Derry Girls Shows Us How Bawl-Breaking A Hard Brexit Would Be

The backdrop of The Troubles, and mistrust toward other cultures, reminds us why we need to keep building bridges, and not borders
Derry Girls - Orla, Erin, Michelle at the back and Clare and James sitting down
Derry Girls - Orla, Erin, Michelle at the back and Clare and James sitting down
Channel 4

If you’re a millennial like me, you might have never experienced a ‘hard border’ before. I remember the first time I did – so confusing. Stamps, passports, queues and police and their guns everywhere. The people at border control are scary – they have the power to turn you back, to deny access to wherever you need to go, to separate you from your friends and family. Never mind being a waste of time and a pain in the neck, it’s intimidating.

If you’re a millennial like me, also you might have been enjoying the very first episodes of season two of Derry Girls, the Channel 4 comedy about five teenagers in Derry during The Troubles.

The girls are in some ways typical teenage girls – stroppy with their parents, rebellious against their Catholic school and joyful and silly amongst themselves. I love them because they remind me of my teenage years, of how superficial but still fatally important hairstyles, eyeliner and school trips were back then. The humour of the show, fuelled as well by Sister Michael’s eye-rolling, extends across generations and has my Mum laughing along too.

However, there is one major difference between them and me: The Troubles. The light comedy of the show is often brutally interrupted by symptoms of the political context of Ireland and Northern Ireland at the time. Soldiers get on the school bus regularly and no-one bats an eyelid, but the military and school uniforms contrast harshly. Bombs left by the IRA in an attempt to weaken road infrastructure are seen as a nuisance and an excuse not to go to school. Parades and riots lead the family to evacuate Derry and seek refuge in a chaotic camping holiday.

These scenes and events are treated lightly within the show but serve as a visual reminder of the very real disruption and danger Irish (and sometimes English or European) citizens had to face at the time. Other, more serious scenes include the family sitting around the TV as fatalities are broadcast, horrified. The last minutes of season one beautifully illustrate the chasm between hilarious, careless teenage years and deadly political troubles – as the girls are busy dancing and ridiculing themselves on stage in a beautiful show of solidarity and free movement, their parents are at home, standing still and stricken in front of the TV. The news report announces 12 deaths - Da Gerry and Grandpa Joe’s solemn expressions and unusual silence demonstrate the gravity of the moment.

The girls from Derry demonstrate, beyond violence and politics (as if that wasn’t enough), the cultural borders that exist between the North and the South. The first episode of the second season, Across the Barricade, illustrates these misunderstandings in an amusing way.

Even though the girls seem excited about meeting Protestant boys, when Father Peter tries to get the crowd of Protestant and Catholic teens to brainstorm about their similarities, he fails spectacularly. Later on, during their hair-raising team-building exercise, Clare gets carried away and suspects a partially deaf boy of trying to kill her. I have to admit that Clare gets worked up quite easily, but when she’s at the end of her tether she reveals her true feelings: that, despite the peaceful goals of the event, she still deeply distrusts Protestants.

Clare’s hysterical reaction reveals other hidden tensions amongst the teenagers, and when one of them lets out a “F***ing Catholics”, a fight breaks out. Not a very serious fight for sure, but the readiness of the group to fight each other reflects their ingrained nationalism and scepticism towards each other. A misunderstanding escalates into physical altercation – a metaphor for what’s happening in the outside world.

The Good Friday agreement celebrates it’s 21st birthday this year, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have soldiers in school buses and discrimination towards my neighbours. Nonetheless, Derry Girls puts into pictures what the United Kingdom risks by having a no-deal, hard border kind of Brexit.

Of course we can expect tensions and complications at the borders, trouble and separation for Irish and European families. But also, misunderstanding and hostility towards other cultures that could lead us on the long term to isolation and nationalism. During this week of political chaos, give Derry Girls a watch - it’ll take your mind off things and remind you why we need to keep building bridges, and not borders, with other countries.


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