A Chicago Greek’s Guide to Five Essential St. Patrick’s Day Movies

By John Kass

Did the Irish really save civilization?

With Patrick’s Day coming and five essential St. Patrick’s Day movies to tell you about, I really don’t have time to quibble with the great Thomas Cahill about his wonderful book “How the Irish Saved Civilization.”

Because the Irish did save it. At least parts, at least in wholly uncivilized Western Europe, where the only bath most Western Europeans took in their lives was that one bath when they were baptized.

I thought about mentioning some of the forgotten who also may have “helped” the Irish in saving civilization. Included among the helpers were Greek-speaking “Byzantines.” And they, as history and even Cahill remind us, may have had something to do with the saving. But who wants to argue?

And who reads anymore?

Happily, you read, which is why you’re here at johnkassnews.com and my creditors and the guys at Orvis and some fishing guides on a fine river up north want to thank you.

Sadly, though, too many Americans don’t read. They’d rather sit placidly in the emotional bubble wrap of their favorite cable news echo chamber, while unleashing their horrid thumbs to scream on Twitter at the rest of us.

Yet even flesh-eating social media harpies love movies. And you love movies. Me too.  That’s why I went to film school. But that’s a story for another day.

By now I figure you’ve had your fill of bad lite green beer. Some of you have stood along the parade routes as politicians sucking up for votes got what was coming to them.

On the South Side of Chicago, at the South Side Irish parade on Western Avenue, the angry and righteous boos of the civilized tribes wafted over the terrified Democrat lockdown Gov. Commodius Maximus and his scowling lockdown mini-me, Mayor Phallus Maximus.

The boos were quite heartwarming.

And now, let some politician hold your green beer. Let’s open the good Guinness and get to the business at hand, the five essential St. Patrick’s Day movies.

One is a fascinating film with a raging black heart. It is set during the famine in Ireland, when starving Irish children were offered food by the English to keep them alive, but only if they renounced their faith and converted to Protestantism.

This dark bargain was called “taking the soup,” and if you really want to know about the Irish suffering, you’ll begin with this.

Also in the list is something light, a charming romantic comedy with a meet-cute and road trip through Ireland that my Sicilian wife just loves. And if Betty loves it, then I’ll love it with her because, when you’re married, that’s what you do.

There is a mystical movie on the list, by one of America’s great directors, perfect for watching with the kids and the whole extended family, with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and plenty of snacks and “shhh! be quiets.”

But it isn’t a dumb Disney cartoon. It is a magical tale. I watched it just the other day, alone, and then had to go outside into the garden to think hard on it for a long while.

Also, a documentary from an Irish American from Chicago. And a two-fisted Hollywood classic. Yeah, that one.

You’re probably thinking, what does a South Side Greek born at 52nd and Peoria Street know about the  Irish?

Well, I’ve been covering Chicago politics, the true Irish sport, for centuries. And it just so happens that I was officially named an honorary Irishman by the Emerald Society last year. Their man-of-the-year, “Houli,” will testify to this.

It was “Houli,” a.k.a. Mike Houlihan who wrote his fine column for this website on Sunday under the headline “Find Your Fortune in Your Irish Heritage.”

It started out lightly with Houli wise cracks, but then came something else, about visiting the very church in Ireland where his grandfather had been baptized a hundred years ago. Houlihan dipped his hands into the blessed waters, in that very same stone baptismal font. And there he found his Epiphany.

His film is “Our Irish Cousins” which you can see via the link provided here. But don’t be cheap and just watch the trailer. Pay for the damn movie. Houli has bills too.

According to a review at the Roger Ebert site, Houlihan “manages to quietly layer in more serious-minded concerns amidst the laughter, so that when he visits the church where his grandfather was baptized more than a century earlier, the scene winds up packing a surprisingly hefty emotional punch.”

The next St. Patrick’s Day movie on my list is “Black ‘47”

This 2018 action film directed by Lance Daly is dark as it needs to be. It is set during the worst year of the famine. Starring Hugo Weaving and James Frecheville, this is a drama of a soldier who returns home to Ireland to see his family broken and destroyed. The poor were starving, and the English offered food. All the Irish had to do  to “take the soup” was to turn their backs on their Roman Catholic faith and become Protestants.

