I LOVE the Netflix show Derry Girls.
Derry Girls was added something a wee bit different to the comedy genre. It not only talked about a difficult but vital time period of a country’s history, but it also didn’t make the Troubles the overlying plot of the show’s plot. With humor and realism, it captured the ups and downs of growing up, even if there is an internal conflict going on. You couldn’t help but connect with the girls (and boy) as they go through in this funny TV show.
But alas, all good things must come to an end. Derry Girls ended after 3 series (seasons). It’s going to be hard to not look forward to another series around the corner. So if you are like me and sad that will miss the eccentric antics of Erin, Clare, Orla, Michelle and James, you are probably looking for something to fill that hole. Good thing I compiled a list of book recommendations that are perfect readlikes for the hit TV show. Ranging from powerful testimonials to engaging historical fiction, these are perfect reads to start after finishing Derry Girls (unless you decide to start from series 1):
Fiction Set In Ireland and the Troubles
Trespassers by Louise Kennedy
Amid daily reports of violence, Cushla lives a quiet life with her mother in a small town near Belfast. By day she teaches at a parochial school; at night she fills in at her family’s pub. There she meets Michael Agnew, a barrister who’s made a name for himself defending IRA members. Against her better judgment – Michael is not only Protestant but older, and married – Cushla lets herself get drawn in by him and his sophisticated world, and an affair ignites. Then the father of a student is savagely beaten, setting in motion a chain reaction that will threaten everything, and everyone, Cushla most wants to protect. (Credit: Riverhead Books)
Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
Majella is happiest out of the spotlight, away from her neighbors’ stares and the gossips of the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up just after the Troubles. She lives a quiet life caring for her alcoholic mother, working in the local chip shop, watching the regular customers come and go. She wears the same clothes each day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, microwaved at home after her shift ends), and binge-watches old DVDs of the same show (Dallas, best show on TV) from the comfort of her bed.
But underneath Majella’s seemingly ordinary life are the facts that she doesn’t know where her father is and that every person in her town has been changed by the lingering divide between Protestants and Catholics. When Majella’s predictable existence is upended by the death of her granny, she comes to realize there may be more to life than the gossips of Aghybogey, the pub, and the chip shop. In fact, there just may be a whole big world outside her small town. (Credit: Algonquin Books)
Guard Your Heart by Sue Divin
Derry. Summer 2016. Aidan and Iona, now eighteen, were both born on the day of the Northern Ireland peace deal.
Aidan is Catholic, Irish, and Republican. With his ex-political prisoner father gone and his mother dead, Aidan’s hope is pinned on exam results earning him a one-way ticket out of Derry. To anywhere.
Iona, Protestant and British, has a brother and father in the police. She’s got university ambitions, a strong faith and a fervent belief that boys without one track minds are a myth.
At a post-exam party, Aidan wanders alone across the Peace Bridge and becomes the victim of a brutal sectarian attack. Iona witnessed the attack; picked up Aidan’s phone and filmed what happened, and gets in touch with him to return the phone. When the two meet, alone and on neutral territory, the differences between them seem insurmountable.
Both their fathers held guns, but safer to keep that secret for now.
Despite their differences and the secrets they have to keep from each other, there is mutual intrigue, and their friendship grows. And so what? It’s not the Troubles. But for both Iona and Aidan it seems like everything is keeping them apart , when all they want is to be together . . .(Credit: Pan Macmillan)
Milkman by Anna Burns
In an unnamed city, middle sister stands out for the wrong reasons. She reads while walking, for one. And she has been taking French night classes downtown. So when a local paramilitary known as the milkman begins pursuing her, she suddenly becomes “interesting,” the last thing she ever wanted to be. Despite middle sister’s attempts to avoid him–and to keep her mother from finding out about her maybe-boyfriend–rumors spread and the threat of violence lingers. Milkman is a story of the way inaction can have enormous repercussions, in a time when the wrong flag, wrong religion, or even a sunset can be subversive. Told with ferocious energy and sly, wicked humor, Milkman establishes Anna Burns as one of the most consequential voices of our day. (Credit: Graywolf Press)
Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen
It’s the summer of 1994, and all Maeve Murray wants are good final exam results so she can earn her ticket out of the wee Northern Irish town she has grown up in during the Troubles–away from her crowded home, the silence and sadness surrounding her sister’s death, and most of all, away from the simmering violence of her divided community. And as a first step, Maeve’s taken a summer job in a local shirt factory working alongside Protestants with her best friends, kind, innocent Caroline Jackson and privileged and clever Aoife O’Neill. But getting the right exam results is only part of Maeve’s problem–she’s got to survive a tit-for-tat paramilitary campaign, iron 100 shirts an hour all day every day, and deal with the attentions of Andy Strawbridge, her slick and untrustworthy English boss. What seems to be a great opportunity to earn money before starting university turns out to be a crucible in which Maeve is tested in ways she may not be equipped to handle. Seeking justice for herself and her fellow workers may just be Maeve’s one-way ticket out of town. (Credit: Algonquin Books)
All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
When Deena’s wild older sister Mandy goes missing, presumed dead, Deena refuses to believe it’s true. Especially when letters start arriving–letters from Mandy–which proclaim that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions but a curse, handed down to women from generation to generation. Mandy’s gone to find the root of the curse before it’s too late for Deena. But is the curse even real? And is Mandy still alive? Deena’s desperate, cross-country search for her beloved sister–guided only by the notes that mysteriously appear at each destination, leading her to former Magdalene laundry sites and more–is a love letter to women and a heartbreaking cathartic journey. (Credit: Kathy Dawson)
