The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Derry Girls derives its title from the town of Derry in Northern Ireland, where the show is set and which is known for the Troubles, the sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, that began in the late 1960s and is deemed to have ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The Battle of Bogside, which was a three-day riot that took place from 12-14 August in 1969 in Derry, involved a clash between the Catholic residents of the Bogside along with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Loyalists, is largely considered as the the beginning of the Troubles. Violence flared up again in Bogside, in 1972, killing more than a dozen civilians in a massacre which is called the Bloody Sunday.
Lisa McGee, who grew up in Derry in the 1990s, near Bogside, always found depictions of the Troubles unrecognizable. “There were never any jokes”, she said while talking to the New Yorker, “I don’t know any Northern Irish person that isn’t funny”. That’s what makes Derry Girls different from most Troubles-themed narratives. It has captured life in Derry beyond the sectarian conflict.
Derry Girls follows a group of 5 teenagers. Erin, the aspiring writer; Orla the lovable airhead who feels she is gifted in step aerobics; Claire, the well-intentioned but panic-stricken studious girl, who is embarrassingly the snitch of the group; the foul-mouthed, boy-crazy Michelle and her English cousin, James, who attends an all-girls catholic high school, lest he is beaten up by the boys. Supporting them is the eccentric but relatable set of parents and grandparents, which include Granda Joe, Ma Mary and my personal favourite, the cynical headmistress of their Catholic school Sister Michael, who I believe is wonderful in her one-liner comebacks.
The sectarian conflict is there, but not given the same importance as you’d think. The bomb scares and the patrolling soldiers are always there but were fiercely contended by menial things like having crushes and appearing for History tests. While talking to the New York Times, McGee said “But a lot of it for me was just having to go a different way to school because of a bomb scares.” Their treatment is somewhat similar to a car breaking down, which is often considered just a part of life, when a conflict like the Troubles should be anything but. Our group is more occupied with unsuccessfully trying to assert their individuality by wearing a denim jacket to school instead of the uniform blazer or trying to get their crush to go to the prom with them. It is a show that is equal parts funny and touching, with an impeccable soundtrack, featuring the Cranberries, Björk and Fat Boy Slim. If making one of the best comedy shows set during a conflict and making it work wasn’t enough, it is one of the few shows that captures what it is like to be a sixteen-year-old-trying to get out and assert yourself in the world while beginning hopelessly naive about it.
The second season of the show ends with the Bill Clinton speech, which he gave during his historic visit to Derry-“And so I ask you to build on the opportunity you have before you, to believe that the future can be better than the past, to work together because you have so much more to gain by working together than by drifting apart. Have the patience to work for just and lasting peace.” The words seem oddly apt again after the messiness of Brexit, which has resumed talks of a hard border in Ireland, something that had been disavowed after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. In April 2019, a 29-year-old journalist named Lyra Mckee had been killed during rioting in the Creggan area in Derry. A group called the New IRA claimed responsibility and apologised to her parents. The response to it was swift and outrageous. On the monument marking the Free Derry Corner- a republican monument, which was iconic during the troubles when the British soldiers were told not to come in, someone spray-painted “Not in our name: RIP Lyra”. This is the Derry that McGee has captured in her series- a Derry that is ready to move forward and work for peace rather than go back again. A Derry that wants to be known for something other than the Troubles. I guess Derry Girls is one of those things.