and Colin Farrell to The Gene Siskel Film Centre for the Chicago premiere of their dazzling documentary “A Terrible Beauty” based on the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland. This terrific film should be seen by every Irish-American seeking enlightenment. Hope to see you there!

So this month offers us a variety of heavens. And if that doesn’t float your boat, try finding Becky Gould in the phone book, just for the hell of it!

7LdSy2A49c6HlrR4QgdeKR0FYFGhKnFkdHs_iRkyhmqw9uJ7CA0GbTo3L9fDBhaYdpiqhw=s85

 

June 2014 Hooliganism Column from The Irish American News

 

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

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

Hooliganism

by

Mike Houlihan

Snobs have given culture a bad name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackpot! Now I could relax and have a pint.

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

And it did.

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

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

“Cultivation of the soul”, indeed!

7LdSy2A49c6HlrR4QgdeKR0FYFGhKnFkdHs_iRkyhmqw9uJ7CA0GbTo3L9fDBhaYdpiqhw=s85

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 2013 Column-Irish American News

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

 

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I know a miracle when I see one. And I’ve been the lucky recipient of many blessings in my life.  I’ve benefited from lots of little ones, found a quarter on LaSalle street just the other day, as well as major miracles, like meeting and marrying my wife. People still say, “How did she wind up with that wack-job?”

“Tis a miracle!”

Attributing the tiny victories to my unwavering trust in the Lord is what paves the way for the really big miracles.

And last month I caught a doozie. Now you’ve probably been listening to Roger Ebert stories up the ying-yang over the last several weeks, but I’m hoping you can fit one more into your ol’ wazoo because here’s mine.

We never met in person. By the time I got around to introducing myself he was already in poor health and we communicated by email only.

It was August of 2007 and I was trying to get my indie film, “Tapioca”, into the Chicago International Film Festival. I sent him an email and let him know I was once with the Sun-Times and how “I’m hoping you can help me.”

The friendship started when he responded almost immediately, “Have always enjoyed your writing!”

Yes, I’m counting that as another miracle.

So we began corresponding as I kept trying to push Tapioca in film festivals all over the world, hoping he would watch it and I’d soon be picking up my Oscar.

I pitched him on joining us in Park City Utah when Tapioca was screening; figured he’d be there for Sundance. But he sent regrets, “Won’t be able to attend this year because of srugery (sic).”

Then in November of 2008 we were premiering “Tapioca” at The Siskel Theatre on State Street and I had sent him a DVD of the film hoping to get him to review it. I didn’t hear anything back. Finally a week before the screening I emailed again. He wrote back, “The blasted DVD has disappeared! There’s still time….Just slip it through the slot. Hard for me to get to the door in a hurry.”

I put two DVDs in an envelope with press release and note and grabbed my son Billy, “YougottagetthistoEbert’shouserightnow,notimetolose,justdropitintheslot!”

When Billy returned I wanted all the details, “Whathappened?”

He smiled at me, “He’s got it NOW!”

Then we waited.

And waited. Running to the newsstand every day, (yes it was many years ago in 2008 when people still read newspapers), and searching for his verdict on our film. Nothing.

The day before the premiere I sent him an urgent note, “What’s the deal? Are you going to review Tapioca?”

Billy and I waited by the computer and then his response flashed on the screen.

“I viewed it Mike, but I won’t review it, because I don’t believe my review would do you any good. Cheers, R”

Billy looked at me, “What the hell does that mean?”

It means he hated it. He hated it so much that he’s going to do us the favor of NOT reviewing it. At least he didn’t say, “Your movie sucks!”

Billy looked at me, “Well, yeah he kinda did.”

But I knew there was more to it than that. I didn’t always agree with Ebert’s reviews anyway. I thought “Barfly” was total dog crap and he loved it!

But something about Tapioca had set him off. The film is an allegorical comedy with many Catholic references about the ultimate redemption of an alcoholic man.

Years later I would read of Ebert’s own alcoholism and his “disillusionment” with Catholicism. But I’ll never really know what it was about Tapioca that turned him off.

And he actually was doing me a favor. If he had reviewed it negatively I would have just written him off as a total douche, as I did with another Sun-Times critic who panned Tapioca.

So I replied to Roger, “Okay thanks for taking a look.” And left it at that. Who knows when we’d meet again.

Five years later I was about to premiere my new film OUR IRISH COUSINS, again at the Gene Siskel Film Center. I sent Roger a DVD with my pitch.