Offcomer by Jo Baker
An honest, affecting work of fiction about a young woman’s search for her place in the world, Offcomer is the powerful first novel from the acclaimed author of Longbourn. Against the backdrop of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, recent Oxford graduate Claire is a mess. She’s trapped in a disastrous relationship with a young academic, working a dead end job, stunned by the emergence of secrets from her mother’s past, and seemingly addicted to self-destructive behavior. But like the ceasefire that has brought renewed hope to Belfast, Claire too is afforded an opportunity to reflect, gradually learning to accept herself and to discover her sense of self-esteem and self-worth. (Credit: Vintage)
Memoirs & Books About The Troubles
We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O’Toole
Fintan O’Toole was born in the year the revolution began. It was 1958, and the Irish government–in despair, because all the young people were leaving–opened the country to foreign investment and popular culture. So began a decades-long, ongoing experiment with Irish national identity. In We Don’t Know Ourselves, O’Toole, one of the Anglophone world’s most consummate stylists, weaves his own experiences into Irish social, cultural, and economic change, showing how Ireland, in just one lifetime, has gone from a reactionary “backwater” to an almost totally open society–perhaps the most astonishing national transformation in modern history.
Born to a working-class family in the Dublin suburbs, O’Toole served as an altar boy and attended a Christian Brothers school, much as his forebears did. He was enthralled by American Westerns suddenly appearing on Irish television, which were not that far from his own experience, given that Ireland’s main export was beef and it was still not unknown for herds of cattle to clatter down Dublin’s streets. Yet the Westerns were a sign of what was to come. O’Toole narrates the once unthinkable collapse of the all-powerful Catholic Church, brought down by scandal and by the activism of ordinary Irish, women in particular. He relates the horrific violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which led most Irish to reject violent nationalism. In O’Toole’s telling, America became a lodestar, from John F. Kennedy’s 1963 visit, when the soon-to-be martyred American president was welcomed as a native son, to the emergence of the Irish technology sector in the late 1990s, driven by American corporations, which set Ireland on the path toward particular disaster during the 2008 financial crisis. (Credit: Liveright Publishing Corporation)
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?: A Memoir by Séamas O’Reilly
Séamas O’Reilly’s mother died when he was five, leaving him, his ten (!) brothers and sisters, and their beloved father in their sprawling bungalow in rural Derry. It was the 1990s; the Troubles were a background rumble, but Séamas was more preoccupied with dinosaurs, Star Wars, and the actual location of heaven than the political climate.
An instant bestseller in Ireland, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? is a book about a family of loud, argumentative, musical, sarcastic, grief-stricken siblings, shepherded into adulthood by a man whose foibles and reticence were matched only by his love for his children and his determination that they would flourish. (Credit: Little Brown and Company)
Thin Places by Kerri Ní Dochartaigh
Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, on the border of the North and South of Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a council estate on the wrong side of town–although for her family, and many others, there was no right side. One parent was Catholic, the other was Protestant. In the space of one year, they were forced out of two homes. When she was eleven, a homemade bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. Terror was in the very fabric of the city, and for families like ní Dochartaigh’s, the ones who fell between the cracks of identity, it seemed there was no escape.
In Thin Places, a luminous blend of memoir, history, and nature writing, ní Dochartaigh explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal, how violence and poverty are never more than a stone’s throw from beauty and hope, and how we are, once again, allowing our borders to become hard and terror to creep back in. Ní Dochartaigh asks us to reclaim our landscape through language and study, and remember that the land we fight over is much more than lines on a map. It will always be ours, but–at the same time–it never really was. (Credit: Milkweed Editions)
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Jean McConville’s abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders.
From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past–Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish. (Credit: Anchor Books)
On Bloody Sunday: A New History of the Day and Its Aftermath – By the People Who Were There by Julieann Campbell
In January 1972, a peaceful civil rights march in Northern Ireland ended in bloodshed. Troops from Britain’s 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment opened fire on marchers, leaving 13 dead and 15 wounded. Seven of those killed were teenage boys. The day became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
The events occurred in broad daylight and in the full glare of the press. Within hours, the British military informed the world that they had won an ‘IRA gun battle’. This became the official narrative for decades until a family-led campaign instigated one of the most complex inquiries in history.
In 2010, the victims of Bloody Sunday were fully exonerated when Lord Saville found that the majority of the victims were either shot in the back as they ran away or were helping someone in need. The report made headlines all over the world.
While many buried the trauma of that day, historian and campaigner Juliann Campbell – whose teenage uncle was the first to be killed that day – felt the need to keep recording these interviews, and collecting rare and unpublished accounts, aware of just how precious they were. Fifty years on, in this book, survivors, relatives, eyewitnesses and politicians, shine a light on the events of Bloody Sunday, together, for the first time. (Credit: Monoray)
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