Experiencing a ‘Derry Girls’ state of mind

Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls, scripted for Channel 4 and set to a rocking soundtrack that included everything from The Cranberries to The Undertones and Whigfield, was a cheeky, anarchic, affectionate, superbly funny rendition of the lives of four mouthy, hormone-crazed local schoolgirls and one ‘wee English fella’.

Monday, 17th February 2020, 5:54 pm

Michelle, the most assured would-be ‘mill bag’ of the group, played with swagger and bedevilment by Jamie Lee O’Donnell, was scabrous and daring; Erin (a comically expressive Saoirse Monica Jackson) was the diary-scribbling epicentre of much of the chaos; while loopy Orla (Louisa Harland) and morally conscious goodie two shoes Clare (Nicola Coughlan), were all joined by English boy James (Dylan Llewllyn) who tagged along at the all-girls convent school because it was feared he would be beat up by tough guys elsewhere on account of his accent (these being sadly divisive times).

The series was a staggering success for Channel 4 and showed Lisa McGee to be a seriously talented comedy writer, able to use Derry vernacular and culture to create something funny yet touching, rebellious, to-the-bone and whip-smart.

Yes the show acknowledged the bombs and devastation that was still unfolding across the province, but defiantly, it also showed just how normal life continued: teenage girls developed crushes and got drunk at parties trying to look cool around the boys they fancied; homework still had to be done, exams had to be crammed for; family gatherings included much banter; school life was filled with its usual hardships and delights, in this case the hilarious yet formidable Sister Michael, played with sangfroid by Siobhan McSweeny, muttering “Sweet suffering Jehovah!’” at the numerous misdemeanours of her charges, rolling her eyes up to high heaven, as though demonically possessed.

Now the Everglades Hotel have come up with the ingenious idea of a Derry Girls Experience – allowing you to tour the city to revisit key moments from the show and more.

Our experience begins at Hasting’s newest venture, the uber-stylish Grand Central Hotel, where we are treated to charcuterie boards washed down with plenteous volumes of prosecco and have general banter about the show, as we regale each other with come of the series’ best moments. What about Uncle Colm, played by Kevin McAleer, who gets handcuffed to the thermostatic valve of his heating system by two armed men and then still manages to bore everyone half to death in the retelling? Remember the time the girls thought the statue of the Virgin Mary was smirking and then weeping before them? And what about the end of the first series when they all danced together on stage at school, jubilantly, feeling so happy to be Derry Girls?

We jumped on a McComb’s Coach to be whisked away to the Walled City’s sumptuous Everglades, ahead of a Derry Girls themed walking tour and an appropriately themed afternoon tea the next day.

In the lobby the iconic hotel duck had been transformed by designer Chris Suit into a large fibreglass creation artwork with a Derry Girls uniform and curly brown hair and hooped earrings to rival Michelle’s. We were all gifted with our own Michelle the Derry Girl duck and were childishly chuffed with them.

Sitting down to dinner in The Grill Restaurant my fellow guests and I had many options from a delicious menu that included a variety of starters from soup to pate; mains including fresh fish dishes, chicken or beef with ‘Causeway shaped’ chips; numerous options for side orders; a fabulous selection of sweets and to finish tea, coffee, or in my case copious amounts of quality merlot.

After such lubrication we watched a decidedly catchy Jersey Boys’ Tribute Show with our crew taking to the dance floor several gins in, continuing into the small hours of the morning with euphoric rock-the-boat antics.

The rooms at the Everglade are spacious, bright and airy with superb king-size beds that feel like heaven to sink into and we each retire in maximum comfort.

Breakfast was served the next morning at our leisure. I plumped for a full Irish breakfast, because it would simply be rude not to in situations like this, so we were all well fortified for our walking tour of the city, organised by McCrossan City Tours.

Our tour leader Garvin was clearly a huge fan of the series and starting at the Guildhall where Bill Clinton once delivered his famous speech and where the girls gather in the final episode of series two, James shouting from the nearby walls that he’s not leaving because being a Derry Girl is a ‘state of mind’, and he’s one too,

we head off to the Bogside, the Free Derry Mural, Dennis’s Wee Shop, and onto the City Walls from where we get an immense view of the cityscape as it spreads out beneath a cloudy sky.

We visit the new Derry Girls mural, painted so deftly and vividly; the piece sits as a colourful new addition against the manly political murals that fill the city, a testament that this place has much more to offer than tours rehashing the Siege, the Troubles, Bloody Sunday and sectarian tragedy.

Here is something cool and hip to celebrate. Indeed, the show has given the city a much needed tourism boost and even helped prevent the closure of the O’Neill’s shirt factory, as a range of Derry Girls T-shirts have been flying off the rails, and our tour guide takes us to see for ourselves.

I’m reminded of the sentiment that being a Derry Girl is a state of mind. If that means loving Derry, questionable 90s music, friendship, solidarity with my girlfriends and finding the beauty in the culture you are immersed in despite its flaws and bigotries, then I’m certainly one too.

But the Derry Girls Afternoon Tea was probably my highlight. The Everglades have gone to great lengths to provide fare that is referenced in the show: hence we dined on crisp sandwiches, sausage roll sandwiches, cones of chips, and cream horns, among numerous other delights.

I can’t recommend this trip heartily enough. For the full effect, be sure to watch all of both hit series before you go, so as you get the full import of all the excellent tour guide references.

I’m a Derry Girl too, so I am. Sweet suffering Jehovah.

This overnight package with the Derry Girls Walking Tour and a stay at the Everglades Hotel with McComb’s Coach Travel and Martin McCrossan City Tours is available on selected dates: April 18, May 23 and June 27.

You can enjoy a Derry Girls Afternoon Tea at the Everglades from £30 per person.

An overnight stay at the Everglades including breakfast plus Derry Girls Afternoon Tea with cocktail and your own Michelle Derry Girls duck, from £90 per person.

The Derry Girls Tour Package, including overnight accommodation and breakfast the follow morning, guided Derry Girls Walking Tour, Derry Girls Afternoon Tea with cocktail and your very own Michelle rubber duck, is available from £95 per person.

For further information visit www.hastingshotels.com or call 02871 321 066.