Sunday 16 June 2019

Profile: Documenting conflict in communities drove Lyra to become an acclaimed journalist

Happy couple: Lyra McKee and her partner Sara Canning
Happy couple: Lyra McKee and her partner Sara Canning
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

Murdered journalist Lyra McKee was just eight years old when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, but she grew up conscious that her generation was still paying for the Troubles.

Ms McKee (29) had grown up on the Antrim Road in north Belfast, an area infamously nicknamed 'Murder Mile'.

She had witnessed the suicide of numerous friends, still carrying the burden of a broken society they'd had no part in creating.

In a powerful 2016 feature for US news website 'The Atlantic', named 'Suicide Among the Ceasefire Babies', Ms McKee wrote: "We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, spared from the horrors of war. But still, the after-effects of those horrors seemed to follow us."

But it was her early blog post in 2014, tracing her own arduous journey as a gay teenager in the North, that saw her gain widespread recognition. 'Letter to my 14-year-old self' helped her gain prominence. Ms McKee utilised her platform to campaign for gay rights and peace in the North up until her death.

"Life is so hard right now," she wrote. "Every day, you wake up wondering who else will find out your secret and hate you. It won't always be like this. It's going to get better. In a year's time, you're going to join a scheme that trains people your age to be journalists."

That article was later made into a short movie by Stay Beautiful Films, directed by Brian Mulholland and produced by Corrine Heaney, two of her friends.

The reporter went on to write about the families of those murdered during the conflict, who'd begun their own investigations, and the legacy issues of the Troubles still affecting Northern Ireland.

In 2016 she was named one of 'Forbes' magazine's 30 under 30 in Europe's media. She also won a Sky News young journalist award. In 2017, she gave a Ted Talk on the necessity of changing religious teachings towards LGBT people.

"There were times that I would lie in bed as a teenager, bargaining with God, asking him not to send me to Hell because I was so convinced I was going there...

"I think it's the same for a lot of other LGBT young people," she said.

Ms McKee, originally from Belfast, had fallen in love and moved to Derry to be with her partner, Sara, a year ago. Tragically on Holy Thursday night she was gunned down as she covered the rioting.

The freelancer, who was caring for her mother while working for Mediagazer, a US website, had recently been overjoyed she'd achieved a long-term dream of becoming a published author.

She'd just signed a two-book deal with publisher Faber. 'The Lost Boys' was due to be published next year.

Her first book, 'Angels with Blue Faces', a non-fiction account about the Troubles-era cold-case murder of South Belfast MP Rev Robert Bradford, was released in 2018.

Irish Independent

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