Friday, 20 May 2022

A sad fairwell to the Derry Girls

 Last night I watched the final episode of The Derry Girls. What a brillinat series. I loved the way they manage to blend teenage angst, total mundanity and a monumental end to a crisis that had blighted our nation for the best part of 100 years or so. When you watched the news at the time, showing bombings in Derry etc, you rarely thought that there were teenage girls growing up and trying to be normal teenagers. It wasn't perfect, the best TV never is. My favourite character was Sister George Michael, played by Siobahn McSweeney. Anyone who ever went to a Catholic school run by nuns would recognise the character. Hard as nails, revelling in sarcasm and cruelty and seemingly absolutely steadfast in belief in her own mission. 

Most families with an Irish connection also know a Cousin/Uncle Colm, the most boring man on the planet (or a variant of).  The man you don't want to be sat next to at a family do. Colm is a very well observed character, as is the way the rest of the family interact with him. Another well observed character is Joe McCool, the grandfather, who spends his life delivering withering put downs of his son in law Gerry Quinn. Families always have one such rellie, the one who enjoys lobbing the verbal hand grenades at family gatherings. In our family it was Uncle George. At one family gathering, a 25th wedding anniversary, there was a long speech about how wonderful it was that the happy couple had had 25 blissful years. George stood up at the end and said "All I can say is they bloody well deserve each other". No one was quite sure whether to laugh or sling him out.

In some ways the girls (and James) are the least interesting part of the show. They play the roles brilliantly, but it is the snippets of family life that really fascinate me. The other thing which I found enthralling was the backdrop of the Northern Ireland peace process. My mothers family were Republicans from the South and as Catholics, we had skin in the game, so to speak. Living in London, and attending Finchley Catholic High School in the 1970's, I was acutely aware of the passions that the troubles would arouse in my largely plastic paddy school mates. It hadn't really occurred to me what it would be like for teenagers actually living in the midst of it all.

At the end of the final episode, there was some footage of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton announcing the deal. There was the 71% vote for the Northern Ireland agreement. Whilst Blair and Clinton were in many ways flawed individuals and Blair comprehensively trashed this legacy by lying to Parliament about the Iraq war, I would rather have those two running the show than anyone who has been along since. Brown, Cameron, May, Boris, George W, Obama, Trump and Biden are the successors. For me, only Obama came close to Clinton, but I always felt Clinton was the real deal. 

Seeing them at the peak of their powers made me sadly nostalgic for good government and vision. Whatever one may say about the peace process, it is a fact that todays Derry girls do not have the backdrop of bombs and soldiers on the street. That has to be a good thing. 

What troubles me is that we have a Prime Minister who seems happy to push the province back to those days. I cannot believe the was Boris Johnson indulges the DUP. They recently lost their place as the largest party to Sin Fein. Four out of five parties do not have a major problem with the protocol. If Boris was a statesman, he'd tell the DUP there will be nothing done on the protocol until they take their place on the assembly and do their job. Indulging their behaviour helps nothing. 

So it's goodbye to the Derry Girls. I'll miss them. 

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