We were scheduled to premiere in the middle of March and by the end of February I hadn’t heard anything back from Roger. I forwarded the first email with another request. Nothing.

Now it was the day before the Oscars and I’m checking to see what Roger’s writing about and it’s all Oscars and I figured I had nothing to lose so I send another email.

“Hey Roger! F*ck the Oscars! What about OUR IRISH COUSINS?”

Less than an hour later comes his response, “I’m in hospital. I’ll assign it for review on my relaunched website and hopefully for the CST!”

We wound up with a rave review with 3 stars! You can read that miraculous review at RogerEbert.com.

He even tweeted a plug for the film to his 825,000 Twitter followers on St. Patrick’s Day. I wrote him saying, “I have tears of joy on my face…”

The review came out on March 6th, OUR IRISH COUSINS premiered on March 13th and just a little over three weeks later, Roger died. But not before leaving a delightful gift for our little Irish film.

I went to his funeral mass at Holy Name Cathedral. Had Roger come home to the church in his final days? Lord knows, but I’ll tell you this, I know a miracle when I see one. God keep his lovely soul. Thanks Roger!

**************

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2013 column from Irish American News

Photo courtesy of Dean Battaglia

Photo courtesy of Dean Battaglia

 

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Believe it or not, some people don’t like St. Patrick’s Day.

Jewish New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had to apologize a few years back for making some wise cracks about “drunken Irish” on the holy day. And who can forget the late Princess Margaret’s comment back in 1979 when she told Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, “the Irish are pigs”, right after the IRA had blasted Lord Mountbatten’s ass to kingdom come.

But other than a few malcontents, we Irish are universally loved all over the world.

How could we not be? We’re the most brilliant, handsome, and joyful race on earth.

Everybody wants to be Irish; including a certain half-black, Hawaiian who claims roots in Moneygall, County Offally, known to many as BO.

Well who can blame him? Being Irish is hip, especially this month.

This is when the Irish Diaspora flexes her muscles and shows the world how ethnic pride is done. Those poofs in the “Gay Pride” parade got nothing on us and we don’t have to take off our clothes and simulate sodomy with the fire hydrants either.

Here in Chicago we celebrate our pride in being Irish all year round.  It’s why you’re reading this story right now you gorgeous people!

And our St. Patrick’s Day festivities began this year exactly two months before the holy day when a thousand rosy faces toasted new Local 130 Business Manager Jim Coyne at the annual Plumbers Hall St. Patrick’s Day Parade corned beef and cabbage fundraiser dinner.

Coyne has lined up Notre Dame Football Coach Brian Kelly as Grand Marshall of the Parade, kicking off on Columbus Drive on Saturday March 16th. There are also rumors that Fighting Irish football legend Manti Te’o’s girlfriend might make an appearance at the parade, so keep an eye on those Irish Faeries on the floats.

Chicago’s love affair with the Irish continued in February, once again at Plumber’s Hall, when 30 judges crowned Bridget Fitzgerald Queen of the 2013 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Her coronation was preceded by a magnificent speech by outgoing Queen Sara Marie Collins as she bid her subjects adieu.

As one of those judges I can attest to the validity of the election. In spite of Cook County’s reputation and the many text messages, emails, and jokes about bribes being flung my way, nobody was on the take.

How can we be so sure the election was legit? Because Skinny Sheahan was in Florida that day folks.

While Skinny was sun bathing his name was dragged through the mud by many at the fundraiser on Feb. 15th for the Southside Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Bourbon Street was packed with revelers but everybody kept asking me the whereabouts of my radio co-host from The Skinny & Houli Show. “Don’t worry”, I told them, “He’ll be back just in time to dunk his skinny little arse into Lake Michigan for the Special Olympics Polar Plunge!” That’s Sunday March 3rd so come on out to North Avenue Beach to watch him shiver for a great cause.

March Madness won’t be complete of course without the Southside Irish Parade on Sunday March 10th, which triumphantly returned last year after much hard work by Skinny and the SSIP Committee. Everybody is anticipating a very sober and family oriented celebration once again, especially since 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea’s issued his shoot-to-kill edict for anyone seen practicing hooliganism in the public way.

If you’re looking for even more culture this month check out “The Women of Ireland” at The Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet on Thursday March 7th and my favorite Irish band, The Saw Doctors, at The Vic on March 22nd. Very proud to be associated with both shows.

And on Wednesday March 13th at 8:15PM, The European Union Film Festival will present the world premiere of OUR IRISH COUSINS at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 North State Street in Chicago. It could be the most significant Irish film of all time, so you ain’t gonna want to miss that!

