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ARMCHAIR TRAVELLER: A wee word about Derry Girls

Each week we share a music video in an attempt to lighten the mood a little amongst the day’s more serious matters and help get the day off to a good start. We try to make the tunes travel related, or least to the cultural mosaic of the world we travel in, but (to be honest) most of it is just stuff we like! For a change, with the same philosophy in mind, how about the recommendation of a TV show?

Specifically, “Derry Girls,” the smash BBC show now awaiting the debut of Season 3, but with past episodes available on Netflix for prime pandemic (or holiday season) viewing.

Titled after the Northern Irish city of the same name (officially it’s Londonderry, second largest city in the country), the show is described as “a warm, funny and honest look at the lives of ordinary people living under the spectre of the Troubles, all seen through the eyes of a local teenager.”

More precisely, it’s about 15-year-old Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) and her quirky collection of friends growing up in the city in 1994, who seemingly struggle less with the political status of Northern Ireland at the time – a bomb threat/barricade in one episode is simply rendered as an inconvenient detour on the way to school, for example – than living in a community where everybody knows your name, business, and feels obliged to let you know how to run it. (“Look, I wanted to be an individual, but my ma wouldn’t let me.”)

A Derry Girls mural is a requisite stop on TV show tours in the city.

Throw in the arrival of an unwelcome cousin – “a wee English fella” no less, who quickly bristles at being forced to become one of the “girls” – and the stage is set for humour.

Episodes revolve around the nature and foibles of everyday life: boys, social rivalries, school dances, close-knit family dynamics (“Don’t say knickers in front of your father, he can’t cope!”), emerging sexualities, and the all-pervasive influence of the Catholic Church – the latter providing the context for the hilarious headmistress Sister Michael, who steals the show (“If anyone is feeling anxious, worried, or maybe you just want a chat, please, please, do not come crying to me!”)

Generally apolitical in nature, except insofar as it affects and shapes the lives of the characters, there is a dark humour in how the residents deal with it. (On Irish history: “We got the gist. They ran out of spuds, everyone was raging.”)

A large part of the charm is the local lingo, along with the inimitable lilt and cadence of the Derry dialect. Frankly, characters could simply read the dictionary and it would be funny (to North Americans), even if on occasion the rewind button might be required to catch the full drift of what was said.

First broadcast in 2018, Derry Girls has become the most watched show in the history of Northern Ireland and garnered 100 percent approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Season 3 has been commissioned but delayed by the pandemic.

Filmed in both Derry and Belfast, viewers get a backdrop of Northern Ireland, even if it isn’t exactly a tourist board video. However, such is the interest in the show that local tours and packages are starting to take shape to accommodate the visits of rabid fans.

For example, Hasting Hotels combines a stay at its Everglades Hotel in Derry with afternoon tea and a walking tour that includes both city and filming sites, including the city’s historic walls and the newest attraction on the tourist trail: a Derry Girls mural. The latter, found on the wall of Badger’s Bar on Orchard Street, is a far sight better than some of the other balaclava or gas-masked, gun-toting figures otherwise presented.

But since you’re most unlikely to find yourself waking up in Derry, at the Everglades or otherwise, in the near future, for now I suggest simply watching the show. It’s an armchair treat worth every wee minute.

Guests can get a Derry Girls rubber duck at The Everglades Hotel

First published at Travel Industry Today

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