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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 27 May, 2019
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A quiet, reflective and defiant Belfast stands with the McKees as they celebrate their 'wee brainbox'

Lyra McKee is many things to many people now – but today was about her family and their loss.

LYRA MCKEE WAS shot dead at a riot last Thursday.

In a loud and violent night in Derry she was callously murdered. Today in a quiet, reflective and defiant Belfast, she was remembered. 

Lyra McKee funeral Source: PA Wire/PA Images

The funeral service for the 29-year-old journalist brought together the most senior politicians on these islands. Outside the cathedral, hundreds of ordinary people stood to pay their respects, shake their heads but mostly just to be there for her family. 

While Lyra’s death is being held up as a moment in time where an entire province collectively says it will not look backwards, most who were there simply wanted to show solidarity with another family who’ve lost their child. 

In Lyra’s case, the youngest of six. Or as her sister Nichola put it, “Our wee Lyra.”

Belfast’s St. Anne’s Cathedral is in the heart of the city and as the hour of Lyra’s funeral approached there wasn’t a rush to get to there.

Instead, the square in front of the church filled silently and gradually, person-by-person until there was a semi-circle of hundreds of people and lines down either side of Donegall street. 

Lyra’s family had asked that people wear Harry Potter clothing if they wished.

This was certainly evident but more frequent were people who’d simply come from work, ordinary people with ordinary things to do who not wish for such tragedies to become commonplace once more.

The silence that belied the city backdrop was broken when Lyra’s coffin was being removed from the hearse and carried up the steps inside the cathedral. 

Lyra family had requested that her funeral be a celebration of her life. As her coffin was being carried there was simply applause

The funeral was jointly led by Dean of St Anne’s Stephen Forde and Catholic priest Fr Martin Magill, but it was her loved ones who painted a picture of the intelligent, funny and kind young woman who was stolen from them.

Stephen Lusty, known to Lyra as Lusty or sometimes ‘uncle Stevie’ took to the podium first. He spoke of his intense honour and sadness at having to pay tribute to Lyra on behalf of her friends.

Lusty described himself as a “middle-class, middle-aged, Protestant, heterosexual, British, male engineer”. A testament, he said, to Lyra’s ability to make friends with people from all walks of life.

Lusty spoke about a friendship that was based on a lack of punctuality and the philosophy of “call me anytime”.

Something he said Lyra took literally.

“We agreed that if it was after 10pm at night then we would use it in emergencies only.

“Lyra’s emergencies were indeed as eclectic as her personality,” he said.

Some of the more legendary ones included: ‘Lusty I’ve been around this hire car 15 times and there’s definitely, definitely no petrol cap.’
There was: ‘I’m at a party, I’ve broken the tab on my last can of cider, you’re an engineer, how can I get into it without losing the contents?’
Another one: ‘Lusty, I’m talking to this cute babe and she’s a bit cross-eyed. How do I know if she’s eyeing me up or not?’

He said they’d hardly ever talk about work, “it was a topic that was far down the list of priorities behind family, loved ones and superheroes”.

Lusty said only once did he help her with her work. This was when she was researching the history of 70s punk bands in Belfast like Stiff Little Fingers and how they managed to bridge the divide in the city.

Lusty said he and Lyra concluded that punk was much more about finding commonality than difference.

“If we were to analyse Lyra, she too would be a punk, a new age punk,” he said.

“No pink mohican or safety pins, but she embodied the spirit of finding commonality and enjoying the difference in others.”

‘God gave us Lyra’

Lyra’s sister Nichola Corner was 15 when Lyra was born. As well as being her godmother, Nichola chose her sister’s name. It comes from lyre, the classical stringed instrument associated with ancient Greece.

This made Nichola especially close with her sister, even before she was born.

“When the good news finally arrived, I ran the whole way to the hospital. A truly unusual event that has never been repeated,” she said to laughter inside the church and out.

Nichola spoke about when she got there she saw the tiniest baby she’d ever seen, “who was just ours”, she added. 

God gave the world the most precious gift, God gave us Lyra. What we didn’t know was that we wouldn’t have her for long.

As with every tragedy that has an impact beyond those immediately affected, Nichola reminded everyone that this loss this was first and foremost a familial one. 

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

She spoke about how her mother Joan raised her six children as a single mother and about the intense pride she and the whole family felt when Lyra began making waves beyond their home.

“Who knew one day she would be giving talks, writing books and making a such a lasting mark in this world in this world?”

“Our wee brainbox,” she said. 

From Nichola and Lusty there was very little of the frustration vented elsewhere during the service.

That was left mainly to Fr Martin Magill who received a stunning applause when he asked the politicians in the room why it had taken this tragedy to get them together.

“Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old-woman?,” he asked, before being stopped in his tracks by applause and a standing ovation. 

If that was the loudest moment during the service, the most emotional was perhaps delivered by Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre of Saint Sister.

The pair sang an unaccompanied version of Dreams by The Cranberries that had everyone speechless. That silence extended far beyond the walls of the church. 

Singing the words of Dolores O’Riordan, the pair echoed the words of Lyra McKee’s family.

“Totally amazing mind. So understanding and so kind. You’re everything to me.”

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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