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Is Derry Girls Based on a True Story?

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Derry Girls

Created by Lisa McGee, Netflix’s ‘Derry Girls’ is a British teen show set in the Northern Irish city of Derry. The events in the series take place in the early 1990s and revolve around a group of friends. Erin Quinn, her cousin Orla McCool, and friends Clare Devlin, Michelle Mallon, and James Maguire. Navigating the last years of their school lives, the five teenagers are adversely affected by the ongoing conflict in the region about Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

Starring Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Nicola Coughlan, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, and Dylan Llewellyn, the series portrays the everyday life of teenage characters and how the hostile environment around them affects their actions. The historical implications behind the events portrayed in the series have made many viewers wonder if the show is actually based on real-life events or if it is purely a fictional tale. Well, here is everything we know about the same!

Is Derry Girls a True Story?

‘Derry Girls’ is partially based on a true story. Created and written by Lisa McGee, the events depicted in the show are inspired by her own teenage years. Growing up in Derry, Lisa was on some level used to the conflicts that happened in the region due to the Northern Ireland conflict, which is more commonly known as the Troubles. It was only when she moved to England that she realized that some of the things she thought as normal were anything but that for the majority of the world.

Image Credit: Peter Marley/Channel 4

Though the exact starting point of the conflict has been always a point of contention among scholars, the Troubles started in the latter half of the 1960s. In essence, the conflict was among two groups who disagreed with Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom. The Unionists/Loyalists were those who wanted the country to remain within the UK. On the other hand, the Irish Nationalists/Republicans wanted Northern Ireland to combine with the Republic of Ireland and form a united Irish nation.

It should be noted that the Unionists were primarily Protestants, while a major portion of Nationalists were Catholics. Despite the usage of religious terms to refer to the conflicting groups, the conflict was not about the religious faith of the people but rather their wishes for their country. The Troubles lasted over three decades of endless wars and conflicts and even spilled over to the Republic of Ireland, England, and continental Europe.

Ultimately, on April 10, 1998, the Good Friday Agreement, or the Belfast Agreement, was signed by multiple leaders of the warring factions in order to restore peace in the region. While Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom, it was able to gain a bit more leeway in terms of civil and political rights, police reforms, and many more issues. The agreement was then voted upon by the citizens of the county through a referendum held on May 22, 1998, and the agreed-upon policies came into effect starting December 2, 1999.

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For writer Lisa McGee, the teenage characters within the story were inspired by herself and her teenage companions. “I’d always felt that my group of friends at school were funny, and I’d always wanted to write something about a group of female teenagers who were the leads and were being the ridiculous people, not just the “friend” or “sister,” she told the New York Times.

Lisa continued, “I also went to an all-girls convent school, so the cleverest person was a girl, the sports hero was a girl, the class clown was a girl. Growing up, everyone who was powerful or interesting or funny was female,’ she elaborated further. Interestingly, the character of Erin Quinn seems to be a reflection of the writer herself, especially since Erin too inspires to work in the same field.

The cultural shock for Lisa when she moved out of Northern Ireland was massive when it came to the expected role of women, among other things. “When I went to university, I realized Derry was different from all other places. The women, traditionally, were the breadwinners because it was a factory town and, apart from shirt factories, there wasn’t any other employment really, so a lot of the men were unemployed,” the writer explained her childhood experiences. “So we grew up in this sort of weird society where the dads were looking after the kids and the mums were going to work.”

One must understand that though Lisa was eager to use her friends as inspiration for characters in her work, she had initially planned on a modern setting and did not want to focus on the Troubles. For Lisa, writing was a way to escape into another world and bringing something that plagues her childhood seemed counterintuitive to the process. However, Liz Lewin, who had been there when Lisa had accidentally horrified her English audience with her “normal” childhood events, convinced the writer to indeed bring the historical events to life.

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One can easily say that ‘Derry Girls’ is partially inspired by the real-life experiences of the writer. However, Lisa utilized her penchant for humor to make a grim topic comedic, relatable, and yet informative for the viewers. Though the effects of such a ravaging conflict were definitely adverse on those growing up during the Troubles, Lisa’s story tells how the people were able to find joy and hope even in the bleakest of times.

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