Derry Girls: The Hit Northern Irish TV Show

Updated On: March 24, 2022

Cast of Derry Girls

As the second season of the critically acclaimed Irish sitcom, Derry Girls fast approaches in March, we thought we would explore the success of the show so far. Derry Girls is a show we didn’t even know we needed but absolutely loved.

The show is set in the backdrop of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland following the lives of five school girls from Derry. While it’s clearly set during a troubling time in Northern Ireland, it gives you a lot of that much-loved Irish humour and wit.

Derry Girls Cast
Derry Girls Cast

The first season of Derry Girls aired on Channel 4 in 2018 and some have even suggested it’s the Irish version of the Inbetweeners. But the show stands on its own two feet offering something fresh and exciting, a new look at Northern Ireland.

Many television shows and films that are based around The Troubles have often been dominated by male politicians and soldiers. This is where the show is different with a brilliant nearly all female cast at the forefront of the drama.

Let’s dive into the creation of Derry Girls, why people love it, its success and more.

Who Wrote Derry Girls?

Derry Girls was created by the brilliant Northern Irish writer Lisa McGee, who was born and raised in Derry. When Lisa McGee left Thornhill College in Derry, she went on to study Drama at Queens University in Belfast. This is where McGee got her first taste for writing and ultimately writing became her main focus.

After University she became a writer on attachment for the Royal National Theatre in London in 2006. While there Lisa was the mastermind behind some great plays including Jump, Nineteen Ninety-Two and Girls and Dolls. McGee also won a Stewart Parker Trust Playwright Bursary 2007 for Girls and Dolls.

Lisa McGee, Derry Girls Creator
Lisa McGee, Derry Girls Creator

Her success doesn’t end there as she has obtained television credits including ‘The Things I Haven’t Told You’ for BBC 3. Lisa McGee also created the Irish television series Raw for RTE and was a writer for the BAFTA nominated show ‘Being Human’ also a BBC show. That’s pretty impressive for someone from Northern Ireland. She has continued to make waves as a writer with the success of Derry Girls.

New Representations of Northern Irish People

Lisa McGee has always dreamed of putting Northern Irish voices on the big screen. McGee is finally living that dream now with Derry Girls. Where she’s able to offer up underrepresent people to our TV screens from a difficult time in Northern Ireland’s history.

As McGee has said:

“I always felt that I, my friends and my family were never represented’, Ordinary people were brilliant at those times. They were so funny. They had it tough, but they laughed too.”

In some ways, her experience of growing up in the ’90s in Derry amidst ‘The Troubles’ have inspired parts of the show.

Inspiration for Writing

McGee has also noted that aspects of the show wouldn’t exist if she’s hadn’t discovered, Brian Friel. During her school years, Friel was one of the first writers she discovered and got excited about. Lisa claims:

“Friel’s work spoke to me and I’ve had a huge admiration for him throughout my career.”

Friel’s play ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’ was the first play she had ever studied at school. What McGee loved most about it was it made her laugh even with its complexity. Similar to that of Derry Girls as the show captures the true essence of Irish humour along with entanglement of family life.

She also brought unique Northern Irish words and phrases to a channel four audience. The audience loved the use of local things which ultimately helped to make Derry Girls special and true to its roots.

McGee was telling stories that everyone from Northern Ireland could relate to;

“In Derry Girls we see families ordering from the chippy, which is something every Northern Ireland family understands. But everyone around the world understands that frustration of trying to organise anything with their family.” – Lisa McGee

Derry Girls offers a new look at life in Northern Ireland but with universal feelings and concepts that most people could relate to. This is probably one of the biggest reasons why the first season became so popular. The second series was commissioned soon after the pilot had aired.

Derry Girls Season One

For anyone who hasn’t seen the hilariously relatable and poignant first season of Derry Girls, you are seriously missing out. If you don’t want to find out any spoilers, then I would suggest you stop reading now because I’m going to recap series one of Derry Girls.

The series revolves around the ever-changing high school lives of four Derry Girls growing up under English oppression in Northern Ireland. Following the lives of Erin, her cousin Orla, their friends Claire & Michelle and Michelle’s English cousin James.

