Derry Girls finale wins prestigious literary and peace award in London

Final episode of third series of the comedy scoops Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize

In the words of its stars, absolutely cracker! Derry Girls has won a slew of television awards in Ireland and Britain, an Emmy in the US and the hearts of millions of Netflix viewers worldwide.

Now the Irish writer Lisa McGee for her comedy, which was first produced for Channel 4, has also won a prestigious literary award in London named in honour of a former British ambassador to Ireland who was assassinated by the IRA in Dublin in 1976.

The final episode of the third series of the comedy, which hilariously ties up the story of a bunch of unruly Derry schoolgirls against the backdrop of the 1998 referendum for the Belfast Agreement, has won the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for Ms McGee.

The prize was founded by Mr Ewart-Biggs’s family in 1977 and has been awarded every two years since the 1980s to works of significant literary merit that promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland and understanding between Irish and British people. Previous winners have included playwright Brian Friel, novelist Sebastian Barry and British historian Charles Townshend.


Derry Girls and Ms McGee picked up the award on Tuesday evening at a ceremony in the Irish Embassy in Belgravia hosted by Martin Fraser, Ireland’s Ambassador to Britain.

It was chosen by a panel of judges including Oxford historian Roy Foster and writer Susan McKay. Derry Girls won from a shortlist that included academic works on the British army and the Troubles and works on the North by novelist Brian McGee and playwright Owen McCafferty.

The Derry Girls finale, The Agreement, centred on the 18th birthday parties of Erin and Orla, two of the eponymous protagonists. One particular scene in the episode, when one of their school rivals puts on a dreadful misty-eyed play about the ending of the Troubles, has reached comedic cult status internationally.

“The conflict has led to so many atrocities,” sighs fictitious nun Sr George Michael, played by Siobhán McSweeney. “And now we must add your play to that list.”

One of the characters, Michelle, played by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, grapples with the morality of the potential release from prison of her brother, Niall, for a republican killing. “There’s no answer to any of this,” she concludes.

Meanwhile, another character, Erin, played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson, muses over the risks involved in voting for peace, as she celebrates her 18th birthday with a bizarre party themed on monkeys.

“Things can’t stay the same and they shouldn’t,” she says of the then-future of the North. “If our dreams get broken along the way, we have to make new ones from the pieces.”

The episode’s comedic scenes, as the party comes to a crescendo, are interspersed with historical footage from the conflict and a cameo from Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former US president Bill Clinton whose cajoling helped nurture the Belfast Agreement.

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Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times