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Friday 23 August 2019

Edward McCann: Mourners poignantly gather at Writers' Square to pay respect to Lyra McKee

Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.
Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.
A respectful applause rings out in Belfast Cathedral as coffin of Belfast journalist Lyra McKee enters the church
Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Mourners arrive to attend the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee at St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Mourners, including one wearing a Gryffindor scarf, wait for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Mourners arrive to attend the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee at St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Mourners arrive to attend the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee at St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf waits for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 24, 2019. Brian Lawless/Pool via REUTERS

Edward McCann

It was appropriate that mourners who gathered to pay their respects to murdered journalist Lyra McKee stood in Writers' Square, some in huddles, others alone.

This sometimes forgotten corner of downtown Belfast pays tribute to the city's literary tradition.

Quotations from almost 30 dead authors are inscribed in stone at various points of the square. Perhaps few among the crowd were aware of this – but they were all aware of the significance of the journalist's death.

Now Lyra has joined the ranks of the dead writers, her life tragically cut short by a dissident republican bullet.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, British Prime Mnister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast
Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, British Prime Mnister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Those standing in Writers' Square hadn't made it into the cathedral, which was packed with mourners. But it didn't matter to them. They were here to show solidarity and respect.

There was a respectful silence among the crowd but also occasional tears and occasional laughs as the tributes to Lyra were carried on a soft spring breeze from St Anne's Cathedral opposite.

The great and the good had gathered inside the grand surrounds of the cathedral but outside it was ordinary people who had their say.

The Church of Ireland dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Stephen Forde, had told mourners at the start of the ceremony “each had come to express their grief and shock”.

There was a palpable sense of both but also an underlying anger at such a pointless death 21 years on from the Good Friday Agreement.

One man I spoke to told me how he had received his free pensioner's bus pass on St Patrick's Day and had used it for the first time to travel from Ballymena to Belfast for the funeral.

Lyra McKee: A journalist in the true sense of the word
Lyra McKee: A journalist in the true sense of the word

“I didn't know Lyra but I felt I had to come along,” he said. “I just hope this will be the last time we have to mourn someone like this.”

Lyra's friend Stephen Lusty paid a particularly poignant and articulate tribute at the start of the ceremony. He was loudly applauded after saying: “Let us put false starts behind us and once for all build an alternative Ulster that we, and especially, our children, can be proud of. Let us make the lasting legacy of Lyra McKee that peace.”

Mr Lusty described Lyra as his “millennial consultant”. It was moving to hear how a friendship had blossomed between the self-described middle-aged straight man from a unionist background and Lyra, a gay woman who grew up in a nationalist area.

He told how she embodied for him a future of finding commonality and enjoying difference in others.

Both had grown up in north Belfast and had compared growing up in the respective eras of the 1970s and the noughties. Who would have thought that even now, as we approach the 2020s, political violence could still claim the life of a talented young woman?

But there was hope from the inside and hope from the outside. Inside all hues of the political spectrum were present, including the political leaders of the UK and Ireland.

They listened to an interdenominational celebration of Lyra's life, led jointly by the Very Rev Forde and Fr Martin Magill of St John's Parish in west Belfast.

Outside all hues of people from Belfast and Northern Ireland were gathered. Their applause as Lyra's coffin was carried in and carried out of the cathedral was their tribute to a woman who has come both in life and in death to represent an Alternative Ulster.

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