They attend ‘Our Lady of Immaculate College’ together and deal with typical teenage dramas and family life. But with the harsh reality of the Troubles taking place in the background.

For those that aren’t aware, the Troubles were a long period of violence in Northern Ireland. Derry was seen at the centre of The Troubles that saw tension between the Catholic and Protestants communities.

Within the show, they make the audience very aware of the time period with the first episode of Derry Girls featuring a bombing on a bridge. In the same episode, you see the girl’s school bus gets stopped by soldiers for no reason.

For the most part, Derry Girls is light-hearted, filled with endless laughs as you watch the 16-year-old girls navigate life. But the last episode of season one was very action-packed and heart-rending.

Cast of Derry Girls
The cast of Derry Girls

Series one Finale of Derry Girls

The final episode saw Clare making the brave decision to come out to her friends and a fatal bombing taking place in Derry. As you see the four girls and James happily dancing in their school home, a different story was unfolding at home.

It saw Erin Quinn’s family; her mother, father, aunt and grandpa staring at the TV screen as reports of a devastating bombing comes to light. The impact of the bombing is shown through grandpa Joe gently placing his hand on his sons-in-law shoulder, as an act of support.

Although writer Lisa McGee said nothing on the show was based on a particular incident, but there were some events of that scale that happened in Northern Ireland.

“There were lots of times when your family stood around the TV and just couldn’t speak because this was people in your own place doing it to each other. I just wanted to nod to the fact that there were those times as well.” – Lisa McGee

For the most part, Derry Girls has the ‘life goes on attitude’ but moments like the final scene shows the true reality of what people were experiencing in Northern Ireland at the time.

Overall the first season of Derry Girls is very relatable, incredibly funny with moments filled with emotions. I’ve tried not to spoil the show too much, so you can go and watch this brilliant coming of age comedy. The first season of Derry Girls only has six episodes, all lasting 30 minutes each, which means you can binge-watch it all in one day if you wish.

Derry Girl Characters and Who Plays Them

The cast of Derry Girl is filled with amazing actresses and actors who have helped to bring the show to life. You’ll end up falling in love with those playing the characters just as much as you’ll love the characters. What I loved about this show is it’s empowering nearly all-female cast which is rare to seen on television.

Let’s look at the talented cast of Derry Girls

Saoirse Monica Jackson

Saoirse Monica Jackson - Derry Girls Cast
Saoirse Monica Jackson – Derry Girls Cast

The lead character of Derry Girls, Erin Quinn is played by the brilliant Saoirse Monica Jackson.  She brings to life the ambitious wannabe writer of Erin, who leads her pack of friends and deals will her mad family. Her family includes some great characters who happen to be some of the hidden stars on the show.

Although Saoirse is pretty new to the tv scene, she has appeared in two other shows before landing this job. But the role of Erin Quinn is by far her biggest to date and being from Derry makes her perfect for the role.


Nicola Coughlan

Nicola Coughlan Derry Girls Cast
Nicola Coughlan Derry Girls Cast

Next up is one of my favourite characters on the show, Clare Devlin who is played perfectly by Nicola Coughlan. Claire is clever, hilariously funny without even trying to be and nothing seem more important to her than her academic achievement.

Many people are surprised to find out that Nicola Coughlan is 31 but with her baby face you would never tell. Before being cast on Derry Girls, Coughlan has had experience on the stage and in other shows. Nicola has made appearances in Doctor Who and Game of Thrones but has been acting since she was a child. Nicolas bubbly personality and energy really helps to bring to life the character of Clare.

Jamie Lee O’Donnell

Jamie Lee O’Donnell Cast of Derry Girls
Jamie Lee O’Donnell Cast of Derry Girls

One of the feistier characters on the show is Michelle Mallon played by Derry native Jamie Lee O’Donnell.

Michelle is known for her big mouth that seems to get her in trouble more times than not. She says and does what she wants, hilariously unfiltered most of the time and not afraid to put anyone in place.

This isn’t Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s first taste of stardom as she has appeared in a popular BBC programme Six Degrees. Jamie has always had an interest in acting and spent time in Britain studying performance art and dance at De Montford University. Which has clearly worked in her favour as she’s become one of the breakout stars of the show that everyone loves.


