March Column From The Irish American News

Hooliganism
By
Mike Houlihan

It might be the greatest hoax in Chicago political history.

Percolating in the brainpan of Skinny Sheahan ever since his beloved Southside Irish Parade was canceled by a wussy wing of the parade committee three years ago. Ruffians had “hi-jacked” the parade and instead of cracking down, the committee decided to capitulate, castrate it, and then cry about it.

It left the community without the touchstone they’d taken for granted for the last 32 years.

I delivered a eulogy at a “wake” for the parade at The Beverly Woods banquet hall at 115th and Western on the day the parade should have been in 2010. Skinny stood in the back with Irish TD Jimmy Deenihan and predicted to Sun-Times reporter Mark Konkol, “The parade will be back.”

He said it very matter of factly, as though he knew something nobody else had considered. It was a gantlet tossed in the face of all those opposed to the parade and over the course of the next two years it would become just what he had stated, a fact.

Last August the movement to resurrect the parade began in earnest at a public meeting at The Beverly Art Center where everyone was invited to discuss the reasons the parade was canceled and if there was any interest in bringing it back. As I walked into the meeting there was Mark Konkol of the Sun-Times once again chronicling our world.

At this meeting we heard all the familiar complaints of public intoxication, urination, defecation, and even fornication on neighbors lawns during the parade. All agreed this was a bad thing and all agreed we could do better. Skinny Sheahan stood on the stage and guided the conversation, encouraging folks to vent or lament the loss of the parade.

He asked for a show of hands against the resurrection of the parade. I saw only one man, a transplant to the neighborhood, raise his hand. A plan was taking shape in the mind of Skinny.

Meetings continued throughout the next six months and the business community stepped up with pledges of over $90,000 to defray the extra costs of security and to bolster the $100,000 that had been raised annually by the committee. On the radio and in person Skinny evangelized for a “zero tolerance” parade that would return to the traditions of family and faith embraced by all the Irish parishes of the great South Side.

Early in February the city of Chicago granted a permit for the parade. Or so we were led to believe.

Mayor Rahm had supported the idea in January but 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea suddenly unleashed a full assault on the hopes and dreams of his wife’s uncle, Skinny Sheahan. O’Shea contacted all his constituents condemning any talk of resurrection and sent a formal letter to the Mayor that included photos of debauchery from the ’09 parade.

Suddenly the city was playing hardball in meetings with the parade committee and many wondered if the White House had stepped into the fray at the behest of the First Lady. What if the tales were true from Jody Kantor’s book, “The Obamas” which stated, “…She (Michelle Obama), particularly resented the way power in Illinois was locked up generation after generation by a small group of families, all white Irish Catholic — the Daleys in Chicago, the Hynes and Madigans statewide.”

All of them Southside Irish.

Parade zealots became unhinged, declaring, “Of course, it’s all part of their plan to diss the “breeders” and pro-life Catholics of the Southside by removing our ethnic identity and turning us all into socialist homosexual baby killers!”

City administrators scheduled a final showdown meeting with the parade committee for Friday, February 17th. Skinny flew back from vacation in Florida on the preceding Tuesday and that night he met at the Shamrock pub on Kinzie with Sun-Times Pulitzer Prize winning scribe Mark Konkol.

Bourbon Street would be hosting the big parade fundraiser that Saturday night and sponsors supposedly were getting spooked in fear of losing city contracts. The talk on the Southside was taking an ugly turn as the revival teetered in jeopardy. Neither Alderman O’Shea nor Skinny would budge and the fight had become even more than personal, extrapolating into a full-fledged family feud.

Skinny vented to Konkol that night and as he left I shouted across the bar to the reporter, “If you feck us, we’ll never forget it!”

The stage was now set. The world awaited Friday the 17th.

The story hit the paper Friday morning, with a front-page teaser that said, “The Alderman VS. Uncle Skinny”. Konkol showed us why he won the Pulitzer, with a summary of the facts that was evenhanded, fair, and above all, avoided any “scorched earth” rhetoric from anyone. It laid the groundwork for peace and that afternoon Skinny faced the cameras after meeting with the city and declared that the parade would indeed be back on Sunday March 11th. Alderman O’Shea magnanimously said, “I think it’s going to happen, yeah.”

Saturday night the fundraiser at Bourbon Street was packed to the rafters with Southsiders celebrating the return of the parade. The Sheahans and O’Sheas were family after all.

For those on the south side, the tradition has been restored. For those of us who left the Southside years ago, we will always have the parade to remind us of our Irish heritage, our parents and families, and the faith that guided us through all our troubles. Join us on parade day, Sunday March 11th, or better yet, volunteer today to help. Go to: http://www.southsideirishparade.org

At the fundraiser there was talk that the opposition by Alderman O’Shea was a publicity stunt and he was in on it all along, wanting the parade back that he’d enjoyed for so many years as an organizer.

So was it a hoax? What’s the truth?

Well, to paraphrase from one of my favorite movies, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”—
“This is the Southside, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

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