May 2016 Column from The Irish American News

Capone's grave



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.

August Column From The Irish AMerican News

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!

Hear PJ O’Dea at