Is a “Derry Girls” tour on your itinerary?
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The Netflix hit, originally shown on the U.K.’s Channel 4, has been a huge success all across the globe.
While most of it is filmed in various parts of Derry (known as Londonderry to some), there’s a good chance that many viewers have never set foot in this charming city, Northern Ireland’s second-largest.
If you haven’t seen “Derry Girls,” you should give it a look.
The sitcom, which was created and written by Lisa McGee, a screenwriter from Northern Ireland, is about five teenagers as they navigate life in Derry during the 1990s.
This is the period just before the Troubles officially ended.
Season 1 was broadcast in 2018, with season 2 shown in 2019.
The third and final season has been released on Channel 4 in the U.K. and will be available to viewers of Netflix in the U.S. and other parts of the world later in 2022.
The Story Behind “Derry Girls”
There are five main characters in the hilarious series.
They include the main character Erin, her cousin Orla and their friends, Clare and Michelle, along with Michelle’s English cousin, James, known as “the wee English fella.”
All of them attend a local Catholic girls' secondary school run by the equally hilarious Sister Michael.
Erin lives with her father and mother, Mary and Gerry, her baby sister, and her maternal grandfather, Joe. Mary’s younger sister Sarah is always in their house but actually lives next door.
While there are several references to the Troubles in many of the episodes, for the most part, “Derry Girls” is very light-hearted and really funny, that is, if you can understand the thick Derry accents.
Due to the popularity of the show, a mural was created in the city center on the side of Badger’s Bar & Restaurant on Orchard Street.
If you want to take a “Derry Girls”self-guided tour, this should be your starting point.
Derry City Walls
Derry’s city walls were originally built by a group called the Irish Society between 1613 and 1619.
Derry is, in fact, the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in all of Europe.
The walls, which form a walkway around the entire city, were originally built to protect the Scottish and English residents who had just moved to Derry as part of the Plantation of Ulster ordered by James I.
They are a mile in circumference and contain seven gates.
They include the Ferryquay Gate, Shipquay Gate, Bishop’s Gate, and Butcher’s Gate, which are part of the original gates; New Gate, which was built in the 1790s and reinforced in 1798, the year of the United Irish Rebellion; Castle Gate, built between 1805 and 1808; and Magazine Gate, constructed in 1888, with access to the riverfront.
The Derry walls have the largest collection of cannons, including two from the Elizabethan era, which can be found close to Shipquay Gate.
Look closely at the cannons and you’ll see a depiction of a Tudor rose and the date 1590.
The gates themselves also have a number of interesting features, including one which contains the sculpted head of the Boyne River God.
The Bogside, Possibly the Home of the Derry Girls
While we don’t know exactly if the “Derry Girls” series is set in the Bogside, Derry’s well-known working-class neighborhood, there’s a good chance that it is.
The second stop on your “Derry Girls” tour should be the Bogside.
You’ll know you’re there when you see the iconic sign, “You Are Now Entering Free Derry.”
Major events in the city’s recent history are commemorated in a number of powerful murals, including one depicting the Battle of the Bogside, which was a large riot that took place in August 1969 for three days and nights between residents of the neighborhood and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), along with local Unionists.
It was widely seen as the first major confrontation of the Troubles.
There are other murals related to the 1981 hunger strikes that took place at the Maze Prison, which was built by the British to house paramilitary prisoners (the IRA and others).
The prison is now closed.
It was located on a former Royal Air Force station at Long Kesh, outside the town of Lisburn in Co. Down.
If you like, you can take a guided tour of the Bogside neighborhood with Bogside History Tours.
In fact, it might be a good idea to do so as local guides can add more context to what might seem like a very complicated matter to outsiders.
The Museum of Free Derry
The next stop on your Derry Girls tour should be The Museum of Free Derry.
The museum opened in 2007 and tells the story of what happened to the city from 1968 to 1972 and how a working-class community stood up to oppression.
It includes exhibitions on the civil rights era, the Battle of the Bogside, mentioned above, the internment of political prisoners, Bloody Sunday, and more.
The story of Derry is told from the viewpoint of those who were involved and most affected by the events that took place there.
The museum is open year-round from Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Saturdays year-round from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (June through September only) and on holidays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission is £8 for adults; £7 for seniors and students.
The Guildhall Features in “Derry Girls”
In the last episode of Season 3, the girls and James go into the city center to see President Bill Clinton give his speech to the city.
The US president visited Derry in 1995 to show support for the peace process.
The scene takes place at the city’s Guildhall Square, where you’ll find the impressive neo-Gothic Guildhall, constructed in 1890.
It is currently used by elected members of the Derry and Strabane District Council.
The building was severely damaged in 1972 after two bombs went off in the building. It was restored and reopened in 1977.
The most striking feature of the Guildhall is its beautiful stained-glass windows, which were also damaged in the bomb attacks. They were subsequently restored.
The windows tell the story of the city from its earliest times to the recent past and are well worth a look.
When you visit, be sure and see the new interactive tourism information area with interpretation panels that detail the building’s history and provide information on the Plantation of Ulster and how that impacted the city.
The Guildhall is free to visit, but you can also get a guided tour if you wish by emailing [email protected].
The Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge is more than an ordinary bridge. It is also a symbol of the efforts in Derry to unite the bitterly divided Catholic and Protestant communities in the city.
The bridge is really a sight to behold. It contains two structural arms that face in opposite directions, a symbol of the reunification of the two communities on either side of the Foyle River.
Those communities include the Catholic Bogside, mentioned above, and the Waterside neighborhood (or East Bank), which at one time was considered predominantly Protestant but is now made up of people from mixed religious groups.
The bridge was officially opened in 2011. It is 253 meters long (830 feet), with a 4-meter-long (13-foot) footpath that is ideal for walkers and cyclists.
There are even seats along the way to sit down and take in the beauty of the city.
The path stretches from the Guildhall to Ebrington Square and St. Columb’s Park.
A Pit Stop at the Walled City Brewery
If you’re hankering for a drink and some great grub and you’re near Ebrington Square, why not hop into the Walled City Brewery?
Be sure to order the Derry Girls-themed IPAs and beers that pay homage to the show.
Some include the “Sister Michael,” a dark coconut-flavored stout, and the “English Fella,” which has been described as a pale ale with a hint of strawberry.
Other Must-See Attractions in Derry
The Tower Museum
This museum, located within a historic tower beside the city walls, is a must-see if you are interested in the city’s prehistoric origins.
Two interesting exhibits include An Armada Shipwreck: La Trinidad Valencera and The Story of Derry.
The Armada exhibition tells the story of the fleet’s largest ship that sank in 1588 off the coast of Co. Donegal and the soldiers and sailors who were onboard.
It was discovered nearly 400 years later by local divers.
Be sure to go to the fifth floor to see a replica of a 16th-century tower house.
St. Columb’s Cathedral
This Church of Ireland cathedral is worth visiting simply to see its amazing architecture.
It is dedicated to Saint Columba, the patron saint of Derry, who founded a Christian settlement in the area. He was also credited for bringing Christianity to Scotland and northern England.
It was the first cathedral built after the Reformation when King Henry VIII decided to break away from the Catholic Church.
The estimated year of construction is 1633.
There are a number of artifacts in the church that date back to the Siege of Derry in 1689, which lasted for over 100 days.
At the time, James II, the deposed former Catholic monarch of Britain, captured Derry and held the city ransom until finally surrendering.
Have you been watching “Derry Girls?” Let me know what you think and if you’ve visited Derry lately and taken a Derry Girls tour.
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