Saturday 21 September 2019

'Let building an alternative Ulster we are all proud of be her lasting legacy of peace'

Grief: Mourners console eachother at the funeral of Lyra McKee in Belfast. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Grief: Mourners console eachother at the funeral of Lyra McKee in Belfast. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Ed McCann

Ed McCann

It was appropriate that mourners who gathered stood in Writers' Square.

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. Perhaps few among the crowd were aware of this - but all were aware of the significance of the journalist's death.

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

Those standing in Writers' Square hadn't made it into the cathedral, which was packed. But it didn't matter as they showed solidarity and respect.

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

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

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

One man 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.

"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 was loudly applauded after saying: "Let us put false starts behind us and once and 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."

He 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.

They 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. They listened to an interdenominational celebration of Lyra's life.

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

Irish Independent

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