April Column from Irish American News

By Mike Houlihan

I actually thought I was going to die, on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day.

It was like getting called back into the huddle, you’ve broken a couple ribs, your left ankle is shot, two teeth gone, and you don’t think you’ll ever father another child, but the coach turns to you and says, “Get in there kid, we need ‘ya!”

So there I was on Columbus Drive, a balmy 70 degrees and I’m marching with the Emerald Society. Might as well go out in glory I figured because this St. Patrick’s Day season was a killer.

The high holy days traditionally begin in late January at Plumber’s Hall corned beef & cabbage fundraiser. As always, it was a gas.

By the time you hit the Queen Contest in late February you’ll have Guinness coming out your ears. Still, on you roll.

The next two weeks were a series of beer-fueled skirmishes over the return of the Southside St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which looked like a lock until Alderman Weenerpants tried unsuccessfully to stop it.

More corned beef and cabbage heaped on my plate at the Mulliganeers annual fundraiser and a flat tire in the parking lot did not deter me.

Mustering all my grit we headed to Springfield that Friday to entertain the Sons and Daughters of Erin at their annual banquet. Did my act and sold four books. But they made a nice fat donation to my movie, (ouririshcousins.com) and put me and the missus up for the night at a cozy Inn around the corner from the Lincoln Museum.

The next day the lovely Mary and I immerse ourselves in history at the museum, which has special significance for me. When I told my dad I wanted to be an actor 40 years ago he screamed, “John Wilkes Booth was a #%&*’ actor!”

On our way back that Saturday night we hit Bourbon Street for the St. Baldrick’s Parade Preview. We ran into the Queen and her court. The gals tell me they’re not allowed to wear their sashes the next day at the Southside Parade; some sort of protocol mix-up.

I offered to let Queen Sara borrow my own St. Patrick’s Day Parade Queen sash and she looked at me strangely and nixed the idea. My sash was specially made for a bimbo I hired to hustle my book after the last South Side Parade. I took the sash back at the end of the night because Miss Ditz hadn’t sold enough books and it cost me almost a hundred bucks.

Sunday morning I’m on the south side by 8:30AM. Jimmy Smith gives me a lift in his golf cart over to St. Cajetan’s for the parade mass. I walk into the vestibule and there’s my niece Bridget hawking her book about the history of the parade. Later I spy Bridget crawling under her table to hide as the priest reads the gospel about Jesus throwing the moneylenders out of the temple

Filled with grace I hopped a Western Ave bus down to 102nd Street to march on a glorious day that restored the tradition of this great parade. As we marched past Ken’s on 105th Street the wholesomeness of the event started to overwhelm me and I spot Jackie Casto in front of his saloon. I entered the shady gin mill for a better view of the parade out Ken’s window.

Some beers later that afternoon I chomped more corned beef in the backyard of my pal Frankie Moran’s daughter Julie. Battle fatigue was setting in and by the time I trudged over to Cornelius Mass’ house, my butt was dragging. I was starting to feel old when I realized that the actual St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t going to happen for another six days!

Wednesday night I was hired to perform my shtick for the Blue Island Public Library. Two minutes into my bit an old guy in the front row starts heckling me. I quieted him with a look that said, “There is no audience participation in my show pal, so shut the feck up!” Sold six books!

Friday morning I’m having breakfast with the Flood Brothers at the Union League Club, where I was blackballed years ago.

The Taoiseach himself, Enda Kenny, is sitting next to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Shaking his hand I told him I was a friend of Mike Monaghan’s in Headford, County Galway. Suddenly the Taoiseach lit up and said, “Mike is an old friend of mine, please tell him I will be out to see him soon!” I glanced over to the Rahminator thinking, “This is what Irish clout looks like, little man.”

That night I partied at Lizzie McNeill’s with my sons Bill & Paddy to celebrate their birthday, leaving Goldie’s in Forest Park around midnight. Nothing more fun than drinking with the Houlihan brothers.

Popped a couple aspirin Saturday morning and hopped the El downtown for the parade. I met Skinny on the Balbo bridge and then followed him through the crowd. Every three feet a fan would stop him with kudos on the Southside Parade. ‘Twas like playing Pebble Beach with Bob Hope.

In the shade of trees in the park we assembled with the Emerald Society and our fellow marchers: the History Detective Rick Barrett, Neil Maas in his Garda uniform, Potter Palmer IV and his lady friend Erica Meyer.

As the parade stepped off I realized I wasn’t going to croak. Potts took us all back to the Palmer House, (where his great grandmother invented the brownie), and as we toasted Chicago’s Irish I said, “Next year we’ll do it all in one week!”