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'The pain will never ease': Funeral of Lyra McKee takes place in Belfast

The 29-year-old journalist was killed in Derry in the early hours of Good Friday.

Image: Liam McBurney

Updated Apr 24th 2019, 4:10 PM

HUNDREDS OF MOURNERS gathered in Belfast this afternoon for the funeral of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead in Derry last Thursday.

Her family had requested that those in attendance of the “celebration of her life” wear Hufflepuff, Harry Potter, or Marvel related t-shirts, as they “know she would love it”.

The funeral, in St Anne’s Cathedral, was jointly led by Dean of St Anne’s Stephen Forde and Catholic priest Fr Martin Magill.

Magill said during his homily that he had met Lyra on several occasions but wasn’t aware of her great love of Harry Potter, which sparked Lyra’s interest in reading.

“I hadn’t heard the term Hufflepuff until I did an internet search and found this definition – ‘Hufflepuff is the most inclusive among the four houses; valuing hard work, dedication, patience, loyalty, and fair play.’ It struck me that the definition could just as easily have been about Lyra.” 

Lyra McKee funeral Mourners, including one wearing a Gryffindor scarf, wait for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast Source: Brian Lawless via PA images

The young journalist was murdered during rioting at the Fannad Drive area in Creggan, and like so many Magill  “couldn’t believe it” when he heard the news the next morning. 

I have no idea what you Sara, Lyra’s partner must have felt on Thursday night when those shots rang out and Lyra was hit and fell to the ground.
I can’t begin to imagine what you Lyra’s mum, and you her sisters and brothers must have gone through when Sara phoned to tell you Lyra had been shot. I can’t imagine the agony of your drive to Altnagelvin hospital knowing that Lyra had died.

Magill told mourners that since the news broke the there has been an enormous sense of grief and solidarity with her from many people at this “huge injustice”.

In a statement published yesterday, the New IRA admitted responsibility for Lyra McKee’s death. 

A 57-year-old woman arrested in connection with her killing was released yesterday unconditionally. Two men aged 18 and 19 were previously arrested in connection with the murder and were subsequently released without charge.

“Many of us will be praying that Lyra’s death in its own way will not have been in vain and will contribute in some way to building peace here,” Magill said. 

Since Thursday night we have seen the coming together of many people in various places and the unifying of the community against violence. I commend our political leaders for standing together in Creggan on Good Friday.
I am however left with a question: Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old-woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?… I dare to hope that Lyra’s murder on Holy Thursday night can be the doorway to a new beginning. I detect a deep desire for this.

He then took the opportunity in his homily to plead to those who had any part in her murder to reflect on Lyra McKee, journalist and writer, as a powerful example of ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.

“I plead with you to take the road of non-violence to achieve your political ends,” he said. 

Adding that it was encouraging to see that those who provide a political analysis to the organisation responsible for her death chose to call off their parade on Easter Monday following the call from Fr Joe Gormley, the parish priest in Creggan where Lyra was killed.

I ask you to listen to the majority of the people on your beloved island of Ireland who are calling on you to stop.
We don’t need any more innocent blood to be shed.  The irony could not be more poignant when we consider the signing of the Good Friday agreement which was about ensuring there would be no more deaths like Lyra’s.

Lyra McKee funeral The service sheet for for Lyra's funeral. Source: Brian Lawless via PA Images

Lyra McKee funeral Source: Liam McBurney via PA Images

Lyra McKee funeral Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Tributes have been paid over the past five days to the young journalist, with vigils being held in towns and cities across Ireland following her murder.

On Easter Sunday, a group of McKee’s friends held a protest outside the headquarters of a dissident Republican group in Derry. Walking to Junior McDaid house in Derry, HQ of a number of dissident republican groups, McKee’s friends put red handprints on the walls of the building.

Fr Magill paid tribute to the courage and determination of Lyra’s friends who took part in “a very powerful gesture of non-violence”.

‘Always there for me’

During the service, Lyra’s longtime friend Stephen Lusty paid tribute to his “great friend” who “is not here in person, but her starlight fills this room”.

Lusty, as Lyra called him, told mourners of a time when he found himself in a dark place after his world was turned upside down.  

“I was scared lonely and isolated. Almost everyone I knew turned away or faced the other the direction.

Lyra was one of two friends that sought me out. First up was a full on 20-minute tongue lashing on how I could have let myself down so badly. Her compassion always came with a spoonful of tough love. But she was always there for me.

