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Derry Girls: To Be Young and Unafraid During the Troubles

By Mattie Fitzpatrick | November 14, 2022

Drug scones and thick Irish accents. These are the ingredients to an endearing, hilarious, and clever TV show following five Irish teenagers and their ridiculous adventures in the middle of the Troubles. With entertaining plot lines and complex characters, Derry Girls is a must see show. Created by Lisa McGee and modeled after her upbringing during the Troubles, the show is a humorous and entertaining look at what it’s like to be young and unafraid of life.

The characters are a fountain of hilarity in this program: protagonist Erin Quinn is selfish, studious, and has an extremely expressive face. Erin lives with her cousin Orla McCool, ever fierce and a little cuckoo, who has a certain obsession with reading her cousin’s diary, which serves as a hilarious and clever voice in certain scenes. Michelle Mallon is the vulgar and troublesome friend whose quick wit and sharp mouth steals every season, and her English cousin James Maguire doubles as the girls’ punching bag due to his British background. Claire Devlin, played by Nicola Coughlan of "Bridgerton" fame, is the earnest best friend whose manic personality and wavering integrity rounds out the cast of quirky characters. They play off of each other incredibly well, each bringing something to the show that makes it feel realistic and relevant, even though it's set in the 1980s. Their performances are truly one of a kind.

The Troubles was a major violent political conflict that lasted for over 25 years between Irish and English Unionists and Loyalists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, and Irish Nationalists and Republicans who wanted a united Ireland. The Troubles turned Northern Ireland into a warzone and only a fraction of what is depicted in “Derry Girls” truly shows how difficult conditions were at this time. At the end of the conflict, 3,532 people were dead and more than 47,000 people were injured. In the show, the violence is somewhat normalized in the lives of these teenage girls, who have known nothing but the kind of warfare the Troubles had created during that time. Show creator and writer Lisa McGee said, “Now, looking back, you really lose your breath thinking about how dangerous things were, but we weren’t really scared. … When peace times started, we realized that what happened wasn’t OK, and there was a hope that things wouldn’t go back to the way they were.” The normalization of violence is shown throughout the show, in conversations about why Gerry Adams’ voice is dubbed over in television programs (one of the characters says it’s because its too sexy), the presence of a bomb on a bridge that the girls’ bus takes to school, and the common sight of armed soldiers who at one point blow up a suitcase of vodka.

The setting for this show is one that interacts with the characters in an incredibly natural way. Londonderry is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and is the fifth-largest city on the island, but the neighborhood the girls live in is lively enough for the entire country. The cast of characters who populate the town of Derry are as important to the humor and plot of this show as the main characters. Our Lady Immaculate College, the school the girls go to and where many of their adventures take place, is run by headmistress Sister Michael whose deadpan humor and relationship with her students is both charming and entertaining. The best way to describe Sister Michael is with one of her own quotes, “If anyone is feeling anxious or worried . . . or even if you just want to chat, please, please, do not come crying to me.” Sister Michael is a divisive and dynamic character who makes appearances in the show even when she is not part of the major plot, such as at a funeral for a much hated great aunt who may have died by witchcraft, a camp designed to mend the differences between Catholics and Protestants, and of course, Our Lady of Immaculate College.

This show is a treasure in both its historical context and its humor. It is the reason my friends want to smack me for saying “crackin” or “feck” now. With its third and final season now available to watch on Netflix, “Derry Girls” has allowed us to laugh with the characters as we watch them grow and navigate living in an extremely turbulent time in Ireland.


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