British comedy star Lee Mack discovered he has a fascinating and heart-breaking Irish family heritage when he appeared on the BBC series Who Do You Think You are?
Who Do You Think You are? is a series that helps famous people trace their ancestry and often uncovers fascinating stories that would have otherwise been lost forever.
Mack’s real name is Lee McKillop, and he comes from the North West of England, where many Irish emigrants settled.
When he appeared on the show he discovered some interesting characters on both the English and Irish side of his family.
As he followed his mother’s branch of the family he was taken back to Co Mayo.
Mack already had some knowledge of his great-grandmother, Delia. He believed that she had been rather a cold-hearted woman as she had deserted her son Joe when he was a child.
However, when he learned more about Delia and what she went through his opinion towards her softened considerably.
His Irish heritage included tales of illegal drinking holes, illegitimate births and the Irish Civil War.
Elsewhere in the show, followed his English roots along his father’s family line.
It turned out that he wasn’t the first comedian in family. His paternal great-grandfather Billy was part of a cabaret troupe called The Optimists.
Billy also shortened his name from McKillop to Mack and was known as Billy Mack.
Mack was eager to find out more about both his professional and personal life.
He said: “Typically for a self-obsessed comedian, I’ve been trying to find out about his showbiz life but perhaps there’s something more powerful and profound here.”
Billy joined the first ever ‘Pals Battalion’ in Liverpool during the First World War and, along with the Optimists, he entertained his fellow troops at the Battle of the Somme.
It was a moving episode and Mack became more and more interested in his ancestors as the show went on.
He said: “Ancestors can feel abstract but once you start looking into it, you soon get wrapped up and they become real people.”
Take a look at the video below, which sees Mack learn more about his great-grandfather Billy.
Check out Lee Mack’s hilarious stand up routine about Irish names
Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling