By Mike Houlihan
Thursday March 17, 2022, will be my 73rd St. Patrick’s Day.
That’s a lot of hooliganism over the years. And while we’re on the subject, I still find references to anti-social behavior as “hooliganism” or the work of “hooligans” insulting, so knock it off!
The reference dates to 1898 when Irish gangster Patrick Hooligan caused his share of trouble in Southwark, London. This was way before “Paddy” wagons, so don’t even get me started on that malarkey. My son’s name is Paddy for de feck’s sake!
When political debate was outlawed in Ireland, many of her great writers would veil their nationalism by writing love poems and plays to Kathleen Ni Houlihan in the press or onstage. Yeats solidified that reputation with his play of the same name and Kathleen Ni Houlihan is now widely accepted as the personification of Ireland herself.
That’s more like it!
St. Patrick’s Day has understandably been given a bad reputation by the bad behavior of a few drunken sots over the years, but we’re past that now, I hope.
My late friend, 1953 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner, expressed these thoughts to me as his St. Patrick’s Day message many years ago. “Have a good time, it’s legitimately the only time a good Irishman can get a load on without feelin’ guilty.”
So, enjoy, but go easy.
Sure, I’ve had some embarrassing Paddy’s Day memories and we’ve all heard stories about your man who was arrested while drunk running down the street naked and thought, in his defense, it WAS St. Patrick’s Day!
When I was 20 years old waiting to take the police exam I was working for the Sanitary District as a janitor where my late pal Jack Sullivan hired me. I showed up on Paddy’s Day wearing green pants and Sullivan gave me the rest of the day off to go to the parade that day. I got a nice load on, took the Rock Island home and was sleeping it off when my dad woke me up later that afternoon because Joe Cavanaugh was at the front door.
I came downstairs to greet Joe in my Paddy’s Day pants and he promptly punched me in the head on my front porch, “And that’s for what you said to my sister at the parade!”
In the eighties I conned my way into being the Special Events Director for the State of Illinois Center and would annually produce “Illinois Salutes the Irish” and we’d have Alderman Eddie Burke playing the piano while Senate President Phil Rock sang “Galway Bay”. Plenty of Irish dignitaries would show up for that, including a young Michael Flatley before he became Lord of the Dance.
As I got older, I began to get beyond the boozing to the beauty of Ireland and our Irish culture itself.
I was in Chicago with Irish President Michael D. Higgins when he said, “culture is a living, breathing thing, constantly changing and morphing into an ever-evolving celebration of the society that creates it.” We are 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 me that it starts in the heart of our very being and should be celebrated with music, song, dance, laughter and “the craic”.
I was searching with my family for our ancestral roots while on a book tour through Ireland in 2009. We found the church where my maternal grandfather, Denis Cusack, was baptized in 1861, and as I plunged my hands into the water of that same baptismal font, the spirit of my ancestors took possession of my soul and I had my Epiphany.
Enlightenment had arrived after a lifetime of chasing dreams as a Broadway actor, journalist, and playwright and my vision instantly became focused on the celebration of Irish and Irish American culture. My search and discovery became a documentary film capturing that moment and many other miracles as I “found my fortune in my Irish heritage”
These days I celebrate my Irish culture through our public charity, Hibernian Media, with a pair of weekly Irish radio shows, our annual Irish American Movie Hooley film festival, our annual pilgrimage to Ireland, and a variety of Irish films, TV shows and concerts.
The message of St. Patrick’s Day should always be about our great Catholic faith. St. Patrick converted Ireland with the shamrock signifying the Holy trinity. He saved us all and let’s never forget him.
So go to mass on St. Patrick’s Day and sure have a pint or two, but don’t forget to watch our show OUR IRISH PUB on WTTW at 11PM that night.
So, that’s my advice from a hooligan. God bless you all and may the wind be ever at your back and don’t step in the cow s*** on your way home!
Mike Houlihan is a former features columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times, Irish American News and currently Chicago correspondent for The Irish Echo. He began his career in 1973 as an apprentice with The American Shakespeare Festival, appearing in the classics there and in regional across the nation as well as Off-Broadway, on Broadway, on TV and in major motion pictures. He is a playwright and author of anthologies “Hooliganism Stories” and “More Hooliganism Stories” and the gonzo Mayoral campaign journal “Nothin’s on The Square”; founder of the Annual Irish American Movie Hooley film festival each Fall at the Gene Siskel Film Center; recently honored as 2020/2021 “Irishman of the Year” by the Emerald Society, the Irish American Police; and his TV show OUR IRISH PUB is scheduled for broadcast on WTTW on St. Patrick’s Day. He has written, directed, produced, and starred in several indie films, three of which were screened on Saturday March 12th at The Beverly Arts Center for “Houli-Fest”. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!