Last night was the season one finale of Channel 4’s new comedy Derry Girls. Derry Girls is a light-hearted comedy following five Catholic teenagers, set in Derry in 1994, which was a very dark time for Northern Ireland – The Troubles.
The Troubles was a period of conflict in Northern Ireland, which spanned three decades; from roughly 1968-1998. This is not an article about The Troubles, but for those of you not familiar with this period in Northern Irish history, there were (and are!) two sides, which represented both political and religious beliefs. The Nationalists in Northern Ireland are primarily Catholic and want a United Ireland; whereby the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are one. The Unionists in Northern Ireland are primarily Protestant, and wish to protect the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Despite the conflict in Northern Ireland during this period, regular civilians (the majority of people were not involved in the fighting) tried their best to continue living as normal, and Derry Girls captured this perfectly.
Northern Ireland is home to strong accents and dark humour, which does not sound like the perfect setting for a television show made by a British broadcaster for a British audience, yet after only one episode Channel 4 renewed the show for a second season.
What went so right?
The show is packed with witty one-liners, but it is unapologetically Northern Irish, which makes it feel real. This, for many people in the mainland UK, is likely their first taste of what people from Northern Ireland are really like – they are funny, and they have a language of their own.
The accents and local dialect are a problem for anyone who leaves Northern Ireland, as it can be difficult for people to understand them initially. This is also a reason why few Northern Irish people can be seen on television, but not featuring Northern Irish people on television means Britain has been missing out on a lot of craic (that means fun).
Much of the dialect in Northern Ireland stems from Irish, which has a different sentence structure to English, so many Northern Irish phrases sound funny to those outside of “our wee country”. Before Derry Girls, Northern Ireland was an untapped comedy gold mine.
How did Channel 4 get around the accent/dialect barrier?
In order to preserve the feel of the show and represent the people of Northern Ireland in a true manner, the show is written exactly how people in Northern Ireland speak, and the accents are strong. In order for the British audience to understand, Channel 4 cleverly released a Derry Girls Glossary – cracker!
How did the show capture life during The Troubles?
The authentic feel of Derry Girls is more than just funny phrases and funny accents; it feels real because it was real. While the show is fictional, it is partly based on the experiences of its writer, Lisa McGee, who grew up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.
The show covers heated issues in Northern Ireland in a light-hearted manner; such as the protagonists getting stuck in the middle of a 12th July Orange walk, and having their school bus stopped and searched by the British Army. What is truly unique about this show, is that despite there still being tensions between the two communities in Northern Ireland, and this show being about Catholics in Derry (which in itself is a controversial name), members of both communities appear to be enjoying the show. Could this be what finally unites us all? Perhaps not, but one can dream.
Despite this being a comedy show, the last episode of season one ended in a rather poignant manner; we see the adults in the show listening to the news and we hear a report of an atrocity in Northern Ireland where 12 people have been killed, and many more people have been wounded. At the same time the teenagers are dancing onstage at a school talent show, as ‘Dreams’ by The Cranberries begins to play.
During the last scene I felt chills. I had been laughing for thirty minutes watching a light-hearted programme, and then I was reminded that this was a dark time for Northern Ireland, but it didn’t break Northern Ireland. The girls were in school; dancing and having fun. Life went on. People stopped for a moment in shock, and to grieve, but life went on. Ending season one in such a way was a wise decision; it reminded viewers that all of the previous laughs happened in a time of darkness for Northern Ireland. But life goes on.
So, that’s season one, so it is, and I’m absolutely buzzing for season two!
You can watch Derry Girls on Channel 4’s online catch-up service, All 4.