There were stars galore in tonight’s episode including ‘The Commitment’ - Derry’s own Bronagh Gallagher while Liam Neeson returning briefly. Many supporting cast members who have become fan favourites, including Uncle Colm (Kevin McAleer), Wee Dennis (Paul Mallon), Fr Peter (Art Campion) and Jim across the road (Robert Calvert) also returned for a last shindig in the one-hour special on Channel 4 which brought the season and the show to a close in fitting style.
Derry Girls has never shied away from tackling the big events going on in the background in the 1990s here and this episode was no different. Indeed it will have brought many viewers right back to 1998, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (as narrated by real-life journalist Donna Traynor) and the subsequent Referendum which put the public seal of approval on a new dawn for the north of Ireland, with people north and south voting overwhelmingly in favour.
The finale opened with the spotlight firmly and deservedly on Louisa Harland as young Orla McCool getting her I.D. for the vote and happily dancing through the streets of Derry city centre with her walkman on full blast in a surreal sequence of pure teenage care-free joy. Along the way she is seen eating a cream horn (no doubt from the awn bakery near Pump Street) and freestyling on the Derry Walls, where she is joined by a troupe of young Irish dancers, before stumbling into an army checkpoint at Bishop Street barracks and coming right back down to reality, Derry 1990s style.
Jenny Joyce (Leah O’Rourke) meanwhile was back on top form with a truly woeful dramatic representation of the Troubles, complete with wooden swords, balaclavas and atrocious dialogue, all finished off with what was probably the most brilliantly terrible dramatic representation of hope ever staged in the history of theatre going back to the amphitheatres of ancient Greece, with the disdain of Sister Michael just completing one of the finest scenes of the series. Jenny also got a fitting send off in the finale via a signature over the top 18th ‘Jennywood’ birthday party with champers, a ‘wee horse’, butler service and goodie bags, while cousins Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) and Orla had to make do with sharing their doomed Literary Monkeys-themed birthday bash venue with each other and a pile of quids-in primary school children post-First Communion, as their parents tried to save a bit of dough.
In a reversal of sorts, the seriousness of the situation going on at the time and what was at stake was brought home by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell’s Michelle. O’Donnell proved once again what a phenomenal actor she is, encapsulating the confusion and conflicting emotions of a young person trying to make sense of their world, a world emerging from a Conflict when everything around them was changing. Saoirse Monica Jackson was equally outstanding and nuanced as we watched Erin navigate rights and wrongs, forced to confront her own righteous opinions and reconnect with Michelle while growing up in the process.
The soundtrack too was on point and particularly nostalgia-inducing for those of us who were teenagers back in the 90s.
The finale was packed with special moments, from Sarah (the exceptional Cathy Ciara Clarke) delivering her unique take on political developments and well, everything else, including her confidence boosting admiration for her cousin Eamonn’s (Ardal O Hanlon) shapely pins, to Sister Michael (Siobhán McSweeney) versus The Bishop (he didn’t stand a chance, poor man), James’ (Dylan Llewellyn) suspicions of people who’d never seen ‘Cool Runnings’ to the arrival of Mary’s (Tara Lynn O’Neill) miracle microwave and Uncle Colm, Granda Joe (Ian McElhinney) and Da Gerry (Tommy Tiernan) getting jiggy with it on the dance floor.
But it was the last half of the show that really hit you in the feels, as Erin and Michelle patched up their differences just before the characters headed to the polling booth to vote, Claire Devlin’s (Nicola Coughlan), who may have been at the energy drinks again pre-lost Ulsterbus timetable meltdown, attempts at negotiating a peace treaty of her own via her burger phone from her alien new environment of Strabane having failed spectacularly.
As poignant as many of those later scenes where, particularly Granda Joe with his youngest granddaughter heading out of the polling station, it was the scenes which followed which were truly powerful. The show shared footage from Derry on January 30 1972 when 13 innocent men and boys attending an anti-internment march were shot dead by paratroopers from the British army. A 14th man died later from his injuries and many more were wounded on Bloody Sunday. This was followed by scenes that fast-forwarded to the Derry the day the Saville Tribunal published its report into the atrocity on June 15, 2010. This will stopped many viewers in their tracks. For the tens of thousands who gathered in Guildhall Square that day to support the families of the dead and the wounded in this pivotal moment in their long campaign for justice as the world’s media watched on, it was a moment they will never forget. The victims of Bloody Sunday were officially declared innocent and British Prime Minister David Cameron in London described the killings as “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
And then just as we expected the credits to roll we were taken across the Atlantic to present day New York where none other than the real Chelsea Clinton receives a letter from Erin & Co (that letter from the Season 2 finale) which had got lost in the post back in the mid-90s and somehow resurfaced and it is this daughter of the President and First Lady who took an active interest and role in the peace process here and who came to Derry several times from 1995 onwards, who narrates us out. Arguably the biggest shock of the entire show was saved for the final moment, confirming Lisa McGee and the Derry Girls cast and crews’ ability to make you laugh, cry and gasp in surprise all at the same time.
They have all done Derry proud and we at the Derry Journal were honoured to receive a mention and for our paper to feature in every season of what is already a classic that has helped put Derry on the map for all the right reasons. Ladies (and the wee English fella) take a bow!