CHICAGO CALLING: Lights, Camera, Action - a new filmmaker is born

Take a kid from the southside, went to St. Linus, Brother Rice H.S. and then St. Norbert’s in Wisconsin for college. He’s worked with his hands most of his years, brick layer, construction work. His dad’s from Galway, mom’s folks from Roscommon and Leitrim. He could have a long and prosperous career as a city worker with Streets and Sanitation or maybe a cop, or firefighter.

But send that kid to Ireland for a while and he might become the next John Ford…Ed Burns..or maybe Preston Sturges! He could very well become one of the greats of Irish and Irish American cinema.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

The lad in question is the former “Johnny Haran”, now John Joe Horan (above and in various guises below) since returning from Éire. He chose Mary Immaculate College in Limerick for his semester abroad and that’s when lightening lit the fuse to his creative spirit. He had an epiphany. That’s when he started to feel like he was in a movie. He was rocking out as a young filmmaker and content creator at “Mary Eye”, when Covid hit. 

"We were all getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day and then I got a call from my parents that the US had closed down the borders. They were calling everybody back . Everyone was panicked, ‘ya know?”

He returned to Chicago and eventually St. Norbert’s and the hysteria of lockdowns, masks, and pandemic lunacy. Two years later he graduated from St. Norbert’s with his sheepskin in Communications and Media Arts.

Mom Carmel, John Joe, sister Mary, younger brother Mike, and dad Michéal

Mom Carmel, John Joe, sister Mary, younger brother Mike, and dad Michéal

But Ireland had awakened the spirit of this writer and he returned to “Mary I” to get his master’s degree and his thesis was a screenplay he wrote about two Yank brothers, Pat and Mike, and their search for buried treasure in Ireland outlined in a map left to them by their late father. That year in Ireland helped John Joe create a story, a terrific screenplay he calls 'Into An Emerald Fire'. 

What is it with the Irish and telling stories? It’s not a myth, but it’s mythical. It must be in our DNA, along with other traits that make us the greatest race of people, the Magnificent Irish. 

In John Joe’s screenplay, two brothers Pat and Mike, head to Ireland to find the treasure mentioned in the map they find in their dad’s belongings. They can’t read the language, assume it’s Irish and hire a translator in Ireland, who turns out to be a vivacious young Traveller gal named Siobhain, who tells them the language is “Cant, the language, also known as Gammon, or Shelta."

Working  as a bricklayer

Working as a bricklayer

"Cant is the language of the Travelers, the roaming people of Ireland and all over Europe. For most of our history, the language was only spoken within our communities. It was like our secret code, very different from Irish.”

With “Into the Emerald Fire”, John Joe Horan has written the perfect low-budget script to stir the Irish blood on both sides of the pond. Two brothers hunting for treasure with a rogue female Traveller,  Siobhán, a modern adventure story steeped in old Irish traditions and Irish American folklore too.
In that way his film is particularly Irish and John Joe tells me, “My identity as Irish American, being Irish fully genetically, but nationally being American, walking those two lives has always been a big interest in my life."

Speaking at the Irish Ambassador's Residence in Wash DC, 2024

Speaking at the Irish Ambassador's Residence in Wash DC, 2024

“Plastic Paddy” is a term thrown at yanks around St. Patrick’s Day but Horan sez, “You start hearing all these different interpersonal conflicts, especially for me. I am an American, proud to be an American. I’m Irish, of course, and I have so much Irish family and Irish friends of family, so there’s been no shortage of Irish in from every county you can think of, but still to help when you’re writing a voice that’s not your own, it helps to actually listen to people from that culture. But bringing it out to hopefully a larger idea of what being authentically Irish is. ‘Other’ Irish in Ireland struck a chord with me being an ‘other’ in Ireland.” 
The island today is much more diverse than the days of 'The Quiet Man'.

Torc Waterfall in Killarney, 2023

Torc Waterfall in Killarney, 2023

John Joe’s Irish pedigree is secure with his father Micheal 'Mike' from Eyre Court, County Galway, mom Carmel with roots in Leitrim and Roscommon, and family folklore sez grandpa helped start the Boston chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Looking forward to seeing his film 'Into The Emerald Fire' and whatever else this young man conjures from his Irish psyche. Stay tuned!