What do you think of Bloody Sunday, the Derry Girl asks the loyalist marching band. The air crackles with hostility

TV review: In The Real Derry, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell’s love letter to her home town, it’s 10 seconds of silence that feels like the real moment of truth

There’s lots of breezy banter in The Real Derry: Jamie-Lee O’Donnell (Channel 4, Thursday, 10pm), the Derry Girls star’s love letter to her home town. But it’s 10 seconds of silence halfway through that feels like the real moment of truth. Visiting the practice rooms of a loyalist marching band—“Do you know any Wolfe Tones?” she jokes by way of breaking the ice—O’Donnell canvasses views of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Nobody responds. The air crackles with hostility. The usually chatty O’Donnell doesn’t know what to say. Is she about to burst into tears?

“I was really shocked,” she whispers afterwards. “I didn’t anticipate a reaction different to mine.”

As the outrageous Michelle in Lisa McGee’s hit comedy, O’Donnell throws sparks on screen. Yet, as she points out early on in The Real Derry, she and Michelle are hugely different—O’Donnell shares Michelle’s bubbliness but has an introspective side absent from her alter ego. And there is a gulf, too, between the uproarious vision of Derry presented by the Channel 4 sitcom and the bricks-and-mortar city spanning the River Foyle. Shadows of the past lie heavily here, O’Donnell explains. Too heavily to be obscured by laughter.

One of the themes of The Real Derry is intergenerational trauma. When Derry Girls became the most successful Irish comedy since Father Ted, O’Donnell was surprised to discover she wasn’t any happier. “Well, what have you got to be sad about?” she muses. “F**k—everything! It’s freaking me out.”


She wonders if this is a legacy of the Troubles, a psychological burden inherited from those who lived through the conflict. O’Donnell talks to Serena Terry, a mother of two who has had success as a TikTok comedian but also suffers from depression, becoming so fatalistic that she wrote her will at the age of 35. Her coping method is ocean swimming, where the shock to the body requires you to stop thinking about the darkness in your soul.

Going out on Channel 4, The Real Derry is obviously aimed at a British audience. So there is a lot of hand-holding. There’s a quick recap of Partition, the establishment of Northern Ireland, the civil-rights movement and Bloody Sunday. You almost expect O’Donnell to explain that Ireland is an island adjacent to Britain, which in turn lies alongside a continental landmass called Eurasia—and for half the viewership to scratch their heads in surprise. “Blimey, who knew..?”

O’Donnell is full of positivity and determined to conclude on an upbeat note. At the Derry St Patrick’s Day parade she bumps into Julie from the Orange pipe band. It’s Julie’s first Paddy’s Day, which she likens to an Irish version of the Twelfth. O’Donnell grins through the comparison and is happy that Julie is prepared to simply attend the event. It’s not much—and it’s the terrible silence in the practice room that will stay with you—but it just about justifies the portrayal of Derry as a place where old wounds are healing, dawn streaking the horizon.