I think everyone in Northern Ireland remembers where they were when the result of the Good Friday Agreement – the accord that finally brought peace to the region after three decades of brutal violence – was announced.


For many of us, the Derry Girls extended bonus episode brought forth a flood of memories – good and bad – from that era. We deeply felt the nostalgia, the music, the concern about doing the right thing, the emotion, the fear, but most of all, we felt the hope.

Me, a Derry Girl of just 22 years old back in 1998, was glued to my television set in my rented house on the Falls Road in Belfast. I was a young reporter. Beside me on the sofa was my then-boyfriend, now husband and father of our four children.

Before we even dared to dream that the Good Friday Agreement would afford us peace, we were arranging to pack up our lives and head to America, where we would start afresh, free from this godforsaken place full of hatred, pain and violence.

Twenty-four years on, and as our peace feels threatened once again, Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee has reminded us of just how grim that period was, and why the Good Friday Agreement is as important today as it was back then.

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Derry Girls cast
The cast of Channel 4's Derry Girls in the final special. Channel 4

McGee's cult series has, over the last three seasons, given those on the outside a different perspective of us, explaining why we are the way we are – and with far more insight than any news report could ever offer.

To put it simply: Northern Ireland isn't 'normal'.

A friend of mine's first memory is watching a man in a forensic suit pick bits of brains off the sunflowers in their nursery school garden following a murder. Before I was 11 years old, I had seen a man shot dead by the British Army on my way to the shop for sweets.

As children of the Troubles, we were accustomed to the sounds of war; discos, cinema trips, grocery shopping, weddings were all interrupted by bomb alerts. Along with Wham! and Madonna, the dull boom of explosions, anguished screams and the shattering of glass during the many riots was the soundtrack to our young lives.

We socialised in bars knowing gunmen had a penchant for shooting them up. We'd pass abandoned cars with the full knowledge that there could be a bomb concealed inside.

You don't feel fear living in a war zone when it's all you've ever known.

Despite our streets often being on fire, literally, despite the spectre of gunmen and bombs hanging over us at all times, we just got on with things, like the Derry Girls do. We lived our lives, loved our lives and enjoyed the craic at every opportunity as we circled the periphery of the dark abyss that was the Troubles, hoping none of us would get sucked in.

So, when the Good Friday Agreement came into our line of vision, hope burned bright.

Orla and Erin lying on a bed together
Orla McCool (Louisa Clare Harland) and Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson). Channel 4

All of these emotions were perfectly mirrored in the last episode of a now iconic show that has replaced the grainy black and white footage of floppy-haired, flare-wearing rioters and city centres lying in smouldering ruins.

It reflects the rollercoaster that Northern Irish life was back then: the intensity, laughter, horror, tears, joy, normality, insanity, anger, love, confusion and exhaustion. Ordinary life in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Orla's buoyant jig, halted only by an armed British soldier; Mary's delight over her new microwave; Jenny Joyce's expressive modern dance routine; Michelle's brother Niall being imprisoned for murder; Aunt Sarah declaring that you can 'swing both ways' in the referendum; Sister George Michael's sadness in the face of change. Everyday life in the midst of madness.

McGee perfectly captures the notion that Northern Irish people can find humour in the trauma. We had to. It was all we had.

Orla McCool (Louisa Clare Harland), Clare Devlin (Nicola Coughlan) and Michelle Mallon (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell).

McGee uses Michelle, a character we have grown to both love and understand across the course of the comedy, to guide us through the darkest of the Northern Irish complexities. Her brother killed someone in the conflict and she is torn between loving him and despising what he did.

Erin represents a swathe of the Northern Irish public struggling to say yes to peace if it means those who engaged in the taking of lives in her home city are set free. The argument between the two represents the struggle within and without during this most historic moment in our time.

The monologue between the two generations – Erin and her grandfather – about the importance of the yes vote is poignant and heart-breaking, but is also brimming with optimism: "What if all of this becomes a 'ghost story' you will tell your children?"

It could be said that this hour-long finale left us feeling like our emotions have been in one of Mary's white wash spin cycles, but we came out the better for it.

Grandad Joe standing at the kitchen sink and staring into the camera in Derry Girls
Grandad Joe (Ian McElhinney). Channel 4

McGee lived this, as did the rest of us, and captured it flawlessly. After all we had been through – the murders, the mayhem and the madness – we dared to dream of a better future, in spite of the fear that gripped us. We knew nothing of peace; it was alien to us. And we almost wanted our lives to stay the same because it was all we knew.

We were stepping into the unknown.

McGee lets us watch our beloved characters head into the polling stations to make their mark for themselves, for generations to come, for change, for something more, something to cherish.

We watch them struggle with their consciences. The RUC man, played by Liam Neeson, carries the weight of the police community so brutalised by the IRA; we see Granda voting yes for the next generation; innocent Orla draws a smiley face in the yes box; Michelle votes to see her incarcerated brother again.

Twenty-four years almost to the day when Northern Ireland said a resounding 'Yes' to peace, those ghosts Granda spoke of have not totally been exorcised. We still have sectarianism and riots on our streets, the flared trousers of old replaced by modern tracksuits. The hatred and division still bubbles up.

But, like the Derry Girls, we have tried, and we will keep on trying. Like 18-year-old Erin says in the final moments of the show, "We have to be brave."

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