Uncle O'Grimacey, the short-lived uncle of Grimace. (Facebook/Filming in McDonaldland)

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As Shamrock Shake season comes around, so does the rumor that Philly deposed the onetime mascot for McDonald’s signature St. Patrick’s Day beverage.

Introduced as the uncle of Grimace, the purple proto monster of the McD’s extended universe, Uncle O’Grimacey was said to hail from the plains of Ireland. Decked out in a shamrock-emblazoned vest and shillelagh, the character was part of Shamrock Shake promotional materials starting in 1975.

While sales for the minty milkshakes are still going strong after 50-plus years, the fuzzy green mascot didn’t make it nearly as long. It fell by the wayside at some point in the 1980s.

Was it Philadelphia’s fault?

The story goes that O’Grimacey was discontinued due to choice comments made by an actor playing the mascot at an event in Philly, where he spoke out in favor of the Irish Republican Army, the paramilitary group that claimed the mantle of earlier IRAs active during the Irish War of Independence.

Portions of Philadelphia’s Ireland-affiliated community have supported Irish independence movements, materially and morally, for the better part of 200 years. From the Fenian movement in the 1860s to the late 20th century, Irish Philadelphians have sent aid, soldiers, and offered asylum for comrades fighting on the other side of the Atlantic. 

In 1979, an IRA bombmaker named Michael O’Rourke was arrested by the FBI in Philly, three years after blasting himself out of custody and escaping a Dublin jail. 

In 1983, while still in custody, O’Rourke was named an honorary grand marshal in the city’s St. Patrick Day Parade.   

However, there’s no record of any Uncle O’Grimacey incident in Philadelphia papers of the time.

The concept may have originated with a 1997 article in The Onion. Premised around an “IRA demand for year-round Shamrock Shakes,” the article attributes straight up terroristic statements to Uncle O’Grimacey. 

The seasonal treat does have a major connection to Philadelphia — it became popular and became a major fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House Charities thanks to a partnership with the Eagles.

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Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...