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Why tourists are flocking to join light-hearted Derry Girls tour in the Maiden City

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Saint Columb's Cathedral which has stood on its prominent site inside the famous walls of Derry since 1633.

Saint Columb's Cathedral which has stood on its prominent site inside the famous walls of Derry since 1633.

Northern Ireland Tourist Board

The 'You are Now Entering Free Derry' Corner in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with two passersby

The 'You are Now Entering Free Derry' Corner in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with two passersby

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Helen Carson at Derry Girls mural

Helen Carson at Derry Girls mural

Helen Carson with visitors on Derry Girls tour outside Dennis' Wee Shop with a tour guide from Martin McCrossan tours.

Helen Carson with visitors on Derry Girls tour outside Dennis' Wee Shop with a tour guide from Martin McCrossan tours.

Guildhall in Derry

Guildhall in Derry

Everglades Derry

Everglades Derry

Saint Columb's Cathedral which has stood on its prominent site inside the famous walls of Derry since 1633.

What Derry Girls weekend would be complete without a visit to Dennis's Wee Shop, a cream horn and hitting the floor for that dance classic Rock The Boat.

Mine certainly wasn't on a recent whistle-stop tour of the Maiden City which is enjoying a newfound fame thanks to the Channel 4 comedy following the antics of teens' Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Michelle Mallon (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell), Clare Devlin (Nicola Coughlan), Orla McCool (Louise Harland) and the 'wee English fella' James Maguire (Dylan Llewellyn).

The show went stratospheric when its first series was watched by a record 2.5 million viewers in 2018 with many of its best-known characters, such as nun Sister Michael, achieving pop-culture status. With filming due to begin on another series and potentially a film - with subtitles - it seems there's no stopping the Derry Girls juggernaut. And there's another very welcome Derry Girls dividend - more tourists than ever flocking to the city.

Written by real-life Derry Girl, Lisa Magee, it has cast her home city in a very different light, putting the lives of secondary school girls growing up in the 90s centre stage with the Troubles as the backdrop.

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The 'You are Now Entering Free Derry' Corner in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with two passersby

The 'You are Now Entering Free Derry' Corner in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with two passersby

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The 'You are Now Entering Free Derry' Corner in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with two passersby

Having visited Londonderry many times to cover stories for a paper, I've never been there as a visitor and it was quite an eye-opener.

Expect the warmest welcome from people who make no attempt to sweep past events under the carpet while also embracing the fun of the Derry Girls' phenomena.

The walled city is rich in history and the best way to learn more is with one of the many guided tours which now includes one with a Derry Girls flavour run by Martin McCrossan Tours.

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Helen Carson with visitors on Derry Girls tour outside Dennis' Wee Shop with a tour guide from Martin McCrossan tours.

Helen Carson with visitors on Derry Girls tour outside Dennis' Wee Shop with a tour guide from Martin McCrossan tours.

Helen Carson with visitors on Derry Girls tour outside Dennis' Wee Shop with a tour guide from Martin McCrossan tours.

Beginning at the Guildhall, which US President Bill Clinton visited during his historic tour of the province in 1995, and possibly more famous now for the climactic scene in Derry Girls where James decides whether or not to stay in the city, our guide Garvin gives a refresher on the episode before we set off.

The first pitstop is at O'Neill's shop which stocks GAA clothing - and the first example of how the show's success is having a direct impact on people's lives here.

Famous for its shirt-making industry, the city's once booming trade has been reduced to a handful of factories. But, thanks to Derry Girls and the fact O'Neill's had the business nous to create a series of athletic wear featuring the characters and their famous catchphrases, a local shirt factory has been saved as all things Michelle, Erin and Sister Michael are top-sellers.

You don't have to go far before Garvin points out flashpoint streets, taking us around a corner to the Bogside where Bloody Sunday happened in 1972. The Army shot 26 civilians, resulting in 14 deaths during an anti-internment march.

Free Derry Corner and murals in homage to the protest movement at the time have become iconic and synonymous with Derry. Garvin takes us to the Bloody Sunday memorial which has become a beacon of reconciliation during the anniversary when all churches attend a ceremony.

