Grimes and McKee bring their GAA comedy St Mungo's to the small screen

Comedy duo Grimes and McKee have swapped the stage for the television screen with their GAA inspired comedy drama St Mungo's. Jenny Lee finds out more

Conor Grimes (Vice Chairman) and Alan McKee (Chairman) of St Mungo's, due to be shown on BBC One Northern Ireland, Friday February 25 at 10.35pm
Conor Grimes (Vice Chairman) and Alan McKee (Chairman) of St Mungo's, due to be shown on BBC One Northern Ireland, Friday February 25 at 10.35pm

THE highs, lows and laughs of a struggling GAA club and a close knit rural community is the subject of a new BBC comedy drama airing this week.

Mucky country lanes, cows, tractors, a lycra-clad cycling priest and a scary female fitness instructor are just some of the sights to be found in St Mungo's.

Based on the popular stage show by Conor Grimes and Alan McKee, it tells the story of Barry McGurk (Shaun Blaney), who is returning to the rural Northern Ireland village where he grew up, with his English wife Madeleine (Roisin Gallagher) and their young children Caoimhe and Oisin in tow.

They intend to build their dream house and establish a wind energy business, selling turbines to local farmers; but it's not long until Barry pays a visit to his former GAA club where he signs his kids up for the Mini Mungos football team and quickly gets himself a new coaching job.

The Co Antrim town of Glenavy was the location for filming, transforming it into the fictional village of Luganulk - home of Ireland's worst GAA club.

"We had a good relationship with St Joseph's there and we performed our original stage show a couple of times in the community hall there. They were very welcoming to the cast and crew," says McKee.

Grimes and McKee first came up with the concept of St Mungo's back in 2014 when a "persistent" friend asked them to put on a show for a fundraiser in their GAA club.

The stage show, St Mungo's Luganulk, and its follow up, St Mungo's Luganulk2: The Umpire Strikes Back, has toured clubs, theatres and hotels throughout Ireland.

Grimes played football for Tyrone's Donaghmore GFC as a youth, before breaking his arm at the age of 18.

"I had to concentrate on the acting," laughs Grimes, whose sons currently play for the team.

McKee had no previous knowledge of GAA, but they both agree that it's not necessary to enjoy St Mungo's, which is essentially about the vagaries of rural life.

"We've had people from all traditions see our stage show and whilst some enjoy getting a wee peek behind the curtain of what is going on, the GAA club is just a means of getting into the drama of a community," says Grimes.

"Some of the crew on set were involved in a soccer club and they saw the parallels with their club saying 'this is not a comedy, it's a documentary'," adds McKee.

So, where did the idea for the name and that distinctive brown, yellow and green kit come from?

"St Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow and also the patron saint of those who are wrongly accused of marital infidelity, but really it was just a case of getting a name and colours that weren't already used by any team in Ireland."

The fictional village name of Luganulk was more deliberate. "We asked a friend of ours to translate 'bad wee hole' into Irish and he came up with Luganulk, which means 'sorrowful little dip'," says Grimes.

In the television comedy, they play the inept Chairman (Alan McKee) and Vice Chairman (Conor Grimes) of St Mungo's GAA Club and discuss the many problems the club are facing. These include regularly being unable to field a full team and the financial difficulties, compounded by a bill presented to them by local plumber Davy the Drip (Brendan Quinn).

St Mungo's is the first drama they have written and created for television and the duo are hopeful that this half hour pilot will later translate into a series.

"We are very excited to see how it goes down. Certainly the Mungos aren't going away and we have the next three series of St Mungo's already planned out in our heads.

"The big difference is that in the stage show it's just the two of us playing everyone. Doing it for TV we were able to get some good actors in."

The pair are also producers and put their 25 years' experience of casting various plays and Christmas shows to use by also being involved in casting.

"We told the other cast how we have played all these parts before, but not to worry as we will be judging them," laughs McKee.

"For us watching the other actors playing parts that we have played for five years was a very interesting phenomenon for us," adds a more diplomatic Grimes.

St Mungo's is directed by Belfast man Dez McCarthy, whose credits include Birds Of A Feather, Casualty, Secret Life of Boys and Dani's Castle.

Among the heated debates that went on behind the scenes in the St Mungo's production was which brand of tractor they should use during filming.

"We had long meetings through the night about the tractor. Cards on the table we are both men who say 'if it's not red leave it in the shed'," says McKee, inferring they prefer the red Massey tractor.

"You can offend the John Deere man and you can offend the Massey man, so in the end we choose something beautiful with the big Fendt tractor."

With hangovers, lotto balls innuendos, a parish priest and an old schoolteacher popping up in the programme, Grimes describes St Mungo's as "old school comedy", and he's not apologetic about that.

"We don't mind old school as long as it's funny - it's how we have always written our stage shows. The plot line is straightforward but the characters are very colourful."

St Mungo's also stars Conleth Hill, Gerard Jordan, Julia Dearden, Abigail McGibbon, Mary Moulds, Declan Rogers, Chris Robinson, Patrick McBrearty, Jo Donnelly, Gavin Peden, Hannah-Rose Magill and Daniel Lamont.

:: St Mungo's is on BBC One Northern Ireland, Friday February 25 at 10.35pm, and also on BBC iPlayer.