Louisa Harland

Louisa Harland Cast of Derry Girls
Louisa Harland Cast of Derry Girls

Last of the core girls is the character of Orla McCool, Erin’s cousin who’s played by Louisa Harland. She’s one of the more unpredictable characters, who follows the beat of her own drum. Orla has a positive outlook on life, does her own thing and doesn’t care about the opinions of others.

Louisa Harland has had some success before coming to Derry Girls, with a recurring role in Irish drama Love/Hate. As well as making an appearance in two British shows including Doctors and Harley and the Davidson.

Not only that but she has starred in two movies, Standby and Lost in London. Besides appearing in the next season of Derry Girls, Harland will appear in TV movie Finding Joy and short film Sunday Tide.


Dylan Llewellyn

Dylan Llewellyn Cast of Derry Girls
Dylan Llewellyn Cast of Derry Girls

Next, there is the character of James Maguire, Michelle’s English cousin played by Dylan Llewellyn. Known throughout the show as the ‘Wee English Fella’ who has moved over to Derry.

He is forced to attend the all-girls Catholic school with his cousin as concerns around his English accent possibly causing trouble in the boy’s school. This leads him to become the ultimate outsider, trying to keep up with the girls.

For the actor that plays James acting wasn’t his main ambition in life until a role in a school play paved the way for a successful acting career. When he was 15 his school won a competition to appear in the National Theatre. At only 25-years-old Dylan has starred in the popular TV soap Hollyoaks and films Frequency and Down Dog.

As the show mainly focuses on the lives of the four girls, there are also other stand out characters worth mentioning. Even though their appearance might be small, the show just wouldn’t be the same without them.

Tara Lynn

Tara Lynne O’Neill Derry Girls Cast
Tara Lynne O’Neill Derry Girls Cast

First, we have the character of Mary or Ma Mary, Erin’s Mother played by Tara Lynne O’Neill. Every scene that Ma Mary appears in she steals the show. She’s the heart of the Quinn family, hardworking, straight-talking and has no time for nonsense.

Tara O’Neill has got an impressive acting CV with roles in British soap EastEnders and Irish soap Fair City under her belt. She has also starred in a variety of Irish dramas including The Fall and the Line of Duty.

Ian McElhinney

Ian McElhinney Cast of Derry Girls
Ian McElhinney Cast of Derry Girls

Another great character on Derry Girls is Granda Joe played by the incredible Ian McElhinney. Granda Joe is a well-respected man in his community, who doesn’t scare easily. He’s someone you don’t want to mess with, but he adores his daughters and granddaughters.

One of the best aspects of this character is his love/hate relationship with his son-in-law. Granda Joe has been a big hit with the fans of the show.

Ian McElhinney is one of the most successful Northern Irish actors with a career that spans more than thirty years. He has many great TV and film credits to his name including Rogue One and Game of Thrones.

Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan Cast of Derry Girls
Tommy Tiernan Cast of Derry Girls

Next up we have Gerry Quinn, the husband and father to Mary and Erin Quinn, played by Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan.

Gerry is constantly outnumbered by the women in his life, and he never seems to catch a break from his father in law who finds fault in all he does.

Tommy Tiernan is a great addition to the show who is best known for his stand-up comedy routines rather than his acting.

Although he did have a small role in a Channel Four sitcom called ‘Small Potatoes’ back in the 90’s. He is better known for his comedy and even has his own chat show on Irish TV channel RTE.

Kathy Kiera Clarke

Kathy Kiera Clarke Cast of Derry Girls
Kathy Kiera Clarke Cast of Derry Girls

Then there’s the ditzy and carefree character of ‘Aunt Sarah’ who is Orla’s mum played by Kathy Kiera Clarke. ‘Aunt Sarah’ is probably the most laid-back member of the Quinn/McCool family.

She leaves her sister Mary to do all hard tasks of parenting while she takes the back seat. The only thing she isn’t laid back about it her appearance.

Kathy Clarke has appeared in numerous roles, some of her most successful work is for the award-winning Bloody Sunday and Omagh. She was even nominated for the IFTA for her role in Bloody Sunday.


