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'Derry Girls' star Siobhán McSweeney: 'Every actor needs a side hustle!'

Derry Girls star Siobhán McSweeney enjoying a quiet moment while Exploring Northern Ireland.
Derry Girls star Siobhán McSweeney enjoying a quiet moment while Exploring Northern Ireland. (Image credit: Channel 4)

Derry Girls star Siobhán McSweeney is delighted but surprised that her career has taken a detour this summer as she fronts her first travelogue.  

In Exploring Northern Ireland, a four-part series starting on More 4 on Thursday 12 August 2021 at 9pm (See our TV Guide for listings), the actor hops on her trusty bike, Thunderclap, in search of hidden gems in beauty spots including Strangford Lough, the Mourne Mountains, the Fermanagh Lakelands, and the rugged Causeway Coast. 

Here, in an exclusive interview, Siobhán, 41, who was born and bred in County Cork, Ireland, tells us about her adventures…

Derry Girls is your best-known role, but you also hosted C4’s The Great Pottery Throw Down earlier this year, and this is your first travel series — is presenting something you always wanted to do?

Siobhán McSweeney: "It’s something that has just come along. I am utterly bemused that I am doing this; I don’t understand it! Every actor needs a side hustle, and for years I’ve been pulling pints or teaching or whatever. But this is the best side hustle ever — I basically go on holiday and get paid!"

Did you enjoy being yourself on camera, rather than portraying a character? 

Siobhán: "No! As an actor, it’s easier because it’s not you. As a presenter, I find it very hard, because I can’t hide behind a character. It really is me. So if people don’t like it, they don’t like me.

"One of the reasons I like acting is that I am not myself, so doing little skits or dressing up in Exploring Northern Ireland are ways to sort of distance myself. But, as this went on, I felt more at ease with who I am in front of the camera."

In episode one, we see you climb up Samson, a crane at Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, and you also get to fly a small plane… Do you have a good head for heights?

Siobhán: "Funnily enough, I was grand in the plane! But when you’re up in Harland & Wolff’s majestic crane, Samson, and the wind is bad and you’re open to the elements, it makes it scarier. I didn’t realise I was scared of heights until I went up there, but, by the end, I’m skipping!"

Siobhán: "If you’re looking for adventure, go to the north coast. For a Celtic, poetic, spiritual experience, I would say Fermanagh and its lakes. The Mourne Mountains and Newcastle for great food and hikes. And Belfast is a cosmopolitan city with a fantastic history, and a vibrant, pulsating contemporary scene. My favourite thing is the very warm welcome we got everywhere."

Was it fun exploring it all on a bike?

Siobhán: "My gorgeous Thunderclap! I can’t drive, so they got me Thunderclap, and she was my constant companion. 

"Filming was beautifully Ninja-esque! You can see with my limited amount of clothes if it’s the same day or not. But I wanted a real feel, rather than beautiful silhouettes and coiffed hair. No one cares about that when they’re on holiday."

The TV industry is thriving in Northern Ireland, with hit shows including Game of  Thrones, Line of Duty, Bloodlands and, of course, Derry Girls being shot there...

Siobhán: "It really is thriving! I’m so proud of it, and I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m commandeering something that isn’t mine. But I feel so proud of the strength of the film and TV industry here. 

"I think it’s down to a number of things. First and foremost, the quality of the talented crews and the high standards they hold themselves to. Its size helps, because in such a small area you’ve an incredibly diverse experience of landscapes. You get a lot of bang for your buck in a small geographical area. 

"Also, you have fascinating people there; the living embodiment of gracious compromise." 

That’s beautifully put! Are you a writer too?

Siobhán: [Winking theatrically] "Yeah, like I’m a presenter! You know what I am? I’m a chancer — and I’ll gladly be a chancer until I stop getting away with it!"

Finally, has filming now started on the third and, rumoured, final series of Derry Girls?

Siobhán: "I don’t know if it’s going to be the final one. We haven’t shot it yet because we’re trying to figure out the schedules. But the intention is to get it done as soon as possible. I love wearing Sister Michael’s habit — it’s very comfortable!"

Where and when is Exploring Northern Ireland with Siobhán McSweeney on?

Exploring Northern Ireland with Siobhán McSweeney launches on More4  on Thursday 12 August 2021 at 9pm. 

Exploring Northern Ireland with Siobhán McSweeney Episode Guide:

Exploring Northern Ireland with Siobhán McSweeney - S1. Episode 1

Take one pretend nun, give her an electric bike, ask her to explore Northern Ireland’s hidden gems, and what do you get? A bright and breezy travelogue that evokes the sense of freedom of whizzing down a steep hill on a childhood summer holiday. 

In the opening episode of the four-part series Siobhán McSweeney (Derry Girls’ Sister Michael) ditches her habit for adventure. Standout moments include a shaky climb up Harland and Wolff’s 106 metre tall crane, Samson, meeting with Vikings (and dressing up), and a tour of Castle Ward (with more dressing up). A gleefully carefree, thoughtful, and untroubled exploration of Northern Ireland. Did we mention the dressing up!?