by Isabel Conway
Who couldn’t love Derry Girls, the hit comedy set in the 1990s that follows the lives of five teenagers as they navigate their way through their adolescent years amidst the backdrop of the Troubles? Written by Derry girl, Lisa McGee, the first series was broadcast on Channel 4 in January and February 2018, followed up by a hugely successful second series in the spring of the following year. Then COVID struck and plans for further shows had to be put on ice.
Now for some good news. The madcap adventures of Derry Girls, aired to a global audience via Netflix Worldwide and winner of numerous awards, creating a welcome tourism bonanza for Derry, is on target to start filming a third series later this year. The creator Lisa McGee and cast members confirmed that shooting of the eagerly awaited Derry Girls third season will begin as soon as the production team from Channel 4 receives the green light.
The omens looked good as the North ploughed well ahead of the Republic towards ending restrictions thanks to its successful vaccination roll out. In a recent radio interview McGee said series three was written and ready to go and would be the most ambitious yet in terms of plot and setting. “It will be the best one, I’m so excited” she added.
The fabulous feral Derry Girls, finding their way amid Sectarian Conflict are ” the new emblems of Northern Ireland,” the prestigious Guardian newspaper wrote. Dogged by the Troubles in the past Derry, immortalized by the great Phil Coulter’s ‘ The Town that I loved so well’, has morphed into a lively interesting city, helped by screen tourism from Derry Girls and Game of Thrones.
Before the ‘famous five’ – the 4 girls and “one wee English fella” – hit our screens the city was too often just a quick stop heading for North Antrim’s spectacular Causeway coastal route and the lure of Game of Thrones locations. Just five miles from the border, profoundly affected by decades of the Troubles, Derry’s warm personality and razor sharp sense of humour is mirrored in the outrageous antics of Derry Girls, their families, neighbours and the local eccentrics they encounter.
Now visitors to Derry are clamouring to eat cream horns, see the church where a Virgin Mary statue “wept” what turned out to be dog urine leaking through the ceiling and order fish and chips from the chippy that caused mild-mannered James to shout “It’s much, much too greasy – even the smell of it makes me feel physically sick.”
Derry Girls guides have created an important tourism attraction, taking fans around in the footsteps of Erin and the gang, adapting these walks to COVID protocols on safety and social distancing. The series is brought to life in the many locations which feature in the hit TV show, including Dennis’s Wee Shop, the Guildhall and Pump Street. To celebrate the second series local artists immortalised Derry Girls in a mural painted on the side of the Badger’s Bar on Orchard Street.
Derry is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe. To walk over the intact four hundred years old walls ,without ever having to step off it , is a perfect introduction to Northern Ireland’s second city, passing St Columb’s Cathedral, and other landmarks. Visitors can get their bearings and spot restaurants, coffee shops and many a formerly lively bar that longs to get back to post pandemic normal in the streets below.
You can’t come to Derry and not visit ‘Free Derry Corner’, where the iconic ‘You are now entering Free Derry’ reminds visitors of this Republican stronghold, which played a pivotal role in the events of Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972. Key moments in the troubles are depicted in the murals, whilst a visit to the nearby Museum of Free Derry, just off Rossville street is akin to walking back into the country’s more recent twentieth century history.
First painted in 1969 as a civil rights-era demand for change, the Free Derry corner wall in the Bogside is the city’s most visited tourist attraction. Far and Wild’s Freedom Cycles tour, a bespoke self-guided bike tour of key sites www.farandwild.org is one of the more popular additions to the district, also taking in the ornate Guildhall dating back to 1887 and other highlights. Another important landmark is Derry’s architecturally inspired pedestrian Peace Bridge which crosses the River Foyle and opened in 2011 connecting the two sides of this once separated city. Nearby is the former Ebrington Military barracks, today part of the Walled City Brewery, the city’s first craft brewery in more than a century, with an onsite restaurant, great innovative craft brews, and an outdoor arts space where concerts and other events regularly take place.
Hastings Hotels, the award winning chain of family owned hotels across Northern Ireland, celebrated the success of Derry Girls and spin off for tourism locally by introducing a Derry Girls Afternoon tea at its stylish city centre Everglades Hotel. They are gearing up to a re-opening of hospitality and a resumption of Derry Girls tours and afternoon tea of themed goodies that include cream horns ( remember Grandpa Joe treating his ‘floosy’ to them?) a cone of chips in homage to the Chippy fiasco, a classic Tayto cheese & Onion sarnie , Derry sausage roll baps and bakes like those created by Ma Mary.
The guided tour gives guests the chance to walk in the footsteps of a true Derry Girl around the city’s walls and Bogside and visit some of the filming locations. The tour finishes at the famous Derry Girls Mural where guests can take a selfie and be pledged as a Derry Girl of Boy. The hotel’s Derry Girls Tour package including luxurious overnight accommodation with breakfast, the guided Derry Girls walking tour and themed afternoon tea with a cocktail and a souvenir Hastings hotels take home duck is available to book from €115 pps on www.hastingshotels.com Other city tours, taking in People’s Gallery (Murals) The Bogside, Derry’s Walls, The Bloody Sunday story, the History of the Apprentice Boys and Marching season traditions are run by award winning City Tours www.derrycitytours.com) departing from 11 Carlisle Road. For further information www.discovernorthernireland.com
Tourism NI are launching a unique audio-series of enchanting Soothing Stories from Northern Ireland to bring listeners on a tranquil journey through beautiful landscapes, rich culture and extraordinary heritage. These new calming audio stories are the ultimate armchair travel experience, providing an opportunity for listeners to escape and embrace adventures from Northern Ireland.