The writing was sharp and the characters memorable, but one of the reasons Derry Girls resonated so widely was its success at evoking a decade that has aged well in modern memories. Lisa McGee’s show, which finished its three-season run this week, was a 1990s period-piece that paid homage to a time when the music was better, the politics were more hopeful and the clothes were, well, different.
It was the era of the Robinson presidency, the halcyon days of Irish football under Jack Charlton, the ceasefires and, as powerfully recalled in the Derry Girls finale, the Belfast Agreement. The teenagers in the show had no mobile phones, no social media accounts; they were living through the final years of a pre-revolutionary age, even if they didn't know it. In the Republic there was an economic boom – not the credit-fuelled bubble of a decade later but a real one, fuelled by EU funds and foreign investment. A new confidence was taking hold – one that was shared elsewhere in the West. In this period between the fall of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 attacks – what the American conservative George Will called "a holiday from history" – Clintonian triangulation was in fashion and western capitals assumed that capitalist democracy was triumphant. Russia was in long-term decline, it was assumed, and the Chinese Communist Party would have no choice but to submit to the logic of liberal democracy.
But while the cultural legacy of the 1990s is secure, its wider inheritance is more ambiguous. In those more carefree days, we now know, the seeds of future crises were being sown. Warnings about climate catastrophe, and about the rise of global terrorism, were going unheeded. British Euroscepticism was gaining a foothold. Poor economic planning was preparing the ground for an artificial credit boom that would lead to a historic collapse. Post-Soviet "shock therapy" and early misreading of Vladimir Putin would have terrible consequences 20 years later. And in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Agreement would indeed mark a turning of the page on the Troubles but would not in itself reconcile a divided society with itself.