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Reconnecting with P.J.

May 11, 2016

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Stephen Mullen recently met up with his dad Frank’s friends from his student  days in Chicago in the early 1970s, P.J. and Mary O’Dea, along with dog Molly.
 

 

By 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.

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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 P.J. 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 two 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 U.S. where he played hurling and football in Los Angeles, San Francisco and 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 P.J. O’Dea and the next day I’m picking him up at the Metra station to bring him to meet the O’Deas 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 P.J., a Celtic connection was made. P.J. 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, P.J. 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 going to 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 P.J. O’Dea and the Notre Dame Inn. P.J. 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 P.J. 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 P.J., who was hale and hearty, and was able to visit with him and his good wife Mary.  Stephen video recorded P.J. 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 Mel’s, 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 P.J. 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 P.J. 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.

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