James Houlihan

Image of young boy and girl, hugging in a door way
James Houlihan and Mary McSharry, Donegal, 1964.

A second generation Irish-American on his mother’s side and a fourth generation on his father’s side (Kenmare, County Kerry), with links to Saint John’s Point, Dunkineely in Co. Donegal, James (Jim) Houlihan is a member of our diaspora who wears many hats. Significantly he has curated a wonderful and hugely successful travelling exhibition entitled: ‘Fighting Irishmen: Celebrating Celtic Prizefighters 1820-Present’. The exhibition tells the story of young male and more currently, female native Irish and Irish immigrants and their assimilation into the world of sport - boxing in particular.

To date, the 'Fighting Irishmen' exhibition was created for the Irish Arts Center in New York’s “Hell’s Kitchen” in 2006 and has been featured at the South Street Seaport Museum, in New York City, at the John J. Burns Library at Boston College, the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, the Gaelic Athletic Association Museum at Croke Park, the Sports Arena at the University of Limerick, and the McClelland Irish Library in Phoenix, Arizona - 2013 sees its 8th consecutive year on display!

Visitors to the show can feast their eyes on an array of robes, gloves, boxing bags, prints, photographs, painting and film footage of Celtic prize-fighters from 1820 to the present day. Intriguing objects on display include pieces from sporting greats such as John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Barry McGuigan, Freddie Gilroy, Bobby Cassidy, Gerry Cooney, Wayne McCullough, Billy Graham, Billy Conn, Frank Moran, John Duddy, Maureen Shea, and many more. Jim also served as chairman of the Great Hunger memorial committee at V.E. Macy Park in Ardsley, New York, which enabled Irish sculptor Eamonn O'Doherty to create a poignant monument to commemorate the suffering of millions of Irish peasants who died from the potato famine or were forced to leave their country.

The maternal connection with Donegal means that Jim has many relatives in the Dunkineely and Mountcharles areas. In 2012, he arranged a gathering at Harvey’s Point in Donegal, and previously had arranged several family reunions in the Castle Murray House Hotel on St. John’s Point in Donegal. His mother was able to listen in on the session via Skype and talk to relatives in the area who she hadn’t seen for years.

The first time Jim visited Donegal was in 1964, as a kid of twelve years of age. It was not until 1987 that he returned but his visits have become more regular since the mid 1990’s - he has even visited several times in one year! These homecoming visits are primarily centered around family gatherings, in particular weddings. James explains: ‘Irish weddings go on for days.  For my cousin Sean McCallig’s wedding, we arrived on the Friday and had a sing-song in the pub in Mountcharles. The wedding was held at the Blue Haven on the Saturday we went a trip along the coast to Killybegs on Sunday, but we got a flat tyre on the side of the road so went to the pub and had the sing-song all over again.’

James’ wife Pat has also worked with the Irish tourist board and has arranged many trips to Ireland and Donegal. Both admire Donegal’s scenery and landscape with the ‘beautiful rugged countryside’ noting that Glencolmcille is a 'uniquely special place’. In essence, what connects them to Donegal is the feel the county and the friendliness of the people.

James explains: ‘Although I don’t live in Donegal, I always feel at home when I’m back because everyone always has a smile for you and is so friendly. While Irish people are renowned for their warmth, I don’t think you see it to the extent anywhere else in Ireland that you see it in Donegal’.