Mike Houlihan.

Storyteller at top of his game

“I thought he was a gangster when I first met him. It was back in the ’80s one night at Lino’s on Ontario Street after a long night of drinking. Tom Fitzgibbon sat at the bar with his French cuffs and mustache and bought me a drink.”

Or try this: “After 12 years of being a widow Angela Delaney felt like she was finally hitting her stride. Her late husband Tony had left her enough dough, not a fortune but enough where she didn’t have to work. That was important to her because if she had to work there wouldn’t be much time for her to pray.”

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So, you can see that Mike “Houli” Houlihan knows how to introduce someone. And there’s plenty more where those openers came from, specifically in his latest volume, “Chicago Irish Mythology.”

Houlihan is a man with feet comfortably in two worlds, as a native of Chicago’s Southside and a citizen of Ireland. He regularly takes trips back to his ancestral homeland, and even then there might be a Windy City angle – like the time he set out to investigate the story of Alderman James Ambrose “Weeping Jim” Kearns, who left Mayo with his family at age 13 in the 1880s.

There’s some Houlihan family history here, too. In “Root Street,” a Father’s Day column originally published in John Kass News, the usually jolly and wise-cracking Houli takes a more reflective turn as he tells the story of Bill Houlihan, who was born in 1904 and died 91 years later. The author’s father’s father was rather less lucky in terms of longevity; he was an ironworker who fell from a building to his death in 1915, leaving behind a wife, and three sons, Bill being the youngest. 

The older boys became cops, and Bill joined the Chicago Board of Trade. In time he met Joe Riley, a guy who like him was adept at numbers. They formed Radio Materials Corporation and “made a bundle.”

Bill married Sis Cusack and they had seven children. Mike was the youngest, as his dad before him had been. A “dream house” was built, but soon enough there was “trouble in paradise.” The column tells the story of how, and speculates about why, an inebriated and determined Houlihan Sr. on one particular occasion made a trip to Root Street in the early hours – Root Street, where he’d earned, his son says, an MBA in the school of hard knocks – and somehow, when back home, he got himself ready for work as the sun came up. 

He lived by that code, “like other men of his time, about getting up every day to do it again for the family, whether you feel like it or not.”

Mike Houlihan has worn and continues to wear many hats professionally, but one constant has been his work as a writer for periodicals – he was a features columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times; for 20 years he wrote the “Hooliganism” column in the Irish American News; and these days he writes the “Chicago Calling” column for this newspaper.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, publisher of the Irish Echo, says, “Long may his gorgeous prose illuminate the Windy City for our readers.”

“There is only one Mike Houlihan,” says Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Kogan, “and though he has artfully and energetically and successfully tackled many artistic endeavors – actor, producer, filmmaker – it is as a writer that he achieves what is not only the top of his game but also gives joy to readers. This latest gathering of stories is firmly focused on people and through this wild and wonderful crowd he manages to get to the heart of our shared humanity.”

Mike Houlihan

Date of Birth: Dec. 16, 1948

Place of birth: Chicago, Ill. 

Spouse: The lovely Mary Carney. We met at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in 1976, both of us acting in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

Children: William & Padraic, twins, both 43.

Residence: Forest Park, Ill. 

Published works: “Hooliganism Stories” (2013)

“More Hooliganism Stories”(2014); “Nothin’s On the Square”  (2017); “Chicago Irish Mythology,” (2023).

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

Wish I had a routine. I tend to write only on deadline. Ideally, I would write every afternoon from my cabana on a tropical island with a drink nearby.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Just keep doing it.

What book are you currently reading? 

Just finished reading Dennis Foley’s book “Feloniously Yours,” his memoir about getting indicted. He’s a great writer, also loved his book “The Drunkard’s Son.”

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Fitzpatrick Castle in Killiney, just outside Dublin. When we shot my film “Our Irish Cousins” in 2009, Eithne and her sons were very kind to me and my family. Now we stay there every year on the first and last night of our annual pilgrimages to Ireland. All the Fitzpatricks have been great to me in Chicago, New York City and especially Eire. Also love Dingle. 

You're Irish if...

Fer the feck’s sake! Your speech is punctuated by creative cuss words.

For more on Mike Houlihan, visit hibernianmedia.org.