The shameful dismissal of Irish American congressional chaplain Patrick Conroy seemed like something out of an old Hollywood flick.
You can even imagine a black and white scene, perhaps directed by Frank Capra or someone else who loves an underdog story.
You can imagine the Southern Baptist congressmen who were reportedly upset that Conroy made a speech that seemed critical of Republican tax policy. You can imagine the bloated congressmen chewing on their cigars, muttering nasty things about Conroy, and liberals, and Jesuits, and maybe even Catholics in general.
The only problem is it was another Irish Catholic – House Speaker Paul Ryan, the leader of congressional Republicans – who supposedly engineered the dismissal of Conroy. (Conroy has since rescinded his resignation after realizing Ryan could not, in fact, fire him.)
Indeed, with all those Hannitys and O’Reillys bellowing on cable, and with all those Kellys and Mulvaneys bellowing in the name of Trump, it’s hard to remember a time when the Irish were natural underdogs.
Hard. But not impossible.
A new book reminds us that not all that long ago, it was only natural to have an Irish kid play one of the outsiders at a country club full of rich WASP Republican types. The Irish kid, of course, came from a huge family. And had an Irish girlfriend with a terrible accent and an even worse name.
And he teams up with some other outsiders – an Italian American caddy named Tony D’Annunzio, a Polish goofball named Al Czervik – to challenge the powers that be at the country club.
The result was the deeply personal, deeply Irish, deeply hilarious 1980 golfing comedy classic Caddyshack.
“Part coming-of-age comedy, part class-warfare commentary, Caddyshack was rooted in the teenage experiences of the blue-collar Murray clan,” Chris Nashawaty writes in his new book "Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story."
Nashawaty, of course, is referring to one of the Irish American stars of the film (Bill Murray), as well as one of the writers, his brother Brian Doyle-Murray. They had “spent their summers thanklessly” working low-wage jobs and catering to rich jerks, at Chicago area country clubs.
The Murray brothers used these experiences to create Bushwood Country Club and the broader world of Caddyshack. Their on-screen hero is Danny Noonan, born “on the wrong side of the tracks into a working-class Irish Catholic family with too many kids to count,” writes Nashawaty, the film critic at Entertainment Weekly.
Noonan is ambitious, but he’s got no money, so he hopes that working for the rich jerks at Bushwood will get his some kind of break.
The Bushwood members are such classic jerks that, the biggest jerk of them all, Judge Elihu Smails, tells jokes like this, “Did you hear the one about the Jew, the Catholic, and the Colored Boy who went to heaven?”
This is the contemptuous kind of world Danny Noonan is hoping to join. But money is not his only problem.
He’s also got an Irish girlfriend named Maggie (of course). She is pregnant (of course.) Played by actress Sarah Holcomb, not only is she named Maggie O’Hooligan, she also has an Irish accent that makes the Lucky Charms leprechaun sound like Daniel Day-Lewis.
The point that’s easy to lose in all of this is that there was once a time when Irish kids like Danny Noonan may have been tempted by the money and power of the country-club types. But they also came to realize that these WASPs were not only jerk but had been jerks for generations who viewed the Irish and other immigrants – all outsiders without much power, really – with scorn and contempt.
That’s why it remains so jarring to hear folks like Sean Hannity brag about their Irish roots, while at the same time gleefully punching down at the folks Republicans like President Trump – and Ryan – have cast as America’s enemies.
One day it’s Mexicans. The next day it’s an Irish American Jesuit.
Who knows who’s next?
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)