When I was a kid I loved listening to The Irish Hour on the radio and hearing the Irish ladies announce the benefits in a high pitched brogue, “We’re gonna be havin’ a benefit for little Mickey Hooligan, he fell offava bar stool at Hanley’s House of Happiness and he’ll be in a coma the rest of his life, and his poor wife and 26 children will be without the benefit of a father! Let’s say a decade of the rosary for him!”
That’s the beauty of Irish radio. Irish ladies would continually come by the studio to promote benefits for families that needed help.
With Claire and her Dad @vivamines who host the Irish Hour Radio show. Our future! @RealRomaDowney @iahcchicago @IrishAmWA @irishamerica See https://t.co/BFZPwOZeBp. for Chicago events pic.twitter.com/dhZhXxvaqO— Mary Pat Kelly (@MaryPatKelly) March 2, 2019
Years later when I had my own Irish radio show I met some of those ladies, now most of them younger than me, but still committed to helping in our community.
Undertaker Geno Cooney and I co-hosted “The Craic” radio show with live music in The Fifth Province Pub for about three years… until we got in a beef with management, and they ran us off.
But those were great nights, with raffles, pints, and plenty of craic. That’s where I met Monica McGuane, who was at our show every night, helping with the raffles and continually spreading the word on upcoming benefits for families who had fallen on hard times.
Tune in now to the Irish Hour to join Denise Hagerty and I to talk politics, community and Chicago on WPNA Radio 1490 AM. pic.twitter.com/Qv0e2NQaDs— Bridget Gainer (@BridgetGainer) April 15, 2017
Monica emigrated to Chicago, where three of her sisters lived, in the late sixties. She grew up in Ireland, the eighth of nine kids, in the shadow of Dysart Castle in County Clare. “I feel very fortunate to have chosen to live in Chicago. It was wonderful arriving here and having an Irish Mayor, Richard J. Daley, and some years later having his son follow in his footsteps.”
She knows all about clout.
“In Chicago it’s pronounced ‘McGwane’ and in Ireland they say ‘McGwan’.”
Ah gwan with ye!
An industrious young woman, she went right to work at Midwest Treasury for 18 years til they relocated to Atlanta, then got on as a customer service rep for a tool company for many years. Monica also waitressed at The Great Escape in Schiller Park for close to 40 years, where they still treat her “like a member of the family.”.
These days she volunteers and helps with the St. Patrick Fathers answering the phone and helping with fundraisers.
My old friend Bob Ryan, who is the deacon at St. Juliana’s parish, tells me how Monica is involved with the parish and helped start the annual Irish mass there right before St. Patrick’s Day a few years ago. He told me, “She’s a very private person…and remembers everything…everything. She’s also very good at charming folks out of things they ordinarily wouldn’t give.”
One sultry summer Saturday night, Monica was set up outside St. Bernadine’s parish in Forest Park, selling raffle tix for a benefit and fell asleep while mass was going on inside.
“And I fell asleep, oh my gosh, when the people started coming out I woke up in a hurry!”
She awoke at the card table with the cigar box full of cash in front of her, but nobody had swiped anything. They wouldn’t dare!
“The benefits are always fun to work on…There was a benefit this Sunday for a child, a 22-month-old child that was in a drowning accident but didn’t die… then the St. Patrick Fathers is next week Sunday… the following weekend is a benefit for that young man was on a motorcycle, who’s from Limerick, he was hit by a truck he was. They want to send him back to Ireland… he’s paralyzed from the waist down.”
“You never know what the Lord might send your way. I’m always happy to help.”
Bob’s right about her memory. When we had lunch recently, Monica brought up a comment I made on the air years ago, when my vision was foggy from the six pints I’d consumed during the show. I was having trouble reading a note she passed me about a benefit, couldn’t see straight and wisecracked, “Whoever wrote this has atrocious handwriting!” She’s still peeved at me for that one.
She has a laser like antenna for compassion, and a gift for reaching out to help those in need. Out of the blue the other day she inquired about my late brother Brian who died in January and offered her condolences. I asked her, “How did you know about that?”, Monica told me, “I heard it on the Irish Hour!”