Siobhan McSweeney

Siobhan McSweeney Cast of Derry Girls
Siobhan McSweeney Cast of Derry Girls

Lastly, we have the iconic Sister Michael who is played brilliantly by Siobhan McSweeney. She is the headmistress at Our Lady Immaculate College who doesn’t take any nonsense from the girls. Sister Michael is constantly stealing the show with her epic one-liners and sassiness.

The talented Siobhan McSweeney has captivated the audiences of Derry Girls and not long after the first series ended, fans were asking for her character to have her own spin-off. McSweeney has some great TV and film roles under her name including Irish drama The Fall and No Offence. She also made an appeared in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The Success of Derry Girls

Derry Girls became quite the hit comedy series with audiences but for writer Lisa McGee it came as a lovely shock. McGee had envisioned the show to find a niche audience who might understand her Northern Irish humour. She didn’t expect it to become the biggest comedy of the year and Channel 4’s most successful show in over a decade.

Derry Girls has even become the most-watched Television show in Northern Ireland since 2002. Over the period it was on TV there were around 2.5 million people who tuned in to watch. That’s incredible for a show based in a regional area of Northern Ireland. The first episode of the show was so successful that they renewed it for a second series.

The show has even started to pick up awards at the Irish Film and Television Awards 2018 Derry Girls took home the Best Comedy Award. Lisa McGee was also recognised for her writing winning the ‘Best Writer Soap and Comedy’ Award. Just recently Derry Girls was Nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Scripted Comedy Programme in 2019.

What has Made Derry Girls so Successful?

The success of Derry Girls can be down to a lot of things from the laugh out loud moments that take you by surprise, the intertwining drama of schoolgirls and heart-breaking elements of the Troubles.

The show is brilliantly written by Lisa McGee, offering an original voice that hasn’t been explored before. The casting of Derry Girls is perfect, each actor offering something fresh and exciting. All these elements are part of why we believe the show has become so popular.

The show has even made its way over to an American audience as it was dropped on Netflix in December 2018. Hitting up a storm with Americans, who are all raving about the show. A writer for the Hollywood Reported even stated: “Welcome to Derry Girls, my favourite comedy of the year” on her review of the show.

Derry Girls Tourism

The show has also helped to drive tourism to the city of Derry as many people are coming here to check out the city which the show is based around. There has also been a huge mural created in the centre of Derry of the main characters which has proven to be quite popular with people.

There are also future plans to create a Derry Girls visitor experience in the city. A tour that will highlight the different filming locations in the show. So that’s something visitors to Northern Ireland can look forward to seeing in the near future.

Season Two of Derry Girls

For anyone that’s just discovered the show or if you’re a fan from the beginning you won’t have to wait long for the new series.  Derry Girls season two is set to air on Tuesday the 5th of March 2019 on Channel 4. Actress Saoirse-Monica Jackson said the second series is “Bigger and Better” in a recent interview that you can check out below:

It’s also expected that the stars of series one will be reprising their roles in this new season. Check out the trailer of season two to get you excited for what’s to come.

Season two of the hit show was once again a success. The DerryGirls hashtag trended on Twitter with many fans loving the first episode of season two. This happened while fans across the world were asking the likes of Netflix to hurry and get the show on their platform.

The Future for Derry Girls

After the second season finished, Channel four announced the show was renewed for a third season. More character and story development is expected, with the show coming close to the final years of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Lisa McGee has stated she would like to finish the show around the end of the troubles which would be around the year 1998.

The #DerryGirls series finale is here! Derry is at fever pitch for President Bill Clinton’s visit. Don’t miss it, it’s on at the earlier time of 9pm tonight!

— Channel 4 (@Channel4) April 9, 2019

the show is also expected to make a first appearance on Netflix in the UK. It was expected to hit the Netflix screens in May but has been delayed. We hope to see it soon.

Have you watched the show yet? We would love to hear your thoughts on Derry Girls 🙂 Let us know below!

Also, check other blogs that might interest you:

Movies filmed in Ireland| Famous Irish Authors Who Helped Promote Irish Tourism| Good Vibrations in Belfast: A Guide for Movie Fans

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