He talks us through the significance of all the murals while pointing out Derry is a city unashamed of its past, but wanting to move on. The Museum of Free Derry in the Bogside and the Apprentice Boys who are involved with The Siege Museum work together to help visitors tap into the rich history of the city for both sides of the community, showing a real sense of willingness to create a new future.

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Guildhall in Derry

Guildhall in Derry

Guildhall in Derry

Dennis's Wee Shop in the Bogside takes us back into Derry Girls territory - and it is indeed a real shop which you can go into and buy things, and not anywhere near as small at it looks on the show.

The tour brings together the dark past with the more upbeat future - an optimism surprisingly provided by a TV comedy about a group of teenage girls.

Scaling the city walls is next with incredible views of the whole city, Garvin takes us all on a historic journey of the siege while passing St Columb's Cathedral built in the 17th century. But it's not long before we spot another of the city's iconic murals - when Michelle, Erin, Clare, James and Orla's faces pop up above the walls.

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Helen Carson at Derry Girls mural

Helen Carson at Derry Girls mural

Helen Carson at Derry Girls mural

A mecca for the Derry Girls tourist contingent, the mural symbolises everything we know and love about the city - its artistic expression and its craic.

For those who doubt real change ever happens in Northern Ireland, the most significant moment on the tour was in O'Neill's. As Garvin regaled the group with the Derry Girls scene where they discussed the cultural differences between Protestants and Catholics, the toaster in the cupboard scene was mentioned.

It occurred to me that it's very rare to find a mixed group of visitors in a GAA shop in Derry city centre happily poking fun at one side of the community. It was a genuine, shared humour with no poker-faced dissension.

Meanwhile, at an overnight stay in The Everglades Hotel the evening entertainment was provided by The Jersey Boys, but when the DJ put on Rock The Boat at the disco, the hotel regulars got a bit of a shock when the press pack felt obliged to recreate the Derry Girls scene on the dancefloor.

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Everglades Derry

Everglades Derry

Everglades Derry

And, as if life couldn't imitate art any more, one of our party Ray Allen was an actual Derry Girls extra who appeared in that very scene. Being joined by Hastings Hotel marketing director Julie Hastings added to the surreality of the wonderful moment which I'm unlikely to ever forget.

Topping off the weekend was a Derry Girls High Tea at the hotel - expect crisp sandwiches, sausage roll baps and, of course, cream horns served with tea and coffee. The splendour of the hotel was probably at odds with the girls usual surroundings but demonstrates how the city has taken the show to its heart.

Writer Lisa Magee said she created Derry Girls because there was nothing on TV that reflected her life. Now basking in the success of the show, I think Lisa should be up there with Northern Ireland's greatest peacemakers, having shared the city's incredible sense of humour with the world and, unintentionally, delivering an economic boost, and of course, the craic. I'm buzzin'.

Travel factfile

The Everglades Hotel, 41 Prehen Road, Londonderry, tel: 028 7132 1066. Visit www.hastingshotel.com

Derry Girls tour package is available from only £95pps. Enjoy luxurious overnight accommodation and breakfast the following morning, guided Derry Girls Walking Tour, themed Derry Girls Afternoon Tea with cocktail and your very own Michelle, the Derry Girls duck to take home with you.

Or the Derry Girls Afternoon Tea on its own is available for £30pp. Enjoy sandwiches, freshly baked scones & breads and pastry assortment but with a Derry Girls twist - sausage roll baps, fresh cream horns, cone of chips and cocktail. You'll also get your very own Michelle, the Derry Girls duck.

Be a Derry Girl from only £80pps. With luxurious overnight accommodation and breakfast the following morning, themed Derry Girls Afternoon Tea with cocktail and Michelle the Derry Girls.

Martin McCrossan Tours, visit www.derrycitytours.com

McComb's Coach Travel Day Tours, tel 028 9031 5333. Visit: mccombscoaches.com

Museum of Free Derry, Tel 028 7136 0880. Visit: museumoffreederry.org

The Siege Museum, Tel 028 7126 1219. Visit: theseigemuseum.org

Belfast Telegraph