I first met Maureen O’Looney in 1984. I was living in New York then and producing and directing a show that I originally put up at the Village Gate. The show featured a couple of Irish brothers from Limerick who would go on to worldwide fame as A COUPLE OF BLAGUARDS. The title fit them perfectly.
We started the tour in Syracuse, then Philly, and were scheduled to play just two weeks in Chicago. I got the brothers on Maureen’s radio show over at WPNA I think. She urged all her listeners to see the show and combined with a great review in the Tribune she catapulted us into a nine month run that eventually brought us back to The Village Gate in New York for St. Patrick’s Day of 1985.
I moved home to Chicago that summer and mounted another show, NBC political commentator Peter Nolan’s political comedy THE 51ST WARD. Maureen was there then too, plugging our show on the radio and helping in every way she could. Pete Nolan had interviewed her on TV in the past regarding Irish politics. I remember Maureen reading a commercial for some bank and the copy included reference to their great IRA rates. As she smiled through her commercial she winked at Pete while promoting the IRA!
Her subtle wit was not lost on me. From then on every time I was promoting anything she was there to help. She helped make my show GOIN’ EAST ON ASHLAND a hit that ran for over six years and never turned down my requests to be on her show. By now she was over on Belmont Ave, not far from her store. She’d have me sit with her doing the show when there weren’t any other guests and sometimes I’d read the spots for funeral homes and insurance companies for her. I was learning from a master.
IN 2009 while filming “Our Irish Cousins” I did an interview with Maureen in her shop on Laramie. She told me the story of how she came to America and had a story for each of the photographs on her wall, covered with pols, cops, and movie stars. She talked of the great Bernadette Devlin, “She was something special, Mike.”
I told her how my parents never spoke of their Irish roots and she told me, “Well that’s because they were poor, ya see, and they didn’t want to talk about those days.”
Her advice became the raison d’être for the film when she told me, “They were very poor in one way, but very rich in another.”
She helped me realize that I’d found my fortune…in my Irish heritage.
Maureen’s in heaven now, I’m sure of it. She spent a lifetime helping others and helping us invest in our culture, and reaping the riches found only in an Irish heart.
God rest her lovely soul.