Thank you, Derry Girls, for telling the story of my complicated adolescence
Like the Derry Girls, I was 18 when I voted for the Good Friday Agreement. The show perfectly captured the darkness, light and spirit of the times
Thank you, ‘Derry Girls’.
The series finale of the hit Channel 4 comedy show has aired, and I am not ashamed to admit I shed tears over it.
When I first heard there was going to be a TV comedy programme about my part of the world, I did what Irish people tend to do. I thought it might be cringe, and that everyone looking at us might be awful.
But it was to be about teenage girls in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. Wow. I was a teenage girl in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. This was our story being told. It was our time.
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Of course it was – the series' writer, Lisa McGee, who wrote the cult favourite, ‘London Irish’, is roughly my age. For once, the conflict wasn’t going to be shown through the eyes of men, or old people. Instead it centred the teenage girls of Our Lady Immaculate College: Erin, Clare, Orla, Michelle and ‘the wee English fella’, James. How exciting.
Now to my bonafides. I am a north Belfast Girl, but I grew up with Derry cousins, I am a frequent visitor to the north-west, and some of my best friends are real-life Derry Girls. Anyway, as Michelle says, “being a Derry Girl is a state of mind”.
Like the Derry Girls, I was 18 when I voted for the Good Friday Agreement. I haven’t regretted it for a second, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I was there. The outcome changed the course of history, and the future is for us all to decide.
The abnormal was daily life. Armed men, bomb scares, murder and mayhem. But also love, warmth and the best craic
The north of Ireland or Northern Ireland (I am easy about the language) was a mad place to grow up. The abnormal was daily life.
Armed men of all stripes on streets, bag searches and bomb scares, murder and mayhem, tit for tat, oppression, loss, futility, heartache and trauma. But it was also full of love and warmth, grit and grace, rich culture, determined, intelligent and thoughtful people – and the best craic.
Lisa McGee’s decision to weave news presenter Donna Traynor through the show as its featured broadcaster was just the most perfect casting.
I grew up around Donna. But then, we all did. The perfect media professional and comforting presence in our homes. Her presence in all three series of the show, heralding important moments in our history, was true to life.
So much about ‘Derry Girls’ was just so spot on. The carefully chosen 1990s music was the soundtrack of my teens. The fashion, the cultural references, the dynamics between the adults and the girls.
The only difference between me and the Derry Girls was that when Bill Clinton visited my city, I couldn’t have cared less. I was too busy drinking tea and smoking in a nearby café to be bothered that the US President was switching the Christmas lights on.
But the show really captured the darkness, light, and spirit of the times.
We loved 10p mix-ups and drinking bottles of lemon Hooch. We had summers that felt like they were going to last forever and the all-important stuff was the gigs and parties, who was getting the dope and cider, kissing, getting into university, and laughing.
We thought we would be friends forever. Some of us still are, while others are sadly no longer with us, and others drifted away.
The show will remain in our cultural history. In the Ulster Museum. On demand. As a mural. In our minds when we eat a cream horn bun
Last month, I, as a busy journalist up to my neck in all the latest news and craic, was lucky enough to be in Derry’s Guildhall for the after-party of the final series’ premiere.
The Stormont justice minister, Naomi Long, was sat to my left, Granda Joe (Ian McElhinney) to my right, and my plus one for the evening was the real-life ‘Derry Girl’ champion, that everyone in the town knows, Miss Mary Durkan.
As one person after another greeted one or some of us at the table, a Channel 4 executive enquired, “Do you all know each other?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” I said, and laughed. Well, it’s a stereotype for a reason.
You may not have seen the finale yet, but you’ll know it’s a 1998 Good Friday Agreement special.
The episode was about choosing hope, a new beginning, a fresh start, a new approach, compromise – our frustrating, wonderful, imperfect peace.
When people remark on the political crises that so often test this part of the world, they ponder what all the drama is about. Surely our story was all sorted nearly a quarter of a century ago?
But that’s the thing about peace. It’s a process. It needs to be nurtured, supported, and worked at.
It can get knocked off course but all roads lead back to the negotiating table. It just takes some people longer than others to work that out.
I was not ready for ‘Derry Girls’ to end, but I am glad that it is there forever as part of our cultural history. In the Ulster Museum. On demand. As a mural on the side of Badger's bar. In our minds every time we eat a cream horn bun.
As I sit here in my Friends Across the Barricade T-shirt, clutching my Sister Michael-inspired Child of Prague statue, I would be lying if I said I am not holding out hope for a movie or spin-off series of some sort.
But regardless of whether that comes to be, to Lisa, to the cast, to the crew, to Derry, and to teenage girls everywhere – ‘sláinte muthafuckas’.
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