Sunday 15 September 2019

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

  • Hundreds of mourners gather at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast this afternoon for a celebration of Lyra McKee's life
  • Mourners wear costumes from the Harry Potter series to reflect Lyra’s love of the books
  • Respectful applause as coffin enters church
  • In Killarney at the annual conference of TUI, Education Minister Joe McHugh, journalists, teachers and hotel staff stood together to honour Lyra McKee
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
A respectful applause rings out in Belfast Cathedral as coffin of Belfast journalist Lyra McKee enters the church

Kevin Doyle and Katherine Donnelly

JOURNALIST Lyra McKee has been remembered as somebody who was the embodiment of ‘truth and clarity’ during her short 29 years.

Hundreds of mourners have gathered at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast this afternoon for a celebration of her life.

Murdered journalist Lyra McKee. Photo: PSNI/PA
Murdered journalist Lyra McKee. Photo: PSNI/PA

They were told by her sister, Nichola Corner, that Lyra was like "a dog with a bone" when she found something of interest to her.

The chief mourners were Lyra’s mother Joan, partner Sara, brothers Gary and David and sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary.

Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and senior figures from Northern Ireland’s political parties all attended the ceremony.

And outside the Cathedral, members of the LGBT community, the National Union of Journalists and ordinary people gathered to pay their respects too. Many wore costumes from the Harry Potter series to reflect Lyra’s love of the books.

Fr Martin Magill told the interfaith ceremony that he has "no idea" what Lyra’s partner Sara Canning must have felt last Thursday night when the shots rang out in the Creggan area of Derry.

"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.

Mourners wearing Harry Potter themed shirts 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 wearing Harry Potter themed shirts arrive to attend the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee at St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

"I can’t imagine the agony of your drive to Altnagelvin hospital knowing that Lyra had died," he said.

Fr Magill met Lyra on several occasions and regale the congregation with stories of her life and work.

He pointed to her affinity with the ‘Hufflepuff’ house in the Harry Potter books.

"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," Fr Magill said.

The priest also described his most recent exchange with Lyra on Twitter which was at the end of March.

She tweeted him with a photo of herself dressed in a nun’s veil with a glass of cider accompanied with these words:  ‘Got roped into performing as part of a Sister Act tribute act for Foyle Hospice. Hey @MartinJMagill, you need any help with mass tomorrow?’

A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf holds an order of service as she arrives 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
A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf holds an order of service as she arrives 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

He described how Lyra was born on March 31, 1990 and first gained a love of reading from Roald Dhal’s ‘The Twits’.

"Let me give a brief overview of Lyra’s life. She was born on 31st March 1990. She attended Holy Family PS just off the Limestone Road. In her early days at school, she struggled with reading and required extra support.

Mourners, including one wearing a Gryffindor scarf, wait 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
Mourners, including one wearing a Gryffindor scarf, wait 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

"Her interest in journalism began at the age of 14 when she wrote for the school newspaper," he said.

"Shortly afterwards Lyra became involved in a charity called “The Headliners’ which gives young people a voice by using journalism and media as a tool for learning and campaigning.

"This project played an important part in her being awarded the Sky News Young Journalist Award 2006. After school and further education, Lyra studied online journalism at Birmingham City University graduating with an MA degree.

"Over the years her writing has won her much acclaim such as her letter when she was 24 to her 14 year old self about growing up as gay in Belfast.

"In 2016, aged just 25, she was acknowledged internationally as an exceptional achiever with an exciting future by Forbes magazine in their 30 under 30 list because of her work as an investigative reporter."

Fr Magill told how Lyra came to him as part of her research for a book called ‘Lost Boys’.

"I knew absolutely nothing about 11 year old Thomas Spence and 13 year old John Rodgers, who vanished at a bus stop on the Falls Road in West Belfast in November 1974.

"They were both living in St John’s Parish at that time where I am presently the parish priest and it was for this reason Lyra came to see me. By the time Lyra had told me their story and what she hoped to do, I was fully behind her," he said.

"When we exchanged greetings on New Year’s Day and I wished her well not only in the writing of Lost Boys but also in her search for the remains of the boys which she made clear to me was very important to her.

"She replied in this way:  ‘If that's the only thing that comes out of this, it'll be worth it. It's the only thing I really want out of it, to find them and the others.’”

"In the course of her investigations, Lyra had discovered that other children had disappeared and she had wanted to find their bodies.

"I pray that her work will be taken up and that their bodies will be found and even more importantly that there will be no more ‘lost boys’ or ‘lost girls’," Fr Magill said.

Meanwhile, in Killarney today, Education Minister Joe McHugh, journalists, teachers and hotel staff stood together today to honour murdered Belfast journalist, Lyra McKee, and to denounce her killing.

The gesture was made at the annual conference of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, in the Gleneagle Hotel, which the minister addressed around noon.

The conference observed a minute’s silence and later a representative of the TUI read a message on behalf of the National Union of Journalists, asking delegates to join a 'We Stand with Lyra' solidarity gathering outside the hotel at lunchtime, as her funeral was underway.

arney wednesday_005.jpg
Minister for Education Joe McHugh along with Seamus Lahart, President, TUI and delegates stand for a moments silence in solidarity with Lyra McKee Photo: Don MacMonagle

The message read: "We ask our fellow trade unions to join us briefly outside the hotel after the minister address and the subsequent president's response in a short gathering to denounce the killing of our sister, journalist Lyre McKee, to celebrate her life.

"Lyra's voice was a vital one, in every sense of the word, both in Northern Ireland and beyond. The violent loss of her voice and of her beautiful self is a huge tragedy for all.

"In keeping with her partner Sarah's wish, that her death, like her life, should have a positive impact, we will gather very briefly outside the hotel and hold signs saying 'We stand with Lyra'. 

"We invite delegates and others to join us."

Journalists covering the conference were joined by Mr McHugh, members of the TUI, including general secretary John MacGabhann and president Seamus Lahart, other delegates, conference visitors, including Fianna Fail Health Spokesman Thomas Byrne, Senator Gerard Craughwell, a former TUI president, and hotel staff Mr McHugh expressed his sympathy to Lyra's family and friends "on a very difficult day".

The minister who is on the annual round of teacher conferences, said he could not help but think about her sad passing throughout his journey from Dungarvan to Killarney earlier in the day.

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