Tuesday 17 September 2019

'New age punk' who was planning her engagement to girlfriend Sara

Comfort: Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning receives a warm hug yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Comfort: Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning receives a warm hug yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Lyra McKee's world was one of grace, humanity and humour, combined with bad cooking and endless questions.

Her friend Stephen Lusty had mourners crying with laughter as he recalled her questions about why Protestants eat more vegetables than Catholics, and why straight friends are "so rubbish at sex".

He said in Lyra's life there were "no formulas or tick boxes" because "you just needed to be a good person".

As a middle-class, middle-aged, Protestant heterosexual British male engineer, Mr Lusty said he was proof of that theory.

He told mourners at the celebration of her life in Belfast that Lyra told him hours before her brutal murder she planned to propose to her partner Sara Canning.

The big question would be popped in New York next month with the wedding to take place in Donegal in 2022. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Northern Ireland.

"She gave me strict instructions to wear my kilt, which she always wanted to borrow, adorn it with some Harry Potter, and to find or re-find my own version of Sara," he said.

Mr Lusty told mourners that Lyra supported him through a dark time in his life, when he was scared, lonely and isolated. He said she often gave half her dinner money to a homeless person she had come across, making her late when she was due to meet him.

Mr Lusty saw the young journalist as a "new age punk", the embodiment of the Troubles-era band Stiff Little Fingers' 'Alternative Ulster' hit.

"She embodied the future of finding commonality, enjoying difference in others," he said.

On Lyra's attempts to cook, she said there were many times her social media posts contained photographs of "culinary projects" that were either "dinner or the fading embers of an 11th night bonfire".

"Irish stew or lemon meringue pie - we could never tell," he said to much laughter.

He said Lyra received "more than her fair share of abuse" for her investigate journalism work.

"But she never hated anyone, however Delia Smith came close on a few occasions," he joked.

Mr Lusty continued: "Despite her tender years, Lyra had the grace of Mary Robinson, the connected humility of President Higgins, the drive of fairness of Baroness Blood, the imagination of Tolkien and the energy of Oprah Winfrey."

He explained their last words were "a bit of tradition between us - a brief exchange of whether it was quicker to drive to Derry or to Londonderry?"

"However by breakfast, her adopted home had a new name - to all the soulless and the sick it had become Lyraderry," he said.

Finishing his tribute, Mr Lusty said when people die we miss them: "When loved ones depart we mourn, when the great are taken from us, it leaves a hole.

"Lyra's passing has left many holes - journalism, technology, all the communities that she was part of, her friends, and above all her beloved family and Sara. We have two choices, we can look into those holes and wonder forever what might have been. Or we can fill them with what should have been."

He added: "Today we grieve but tomorrow let us fill that hole by adopting Lyra's spirit, example and vision."

Irish Independent

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