Only then they could eat. And their children would survive.

Here in America, religion is on the wane. But the Irish cling to memory, to story. They have a tradition of great oral history. Yet we modern Americans are encouraged to forget everything about five minutes after it happens. Big Tech, Corporate Media and other political elites celebrate the historical revisionists who wipe our cultural memory. And we’re prompted to wash and rewash our minds, to make it easier for the establishment lords to fill our heads with whatever they need to fill them with, so we may do as we’re bid.

But the Irish don’t forget. In this, they’re like the Greeks, who can’t forget 400 years of Turkish occupation.

Not all English clergy used starvation as a weapon to convert Roman Catholics to Protestantism. But there were enough offering “the soup” to starving Catholic families. Political cruelty, zealotry and the needs of power always reach for the tools at hand. Look around you.

Today, it isn’t about the soup, because for many, religion is no longer a consideration. Politics is the religion now. Government is the religion now. You see forms of this modern “religious” ideological coercion steamrolling through American culture, through the government and even private schools shaping the minds of the young, and at your workplaces, in the armed forces, the halls of government, media. And with it all comes the threats for those who refuse to comply.

Ironically–if the word still has any meaning in 2022– in “Black ’47” the refuge from an oppressive Ireland is an America that celebrated traditions of individual liberty .Things change.

It is a thrilling action film, with plenty of violence and battles to satisfy all action fans. But for me, it was the quiet violence of people forced to bend the knee to “take the soup” and urn from their faith that was  brutally unforgettable.

The next film in my list of essential St. Patrick’s Day movies is bright, and magical, seen through myth and mist and just right for the entire family.

John Sayles’ 1994 movie “The Secret of Roan Inish” is an absolute treasure.

It centers on Irish folklore of the selkies, seals that sometimes shed their skin to walk and live amongst humankind. A little girl, her grandparents, their abandoned ancestral family fishing island, and the mythical story of one such selkie is just begging you to watch. So, watch it.

This next film in a Greek American’s list of St. Patrick’s Day movies involves the Lovely Sicilian, my wife Betty, who got tired of me selecting action, gangster, sci-fi and political thrillers.

 “Can’t we watch something sweet without killing and spies and politics and dragons? How about a love story?” she asked.

We found one.

“Leap Year,” stars the impossibly cute Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in a love story set in Ireland.

Somehow, she’s picked up the wrong-headed idea that on a certain day during a leap year, an unmarried woman may propose to a man in Ireland, and like a trained pooch, he’ll just just roll over and marry her.

Yes, it sounds like blarney. Chaos ensues. But it all works out. Because it’s a love story, get it?

Don’t forget to kiss the girl sitting next to you on the couch. I did. And give her a flower, even if you’re allergic.

Just about everybody has seen John Ford’s “The Quiet Man.”

This is a two-fisted classic. Ford’s “Homeric” story of John Wayne, as an American prizefighter who carries a sin, and comes home to Ireland, to his family cottage and farm. He falls in love with the stubborn neighbor, the beautiful Maureen O’Hara.

The photo at the top of this column is of the pub where many scenes were filmed. Yet with its plot centering on dowries and “patriarchy” this film couldn’t be made today. Many angry feminists must certainly hate this old movie. But it’s St. Patrick’s Day. So I give two figs about their anger and their fuzzy “p-hat” wearing husbands.

“The Quiet Man” is a classic. Period. It’s sentimental, but not barbarically so. And its most worthy.

Those of us only one generation removed from farming and old country village life that revolved around church holidays and the harvests will see its charm. Because in it, we hear echoes of what we miss about our lost traditions, what we’ve given up as immigrants who came to America.

So there you have it. A Chicago Greek’s list of Five Essential St. Patrick’s Day movies.

One more thing. Please don’t drink too much and smash your jaw on the angry fist of an angry man, like I stupidly did once.

Later, there was a beautiful girl I’d once dated–we’d broken up and gone our separate ways–but she saw me with my jaw wired shut, skinny from months of not eating solid food. Her heart softened. She immediately wanted us to get back together.

And so we did, more than 35 years ago. We might even watch “Leap Year” again on Thursday.

But that’s a story for another time.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


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