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Wednesday 22 May 2019

Lyra's legacy - the fight for a future without barriers

We can all create a society where labels are meaningless, says her sister

Heartbroken: Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning (left), reacts as pallbearers carry the coffin of the journalist. Photo: PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Heartbroken: Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning (left), reacts as pallbearers carry the coffin of the journalist. Photo: PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

None of it made any sense.

Inside a Cathedral of contrast there were rainbow flags representing the LGBT community.

Lyra McKee. Photo: AFP PHOTO / JESS LOWE PHOTOGRAPHY
Lyra McKee. Photo: AFP PHOTO / JESS LOWE PHOTOGRAPHY

A Protestant clergyman prepared the altar with a Catholic priest.

Nationalist and unionist politicians nodded knowingly at each other. Men in suits mingled with women in Harry Potter t-shirts.

A Union Jack hung rigidly near carefully crafted stained-glass harps.

A family talked about hope and change while their faces told a story of sadness and pain. Even when a hush fell inside St Anne's, it was interrupted by the echo of applause from outside.

Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning is hugged by President Michael D Higgins. Photo: PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning is hugged by President Michael D Higgins. Photo: PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images

And then we saw the most senseless thing of all. A simple wooden box with spirals on the lid, made for a 'ceasefire baby' with a flower in her hair.

"Whether you have walked through the doors of this cathedral as president or prime minister, politician or police officer, personal friends or close family member, we each come to express our grief and shock, our tears and our loss," Dean Stephen Forde began.

To his left were the leaders of Ireland and the United Kingdom. To his right the family and friends of a "talented and fearless young woman".

In the wings were the murdered woman's fearless friends who daubed red paint on the headquarters of a group which seems unable or unwilling to let go of the past.

Mourning: A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf at the funeral service of Lyra McKee. Photo: BRIAN LAWLESS/AFP/Getty Images
Mourning: A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf at the funeral service of Lyra McKee. Photo: BRIAN LAWLESS/AFP/Getty Images

Lyra McKee fought with her mighty pen for a future without barriers - and this ceremony was told it would be her legacy too.

Stage one was bringing together Northern politicians who are so deeply entrenched that they can't hear the cries of the people anymore.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May arrived separately but met in a side chapel so that they could walk into the main cathedral together.

The Taoiseach had arrived 40 minutes early in order to privately express his sympathies to the family.

A stricken Mrs May made her way to chief mourners in full view of the congregation, leaving her handbag in the aisle as she hugged Lyra's partner Sara Canning. Sara did all the talking.

President Michael D Higgins arrived alongside Queen Elizabeth's Lord Lieutenant Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle and took his place in the front row with the two leaders. Behind them, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Secretary of State Karen Bradley. The discomfort felt by Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald as they greeted each other was palpable. Yet they sang side-by-side for Lyra in the third row.

It fell to Stephen 'Uncle' Lusty to break the tension with a eulogy unfit for a church - but perfect by all accounts for Lyra. He offered up her opinions on straight sex and told about the time she asked 'why do Protestants eat more vegetables than Catholics?'

Tears gave way to laughter. Undeniable, uncontrollable laughter. And out of all the contrast emerged another parallel. "As a journalist she lived in a world of questions," Mr Lusty said. Her death has created many more.

Tough questions which would be raised later for the political leaders.

By the time Lyra's sister Nichola Corner bravely strode to the altar a clear theme had emerged. Lyra was kind, interested, feisty, generous and above all else compassionate.

"Lyra is many things to many people but to her family she will be our baby," Nichola said with an astonishing depth of power in her voice.

Only once in 19 minutes did she struggle to say what needed to be said. When the media move out, the politicians step back, for Lyra's mother Joan "a broken heart can never be mended and an empty space can never be filled, the unconditional love that they both shared for each other will continue for eternity". So Nichola asked that it not be in vain.

"None of us will ever be the same again. We have all been changed by events of last Thursday," she said. "We can create a society where labels are meaningless. This is Lyra's legacy and we must carry it forward."

Fr Martin Magill picked up where Nichola left off. The next generation doesn't need a gun. No generation ever did.

"We don't need any more innocent blood to be shed."

He commended political leaders for standing together in Derry since the murder.

"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?'"

It was the line that summed up everything, the right question about the wrong that has occurred. Spontaneous applause broke out as the crowd vaulted to its feet with hope for a new beginning. Nobody in the front three rows on the right-hand pew stood up or made eye contact until Karen Bradley, swiftly followed by Theresa May rose. Mary Lou McDonald clapped profusely, Arlene Foster timidly. And then it was time to go. A young woman who dreamed big was carried back out of St Anne's into a wall of photographers and a guard of honour from her journalistic colleagues.

Final acclaim for a life that was unfinished. And still none of it made sense.

Read more: 'Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old to get us to this point?' - Lyra McKee's funeral hears

Read more: Political leaders come together as final tributes paid to young journalist Lyra McKee

Irish Independent

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