Still starved for Irish culture? Check out FREECRAIC.COM, and sate your desire for entertainment, gossip, and giggles this month and every month as we break the stories nobody else will talk about, but everybody wants to know.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and God Bless all you gorgeous people!

-30-

 

August Column From The Irish AMerican News

Hooliganism
By
Mike Houlihan

The “Man from Clare” was my muse.

I wanted the narrator of my new film, “Our Irish Cousins”, to have a brogue and intended to recruit Michael Quinlan from Limerick. Michael had been our guide in Ireland. But when it came time to produce our trailer for the film I couldn’t afford to record a narration track in Ireland so I recruited my old friend PJ O’Dea.

PJ agreed to help me out. I figured we could make PJ’s voice somehow work because the trailer was only ten minutes long.

We had PJ sitting in a studio while I listened in the control room. Jim, our engineer, took PJ through the script line by line as he laid down the tracks.

The narrator would have to be authoritative and commanding while telling our story and yet still be in on the many jokes that popped up during our adventures. The voice would also have to resonate with knowledge of Irish mythology and a timbre of antiquity to suggest the long history of our nation. The voice would need to sound like Ireland himself.

As PJ read the script into the microphone I started thinking, “He sounds pretty good, this might work!”

Towards the end of the trailer script was a line promoting “the new film “Our Irish Cousins”.

Jim the engineer was listening to PJ and stopped to correct him, “No, you’re pronouncing it wrong, it sounds like your saying “fill-um”.

I jumped from my seat and said, “No, that’s perfect, don’t correct him, that’s exactly how it should sound!”

I should have known at the moment that PJ’s voice was destiny calling out to me. The trailer worked out beautifully and helped raise funding on our website. But I still intended to use Quinlan because I had already told him he would be recording his voice over. Months later I recorded Quinlan via Skype as he and engineer Dave Keary laid down the full narration track at Red Door Studios in Limerick.

But PJ’s voice still haunted me. My old pal Pete Nolan called late one night and left a message on my voice mail after watching our trailer online, “PJ sounds great!”

I decided to ask PJ if he would record his version of the complete narration and then I would compare the two and choose the one that worked best.

So I picked up PJ and we again traveled to Hubbard Street Studio. It wasn’t until I was in the editing room with our editor Roger Wolski that we decided to replace Quinlan’s voice with PJ as our narrator.

It was the smart move too because when I eventually sent Quinlan the final cut, he sent me a note that said, “PJ did a great job and from the first time I heard his fine voice I knew he was the one to narrate. Give him my best regards and compliments.”

Classy guy.

PJ’s narration is now the star of my film and people continually ask me where I found him. Well I found him right in our backyard.

We’ve been friends for over 25 years. PJ was born in Kilrush, County Clare and so was my great grandfather.

PJ is a true GAA legend who played with 2 clubs in 11 cities and in four countries. He won his first county medal in 1939 and represented Clare in minor, junior, and senior hurling and also played senior football with Clare and with the Munster teams in 1951 and ’52. He won an All-Ireland hurling medal and then emigrated to the US where he played hurling and football in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and in New York PJ played for our mutual friend John “Kerry” O’Donnell at Gaelic Park in the Bronx. By coincidence I was the porter at O’Donnell’s bar in Manhattan in the early ‘80’s.

Shooting my film in Ireland I interviewed County Clare Mayor Madeleine Taylor Quinn who told me a story about the day she brought a delegation to Chicago to meet Mayor Daley. She was with her cohorts at the Consul General’s Office and one of the dignitaries was alarmed that PJ had stationed himself outside the Mayor’s office and was waiting to join them for the meeting. This stuffed shirt was complaining of the audacity of PJ to crash their meeting. When they finally entered Daley’s inner sanctum, the Mayor jumped from behind his desk and walked across the room to announce, “PJ, how wonderful to see you again”, while the fakers fumed.

He might be breaking into show business at the age of 86, but he’s been a star all his life. When we paid him for the film he sent back a check to buy my grand daughter Charlotte a new bike.

PJ’s voice brings spirituality to the film with an air of mysticism that reminds us all that it’s important to remember who you are and where you come from. His immense pride as an Irishman and “man from Clare” also remind us to hold on to our heritage, it’s the one thing they can never take away from any of us.

“Our Irish Cousins” is now under consideration by all the major international film festivals in the world. I’m sure any accolades or honors we might win will all be due to the performance of PJ O’Dea, our new fill-um star!

-30-
Hear PJ O’Dea at
http://ouririshcousins.com