A Film By Mike Houlihan
“Our Irish Cousins” is an exploration of the Irish American experience. This journey began when writer Mike Houlihan launched his book, “Hooliganism” in November of 2008. The book is an anthology of Mike’s best columns from the Irish American News, Chicago Tribune Magazine, and Chicago Public Radio for the last 15 years. Houlihan has been writing his column in the Irish American News since 1996. Houlihan scheduled a series of book-signings on a personal appearance tour of Irish pubs, parishes, bookstores, and libraries to promote the book. Performing an act that is a hybrid of stand-up comedy and readings from “Hooliganism” the book tour became a freewheeling exchange of ideas and stories with Irish Americans across the Midwest. We began filming these events in early December 2008 and the dialogue with the audience members served up eccentric and funny tales of Irish America. The common denominator of the audience was an Irish ancestry and for the most part, very little practical exposure to the country of Ireland itself.
As we screened footage of the events, we discovered a larger issue emerging with this documentary film. What makes us Irish? What is the source of the immense pride felt by this ethnic group? What are the differences and similarities among the people of Ireland and Irish-Americans? In March of 2009 we traveled to Ireland to discover the answer to these questions. Armed with some sketchy family history, bundles of books, and a half dozen credit cards; Houlihan commandeered his family on a ten day expedition to the Emerald Isle in search of his ancestry and “the spot where the first Hooligan set foot on this earth!” Arriving in Dublin, we were welcomed at the Fitzpatrick Castle in Killiney and treated like royalty. Houlihan took his act to Sheehan’s Pub and did stand-up on his first night in Ireland at “Comedy Dublin”. When he asked his cinematographer how it went, Houlihan was informed, “You just did stand-up in a foreign country!”
That night kicked off a series of on-the-fly interviews with comedians, bartenders, train conductors, men and women on the streets of Ireland. We traveled by rail to Galway, then by car to Headford, Gort, Ennis, (for the Ennis Book Festival), Kilrush, Coole Park, Thoor Ballylee, across the Shannon by ferry from Killimer in Clare County to Tarbert in Kerry. In Dublin we hit the Vicar Street Theatre and did an extensive interview with Ireland’s hottest comedian Des Bishop. We met patriots’ ghosts in Kilmainham Jail and Houlihan dipped his hands in the same baptismal font where his grandfather was christened in Mt. Collins, Limerick County. We shared pints with 1994-96 All Ireland Hurling Champion Mike Houlihan in his pub in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick. “Irish American Mike Houlihan” said to “Irish Mike Houlihan” at this meeting, “Great to meet a Mike Houlihan who hasn’t had his ass kicked in every fight!”
We may not have covered all of Ireland but those ten days and nights will be the pumping heart of our film. Returning to Chicago we filmed BOTH St. Patrick’s Day Parades, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Queen Contest, Mayor Daley’s Annual Irish Reception, and post parade pageantry all over the windy city. We brought our cameras to Cork & Kerry Pub, Claddagh Ring Pub, Sam Maguire’s Pub, Schaller’s Pump, Chief O’Neill’s, Rampant Lion Celtic Trader, O’Rourke’s Office, Kevil’s, Christ the King parish, Borders Books in Beverly, Borders in Oak Park, Harte’s Saloon Chicago, Harte’s Pub Galway, Hackney’s, Glascotts, O’Shaughnessy’s, The Book Cellar, Beverly Woods, World Music Company, New Dublin Irish Fest Wisconsin, Ken’s on Western Ave, Gaelic Park, The Irish American Heritage Center, and The James Joyce Irish Pub in Berwyn, Illinois. We’ve been on WGN TV and Radio, Good Morning Ireland Radio Program, and the Keith Finnegan Show on Galway Bay FM.
Personalities captured on film include Chicago Mayor Daley, Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn, Galway politico and immigration champion Billy Lawless, Clare County Councilor Madeleine Taylor-Quinn, comedian Des Bishop, Hotelier Eithne Fitzpatrick, Irish historian and scholar Michael Quinlan, Irish Nationalist Maureen O’Looney, disc jockey and columnist Shay Clarke, Consul General Martin Rouine, and scores of charming, beautiful, and funny Irish folks. Beginning in early May through late October we traveled the Irish Festival summer circuit and filmed interviews and entertainers in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Dublin-Ohio, New London-Wisconsin, Peoria-Illinois, Long Grove-Illinois, and the Irish American Heritage Center, Gaelic Park Fest, and Celtic Fest in Grant Park-Chicago.
This film is not intended to be a sociological treatise but a whimsical and humorous documentary that captures the fun loving spirit of Irish Americans. The conclusion we’ve reached after all these adventures is that all of us are cousins. All of us, the descendants of those who left Ireland and those who stayed, people of Irish blood all over the world in the USA, Australia, England, everywhere; we are Ireland, the Diaspora of this great nation. So that’s the story of “Our Irish Cousins” and we’ll be encouraging our audience to return over and over again. This film could have an impact on tourism for years to come. We’d like YOU to be a part of it with us.