Strangers On A Train

There are few institutions in Northern Ireland that inspire the same kind of love and affection that Barry’s managed in Portrush.
Mention the name of the amusement park and locals will wax lyrical about its rides over the years from the Cyclone to the Jumping Astro, the Ghost Train to the Big Dipper.
Such was the love for Barry’s, you half expected a day of national mourning when it was announced in September 2021 that the amusements were closing, with the Trufelli family expected to sell the site to developers for apartments.
Fast forward to February this year and the news that Barry’s was to get a new lease of life as Currys Amusements.
This was not surprisingly met with a mixture of relief and unabashed joy.
So when news surfaced that ‘Derry Girls’ would also feature an episode involving Barry’s, there was understandable excitement among its fanbase.
It’s debatable, though, that those fans’ level of excitement was on a par with the excitement in the Quinn household, as Lisa McGee’s characters prepared for a trip to the seaside resort in Episode Three.
The episode began with Erin’s Ma Mary frantically making sandwiches for the hour long train journey from the Maiden City to Portrush.
Typically, Mary fretted that she had not made enough sandwiches for the journey.
This prompted her exasperated husband Gerry to plead “for the love of God, put the knife down, woman.”
There was the usual bedlam in the Quinn household as the family packed various items for their day out.
Joe had borrowed a surf board from Jim across the road but struggled to remember the movie that had inspired him to do so.
He remembered it featured “thon big fish.. the musical fish who hums that tune before he attacks people.”
Eventually Gerry deciphered it was ‘Jaws’ that Joe was talking about.
Sarah was freezing an ear lobe, while Orla donned a beret and boots to overcome any height restrictions in Barry’s.
Donna Traynor made another appearance on the Quinns’ TV set, revealing that the DUP would not enter into talks with Sinn Fein post the ceasefire until the IRA had decommissioned its weapons.
This prompted Sarah and Mary to speculate that the IRA didn’t know where all their weapons were.
“There’s nothing worse than clutter,” Sarah mused.
At the train station, the Quinns were joined by James and Michelle on the platform, as everyone jabbered excitedly about Portrush.
To the sound of the theme from ‘Riverdance’ they sprinted towards the train, prompting Michelle to observe when she got on

board that she was “sweating like a hooker at Mass.”
And then as the train rolled away to Portrush, there was the realisation that they had left Clare behind at the station.
Abandoned and left fending for herself, Clare screamed so loud it could be heard in Cobh and then, true to form, went into a panic as she enquired when the next train was due.
Her mates were not faring much better on the train.
There was a tetchy stand off with Michael Fry’s power hungry, snack trolley attendant Fra over his refusal to sell Michelle Kit Kats, even though his trolley displayed Kit Kats.
The “display Kit Kats”were not for sale, he insisted, before setting a price of £50 each.
While Erin wrestled with her conscience about leaving Clare behind, the adults played the board game ‘Guess Who?’.
Sarah and Joe, however, had trouble grasping the concept, with the latter taking umbrage when Gerry asked him: “Are you a woman?”
Suddenly a blast from the Quinns’ past, played by Sinead Keenan, arrived in the carriage – immediately recognising Mary and Sarah.
The problem was Sarah and Mary couldn’t remember who she was and they struggled to make conversation with her, while pretending they knew her identity.
Back in the train station, Clare found herself waiting for the next Portrush train with Sister Michael who wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in making polite conversation.
There was a moment of anxiety when James, Erin, Michelle and Orla realised another passenger on the train, played by Packy Lee of ‘Peaky Blinders’ fame, had accidentally lifted James’ backpack.
The backpack now in James’ possession contained £1000 in cash, a revolver, a packet of salt and vinegar Tayto, an electric toothbrush and a balaclava which Orla described as “one of those wee face hats”.
Was the man with James’ backpack a robber, a hitman or a paramilitary?
Did he pose a clear and present danger to everyone on the train?
And how would he react to Orla necking down the packet of crisps?
Episode three of the final series was arguably the strongest of the run thus far, with the cast continuing to deliver Lisa McGee’s snappy one liners at breakneck speed.
The strike rate of McGee’s gags in this episode was also the best, with Kathy Keira Clarke and Ian McElhinney enjoying the best lines as Sarah and Joe.
While Sarah and Mary struggled to put a name to the face of the mystery woman, they nodded vaguely as she hinted at a personal trauma and asked who hadn’t made a mistake in their lives?
“Don’t talk to me!” Sarah agreed, suddenly bursting into life.
“I had a perm in ‘85  that made me look like Leo Sayer – dark days.. very dark days.”
Joe shrewdly feigned dementia in order to excuse himself not remembering Keenan’s character.
“Riddled with it, so I am,” he bluffed.
Director Michael Lennox kept the action moving along at a brisk pace and while the cameos in this episode didn’t make the jaw drop in quite the same way as Liam Neeson’s did in Episode One, there were still some notable names.

Along with Lee and Keenan, Dublin actress Amy Huberman popped up as a ticket vendor in the station who shared far too much about her personal life in front of Clare and Sister Michael.
And while the scenes in Barry’s Amusements were fleeting, this episode was reminiscent of the Quinns’ fraught journey to Donegal in Series One – even if it didn’t quite hit that episode’s comic heights.
Episode Three was nevertheless an improvement on the previous two episodes.
Brick by brick you can see how McGee is building her series towards an emotional climax fashioned around the Good Friday Agreement.
As we head into the final run in, it is fair to argue ‘Derry Girls’ has been a good show that has raised the bar significantly for Northern Irish comedy.
But is it up there with ‘Fr Ted,’ ‘Black Books,’ ‘The IT Crowd’ or ‘Friday Night Dinner’?
The jury is still out.
The remaining three episodes will reveal if it really is a great sitcom.

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