Citizens Report American Irish Culture

Hibernian Media’s Optimism Shines Through Pandemic

By Izzy Cusack

Empresario Mike “Houli” Houlihan can’t wait to put 2020 behind him. “Thank God the Year of Living Dangerously will soon be over!”

Houlihan founded his public charity in 2013 and dedicated their work to “telling stories to enlighten future generations while honoring our ancestors”. He’s an evangelist for Irish culture and up until last March his Hibernian Media was hitting them out of the park, with their Annual Irish American Movie Hooley film festival at The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and a fistful of endeavors to preserve and promote Irish and Irish American culture.

“Since founding Hibernian Media, we’ve produced almost a thousand radio shows, featured over 800 guests and musicians, dozens of exclusive film screenings, many world premieres, a trinity of PBS television premieres, oodles of impromptu pub concerts, with eight annual trips to Ireland including 198 guests on those trips, a million laughs and yes, a few tears, the good kind.”, he says.

When his PBS TV show, OUR IRISH PUB, premiered for the second year in a row on WTTW in late March, over 34,000 households tuned in as the Tribune raved on St. Patrick’s Day. Hibernian Media was poised to close a deal for global syndication, broadcasting the show all over the world.

But Covid ain’t for sissies. Since welcoming the Mayor of County Cork to their radio show last March, Hibernian Media has cancelled their Fall film festival, cancelled a special “Skinny & Houli Return to Ireland” tour during the Galway film festival scheduled in July, and thrown in the towel on their weekly radio show from Lizzie McNeill’s Irish Pub. Any deal for OUR IRISH PUB syndication was strangled as pubs all over the world went dark.

“There were moments back in May when I felt like I was crackin’ up, as I taped our radio show at home into my phone with reruns of old guests and new Irish obits that seemed to get longer every week.”

But this cultural warrior has more stories to tell. Houli’s muse was reawakened recently with a generous grant from the Consulate of Ireland for his film IN SEARCH OF WEEPING JIM, filmed over eight years of Ireland tours and inspired by a friend’s search for his grandfather’s legacy, starting in Inishcuttle, Kilmeena, County Mayo and into the Chicago City Council. It’s the story of a 13-year-old Irish emigrant lad who transformed America in the early nineteenth

Weeping Jim Kearns with his family, circa 1915.

century in Chicago. Hibernian Media will finish filming WEEPING JIM in late October in Chicago, adding music and narration, and weaving a story to inspire Gen X’ers while honoring those who came here before us.

In June Houli took his Hibernian Radio Hour on the road all over town on their “Police Pub Tour”, interviewing Irish cops in the midst of a summer of social unrest and finally settling into The Cork & Kerry Irish Pub for what looks to be an extended residency on the ol’ south side of Chicago.

Cameras were rolling all along the way and a new documentary is in development as Hibernian Radio “backed the blue” in enlightening interviews with “the good guys”, as a nation was torn asunder by BLM, Antifa, and violence in our streets, leading up to one of the most consequential elections in our history; Hibenian Radio told the real story.

Today Houli is hard at work on his third book of short stories, “Southside Irish Mythology”, with tales both tall and true about some of the most unforgettable characters he’s met in his old neighborhood over the last 70 years or so. Look for it in bookstores for Christmas.

Ask if all this is the power of positive thinking and Houli laughs, “I just wanna give 2020 an extra kick in the ass as it walks out the door!”

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