Back in the halcyon days of the 1970s and 80s, McDonald’s advertising was full of wonder, mischief, and terrifying human-sized puppets. Inspired by H.R. Pufnstuf and other works by Sid and Marty Krofft (so much so that the Krofft’s successfully sued for copyright infringement), McDonaldland was the fantastical home of Ronald McDonald and all his wacky friends, like the bumbling, incompetent bureaucrat Mayor McCheese, the recidivist bovine-addict Hamburgalar, and Grimace, who, as the physical embodiment of a giant taste bud, makes me terrified of my own mouth (Grimace has fur. Do my taste buds have fur?).
Each McDonaldland character was connected to a menu item – Mayor McCheese and the cheeseburger, Hamburglar and the hamburger, Grimace and the… milkshake… sure. But did you know that there used to be another Grimace? One who only emerged once a year around St. Patrick’s Day like some sort of mint-flavored nightmare? Enter: Uncle O’Grimacey.
Created as a mascot for the special Shamrock Shake menu item, Uncle O’Grimacey continues the long, hallowed tradition of absurd Irish mascots. Looks-wise, O’Grimacey appears like a re-skin of the regular Grimace, colored Mint Green (you know, the Irish color) instead of purple. He also sports a shamrock-covered vest, distressed bowler cap, and shillelagh, just in case the whole Irish-thing didn’t come through from his name alone. Since Grimace loved all things shake, it could only make sense that his Irish Uncle came to town for his one true love: The Shamrock Shake.
The Shamrock Shake has a heartwarming history at McDonald’s
First introduced by franchisee Hal Rosen in Connecticut in 1967 then nationally three years later, the Shamrock Shake (originally just a green vanilla shake, now mint flavored) has become an annual tradition, the Pumpkin Spice Latte of the fast food world. In fact, in 1974, sales of the shake in Philadelphia helped fund the building of the first Ronald McDonald House. Only one year later, the same shake helped introduce the world to good ol’ O’Grimacey. Here he is, making his commercial debut:
A few observations:
- The fact that this commercial survives in a quality that can only be described as “underfunded drivers ed class safety video” quality is delightful.
- Grimace speaks with the gesticulations of a free verse poet.
- Ronald’s idea of the perfect gift for the creature who, canonically, brings Shamrock Shakes to McDonaldland every year is a Shamrock Shake? Talk about regifting.
- When Uncle O’Grimacey struts and tuts his way in, I feel my Irish ancestors cry. They weren’t kicked off the island for this!
- Ronald McDonald interrupts the Grimace family reunion with a Jack Tripper-like flair just so he can get the credit for the gift. You’re on thin ice here, McDonald.
- Absolutely none of that shake passed from that straw through those O’Grimacey lips.
- “It’s great. It’s green!” What a review!
- In case you’re wondering, the Irish phrase O’Grimacey says at the end is “shoren begorrah” or “sure and by God”.
Just top notch stuff. O’Grimacey appeared in plenty of other television ads around this time, in addition to print. In newspapers, kids were invited to create him by connecting the dots, color him in for a free box of cookies, or even get a free Uncle O’Grimacey toy with the purchase of a Shamrock Shake. here was Uncle O’Grimacey merchandise. He and his little Irish brogue were on top of the world!
So what happened?
Why isn’t Uncle O’Grimacey a part of McDonald’s advertising today?
There’s a salacious rumor that the Uncle O’Grimacey character was allegedly retired due to his controversial ties to the IRA. Apparently, an actor in an O’Grimacey costume said something controversial to a customer at a McDonald’s event regarding Irish separatism. That would likely have been big enough news in Philadelphia, where remember, the Shamrock Shake helped start the Ronald McDonald House, to warrant a mention in a newspaper. In looking at articles from that time, there are no results. The rumor likely stems from a 1997 Onion article, in which O’Grimacey is referred to as “the most radical member of the Grimace family”.
What likely happened to Uncle O’Grimacey is far less exciting: times changed, and he was phased out. The McDonaldland ad campaign shifted focus, only focusing on the main characters like Grimace or the Hamburglar, leaving little room for our Irish friend. O’Grimacey simply had to return to a nondescript location in Ireland, waiting for the day that nostalgia got specific enough to warrant his return.
As of now, there hasn’t been a clamoring for the return of Uncle O’Grimacey. While our collective nostalgia has brought back The Noid and Hi-C Ecto Coolers, there have been no such calls for the return of our favorite hairy, green Irish… taste bud. Maybe someday, though. After all, Grimace himself disappeared from the company’s advertising for a while, recently returning in their “Can I Get Uhhhhh” ad campaign.
Uncle O’Grimacey had a short tenure as a member of the cast of McDonald’s advertising characters, and to be honest, it wasn’t a very memorable run. But if you close your eyes and sip from a Shamrock Shake very slowly, in the distance, you just might hear the dulcet tut-tutting of our favorite Irish puppet. Maybe not. Either way, Uncle O’Grimacey lives on, even if only as a seasonal foot note.