I visited Ireland as a teenager in the 90’s around the time Derry Girl’s is set. Setting a comedy amongst some of Ireland’s darkest days may not seem like a good idea on paper but is in fact genius as the Irish are a nation of comedians. You only had to have watched the O’Donovan brothers television interview following their silver medal win at the 2016 Rio Olympics to witness the insane wit and hilarity of the Irish humour (check it out on youtube if you haven’t seen it). The O’Donovan brothers are not even comedians (of which Ireland exports plenty… David O’Doherty, Dara O’Brien and my favourite Aisling Bea) yet even normal Irish folk have a natural endearing humour.
Nostalgia is a big thing right now and there are plenty of shows depicting a time we identify with. It sort of gives a warm feeling that resembles a big hug as we reminsce. I remember touring around Ireland for two weeks in my Dad’s Landrover as he played Clannad non stop. Now whenever I think of Ireland I hear Clannad. We started in the south at Cork and drove up all around the west coast to Northern Ireland where we then got a ferry to Scotland before driving back down to London. I recall when we were in Northern Ireland seeing the obvious difference between the Catholic areas and the Protestant, where notably the pavement was painted red, white and blue and Union Flags hung from flag poles mounted on the sides of buildings.
Derry girls is set in a Catholic neighbourhood. Whereas we often recall Northern Ireland in the 90’s as quite a harsh masculine environment, this series featured it’s main characters as women. That is, if you don’t count James. James is introduced as “I got me an English”, he is the English cousin of Michelle. They are all horrible to him because of course, he is English. In fact he has to attend their Catholic girls school because he would be bullied attending the local boys school. The first and only boy to attend their school.
Meledramatic main character Erin Quinn does have some odd facial expressions that took a little getting used to, but without her quirky expressions she would in reality just be pretty. The series begins with a voice over of her diary, which you then realise is being read aloud by her (equally quirky but in other ways) cousin. The comedy is fast and thick from the get go. I had to concentrate to ensure I got all the gags. All the characters combined make a great ensemble. Each episode see’s them get into different hilarious situations, all with the backdrop of ‘The Troubles’, which in the first episode is their bus being diverted as the bridge is closed due to bomb scare. I remember waking up in a B&B whilst in Northern Ireland and looking out of the window and seeing British Soliders walking in a line in the field opposite. I remember seeing police stations like fortresses surrounded by walls made from corregated iron with barbed wire all over and numerous CCTV cameras atop. This series encapsulates the feeling of that time.
As the episodes go on I could see some scenes echoed other comedies, for example the step aerobics performance seemed quite Napoleon Dynamite. The end of the series had a sombre feeling, as the family watched TV reports of a fatal bombing. This scene reminded me of the Black Adder episode set during World War One, at the end when they go over the top. The bomb scares, British soldiers and orange marches you can make light of but ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland was a difficult time. With BREXIT and the Irish border currently being a hot topic it seems many have forgotten exactly how bad things were. I was on a school trip at the Docklands in London hours before it was blown up by the IRA, the police developed our photographs to see if they could find any evidence in them. Although it was a long time ago, I remember these events and I know that peace in Ireland cannot be taken for granted.
Overall I really enjoyed watching The Derry Girls. Lately since the recent death of Dolores, The Cranberries lead singer I had dug out my old ‘No Need to Argue’ CD, which you just have to sing along with in an Irish accent. So I am loving all things Irish right now, and I cannot wait to watch the next series. I heard that Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud may feature? If you haven’t seen Derry Girls yet it is available to watch on 4od.