“When Lyra told you ‘call me anytime’ she meant it. More than once during those dark days, she chatted with me through the night, just to make sure we bought saw the sunrise.

“That time seems so long ago now, but I would not be the strong, healthy, happy, passionate man I am now if it were not for the support of a handful of great people. Lyra Mckee was at the heart of that group,” Lusty said. 

The love of her life

The day before Lyra was murdered she told Lusty to save the date for a wedding in 2022.

He said Lyra was a fan of all things to do with Marvel and DC comics, adding that Wonder Woman was the only woman who could have given Lyra’s partner, Sara, a run for her money.

Lyra’s older sister, Nicola, said that when Lyra met Sara “her happiness was obvious to everyone”.

“Did not just meet the love of her life when she met Sara, she introduced me to a new sister and expanded our family circle in a way we never expected.

“We are so pleased that Lyra lived the last few months of her life happily and looking forward to her new life with Sara.

“We know that they made each other very happy and we shared their joy.”

Lyra McKee funeral Prime Minister Theresa May greets Sara Canning, the partner of Lyra McKee before the funeral service Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Lyra McKee funeral The crowd gathered outside listening to the funeral service Source: Liam McBurney via PA Images

Speaking of the bond she had with her sister, Nicola said on the day Lyra was born “it was like our souls called out to each other, brought us together and fused us in love from that moment on”.

“Lyra was many things to many people, but to us, her family, she will always be our baby.”

Lyra also shared a close bond with her mother, who according to Nicola, she called up to 50 times a day, describing them as “inseparable”. 

Sometimes it was simply to ask, ‘are you ok?’, and then a follow-up call to ask, ‘are you sure you’re ok?’. Sometimes she was only upstairs.

“The absence of this will leave an unfillable hole in our mother’s life. The pain will undoubtedly never ease. But we know that while a broken heart can never be mended and an empty space can never be filled, the unconditional love that they both share for each other will continue for eternity,” Nicola said. 

Paying tribute to her mother for raising Lyra single handly, Nicola said everyone should do the same, as she ensured that Lyra became “the kindest, the gentlest, the most loving person that the world will never forget”.

Lyra McKee funeral DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Lyra McKee funeral Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service Source: PA Wire/PA Images

‘They need a life, not a gun put in their hands’

In attendance at today’s service Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald, and DUP leader Arlene Foster.  

Quoting a friend of Lyra, Magill made a plea to the politicians in attendance to work together so that those in deprived areas feel that the peace process is working for them. 

’The younger generation need jobs, they need a better health service and education. They need a life, not a gun put in their hands.’ As politicians, you will be familiar with the first report of the Independent Reporting Commission published last October which examined in depth paramilitary style attacks and found a clear correlation between these attacks and areas of social deprivation. Lyra’s friend is right in pointing out that our young people need jobs, and education and training to get those jobs. All our young people need a life that gives them an aspiration for the future.

“I know you as politicians have a very difficult job to but then so too did Lyra. There is another valuable lesson from her life – she was like ‘a dog with a bone’ when she believed she could make a difference,” Magill told mourners. 

When it comes to our peace process, I would love to see this dogged attitude to the rebuilding of an Assembly that works for the common good. As I listen to the radio every morning, all I seem to hear about various initiatives in Northern Ireland are these words, ‘without a minister, this can’t be taken forward’.

Lyra McKee funeral Members of the public listening to the funeral service Source: Liam McBurney via PA Images

Commending those that have come forward so far with information about Lyra’s murder, Magill said a different message needs to be sent to those who have information about Lyra’s murder but who haven’t yet come forward to do so now.

There is a rule in many of our communities that we do not, we should not, give information to police and that, to do so is to become a ‘tout.’ But that was one of a number of rules – rules that also said that it was OK to brutalise children for petty crimes, or rules that say you can live in the locality until you are told you can’t or rules that said that the only way we could gain ‘freedom’ was by other fellow-human beings losing their lives.

“If you want to see an end to these brutal rules, and see a new society built on justice and fairness, on hope and not fear, then you can help build that society by letting the police know what you know,” Magill said, adding that special measures would be put in place “to ensure your safety and where you will not be intimidated by coercive controllers, if you do so”.

Lyra McKee funeral Source: Liam McBurney via PA Images

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Adam Daly

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