In 2018, TV super smash Derry Girls stopped viewers in their tracks. It showed the joyful mundanity of life that continued even during the Troubles, while telling a timeless tale of friendship between girls. The cast spoke to The Big Issue ahead of the Derry Girls series 2 premiere, and made it clear that their time between filming was certainly not wasted.
Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, who plays Michelle Mallon, told The Big Issue she has “relished” being able to use her voice to raise awareness for issues of social justice. “It is one of the perks of the job,” she said. “I am working with an abortion rights charity and on women’s sexual health rights. Abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland and that is something we feel quite passionate about.”
Co-star Nicola Coughlan, who appears as Clare Devlin, agreed. The group were really involved with the Repeal the Eight campaign, she said, which was “an important time for Irish women – and it is still a situation in Northern Ireland”. She also felt a responsibility to champion LGBTQ charities after playing a gay character.
Louisa Harland, Orla McCool in the show, backed her up. “It is still illegal in the North to get married if you are gay. It is legal in the UK which they are part of, and it is legal in the Republic, as is abortion now. So we feel strongly about the North being recognised.
She added: “Nicola’s character Clare wouldn’t be able to get married today. That is ridiculous.”
And mental health is close to the hearts of O’Donnell and Dylan Llewellyn (who plays James Maguire). “Dealing with suicide in young people is quite close to home for me,” Llewellyn explained, adding that he wants to encourage people to address it and be made to feel comfortable expressing themselves.
O’Donnell said: “Mental health is a big issue in Derry and Northern Ireland, especially men’s mental health and suicide awareness.
“I grew up in a town where things like that and substance abuse were quite bad and still are. So I am always happy to help out if I can by using my face from acting, lending my voice. It has affected me personally and probably everyone I know in Derry.”
The Big Issue
Written by Hannah Westwater
Published February 24, 2019