Entertainment

Border poll: Grimes and McKee offer a fresh perspective on a New Ireland

Northern Ireland comedy’s first cross-community double act, Conor Grimes and Alan McKee, are going on the road with their New Ireland show, asking the important questions about reunification, like what Tayto will prevail. Sophie Clarke finds out more from the Grimes half of duo...

Comedian Conor Grimes pictured at Stormont in Belfast.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Conor Grimes, pictured at Stormont, answers the big questions about a united Ireland in his New Ireland show with comedy partner Alan McKee (Colm Lenaghan)

NEW Ireland is the latest manifesto from comedy duo Conor Grimes and Alan McKee. After exploring the world of GAA in their St Mungo’s shows and reflecting on Northern Ireland’s past with Martin Lynch in The History of The Troubles (Accordin’ to My Da) the pair are back, to look forward and imagine what Ireland might be like 30 years down the line.

“We were mulling over what to do next,” Grimes explains.

“And I had used the phrase ‘new Ireland’ a number of times when people asked about a united Ireland because I think it is a more accurate term.

“Then when we sat down, we were brainstorming a different show and McKee just turned round and said to me, ‘Why don’t we do a show about new Ireland?’

“I asked what it would be about, and he said, ‘Who knows?’

“So, it’s set in the future, 30 or 40 years from now, after there has been a referendum and a new Ireland has come into existence and it’s about what that looks like and what’s going on.”



The show originally ran in the Lyric Theatre’s studio for two weeks last June. However, the double act has decided to take it on the road starting with the Mandela Hall in Belfast in March.

“We played the studio, and it went very well. Then the Lyric called us up and said there was a lot of demand for the show, so we went back and did another week and then that was it,” says Grimes, who lives in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone.

“We were wondering what to do with it and then the Mandela Hall asked us if we’d be interested in performing it there for a night so we’re doing that and then we’re out on the road.

“It’s been booked predominantly by GAA clubs, although they have traditionally booked the St Mungo’s shows but with this New Ireland show they’ve asked if we can do it instead - and we’ve said yes.

“But it’s also available for soccer, rugby, crown green bowls, darts – any club that would want us to come in, we will come in,” he enthuses.

It’s been booked predominantly by GAA clubs... But it’s also available for soccer, rugby, crown green bowls, darts – any club that would want us

—  Conor Grimes

Imagining a future marriage between north and south, the pair contemplate important topics including the new national flag, what the national dish will be, whether we would have a national dog and who will chair the peace talks between Tayto and Free Stayto.

“We constantly want to write new stuff,” explains Grimes. “We really like working on a new project and although New Ireland was done last year it was only for two weeks in a small venue. In terms of shows that is just an incubation.

“We’ve looked at it again and done a little bit of work to it but it’s not too different from the original.”

Comedian Conor Grimes pictured at Stormont in Belfast.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
The battle between northern and southern Tayto will be a key battle in the New Ireland, says Conor Grimes (Colm Lenaghan)

Grimes also explains that The Protocol Song that he and McKee released earlier this month was not supposed to be in New Ireland. However, given the huge positive reaction - including from loyalist activist Jamie Bryson - they felt they had to include it.

“In New Ireland we give plenty of good old-fashioned slagging because people love it, but we try not to be nasty and have a bit of consideration,” Grimes says.

“The song is a history lesson about what happened with the Protocol, but Jamie gets a wee slagging in it.

“Then there he goes, retweets it and says, ‘This is actually very funny’. It just goes to show that you can have a political viewpoint and be a political animal, but you can still have a sense of humour.

“I think it’s really admirable that he did that because he recognises that it’s just a bit of craic.”

Although it firmly has its tongue in its cheek, New Ireland also deals with several contentious subjects, including a border poll.

“We had to create a scenario where the vote was Yes in order for us to write the show because once that happens everyone just has to face the music - there’s no yapping,” explains Grimes.

“It’s new problems, new arguments and new fighting – everything’s new but the old way is over, and you have to get on with your neighbour.

“They’re the kind of things you want to happen – not so much ‘love across the barricades’ but more ‘respect across the barricades’.”

Comedy duo Conor Grimes and Alan McKee star in 'St Mungo's', which is being broadcast this Friday night on BBC NI
Conor Grimes and Alan McKee brought their St Mungo's GAA show to BBC television

Respecting the cultural beliefs and viewpoints of others is something that is fundamental to the Grimes and McKee dynamic.

“One of our friends describes us as the first cross-community comedy double act in Northern Ireland because Alan’s from Coleraine and I’m from Tyrone,” says Grimes.

“We’re from different traditions but we’ve got the exact same sense of humour, and it works.”

It is their hope that audiences who see New Ireland will be encouraged to ask questions and start discussions - even if they’re not that serious.

One of our friends describes us as the first cross-community comedy double act in Northern Ireland because Alan’s from Coleraine and I’m from Tyrone. We’re from different traditions but we’ve got the exact same sense of humour, and it works

—  Conor Grimes

But most importantly, the duo want people to enjoy themselves.

“It’s absolutely hilarious, it just hits a funny nerve – we’ve done a lot of shows and a lot of them are funny, but this is up there, it has those big belly laughs that you’re hunting for as a performer - it’s big time funny,” says Grimes.

“I think audiences who have already seen New Ireland really identified with it. Even though it’s a comedy it provokes questions, and we do silly stuff like have a debate about the biggest television show or the national outfit all these different things to hopefully accommodate everybody.”

New Ireland is at the Mandela Hall on March 1, mandelahall.com
Comedian Conor Grimes pictured at Stormont in Belfast.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Conor Grimes, pictured at Stormont, answers the big questions about a united Ireland in his New Ireland show with comedy partner Alan McKee (Colm Lenaghan)

Latest Entertainment Videos