Lyra McKee Funeral: Priest Calls For New Beginning For Northern Ireland After Journalist's Murder

Nicola Slawson

The death of Lyra McKee should mark a new beginning for Northern Ireland, a priest has told mourners at the packed out St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.

Dissident republican gunmen who killed the Belfast-born journalist, 29, should lay down their arms, Catholic priest Father Martin Magill added.

He also spoke directly to politicians of Northern Ireland’s suspended powersharing administration and urged them to work together to produce a better life for young people.

In a powerful moment during the service, the congregation burst into applause and gave a standing ovation when Father Magill spoke about Northern Irish leaders coming together on Good Friday in Creggan on the day following her death.

He said: “I’m left with a question. Why does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?

“I dare to hope Lyra’s death can be the doorway to a new beginning.”

The journalist was killed by indiscriminate fire as she observed clashes between police and New IRA dissidents on the Creggan estate in Londonderry on April 18.

Friends arrive for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.

McKee’s funeral cortege arrived outside St Anne’s Cathedral after passing Belfast’s nearby Kremlin bar, a gay nightclub, where a number of people with rainbow flags were present.

The crowd applauded as the cortege arrived at the cathedral, with a white and pink floral heart carried in the hearse.

The cathedral was packed with more than 600 mourners, with many people standing at the back. Others gathered outside the listen to the service. 

Many of those who attended the funeral wore Harry Potter and Marvel Comics memorabilia, as requested by her family and partner and in tribute to the journalist’s passion for both.

Fellow journalists formed a guard of honour as the service for their murdered colleague began.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar , Prime Mnister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Irish premier Leo Varadkar, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney were among those who attended.

Inside the church, Corbyn was seen talking to Varadkar and later with Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster when he took his seat.

May could be seen speaking with McKee’s partner Sara Canning and the rest of her family, including her mother Joan McKee before the service began.

In introductory comments, Dean Stephen Forde said: “Lyra was a person who broke down barriers and reached across boundaries.

“This was her hallmark in life, this is her legacy in death.”

He said she was a child of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which largely ended decades of violence and talked of the hopes for an end to the prejudices of the past and the possibilities of a new future.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald.

In an emotional and funny eulogy, her friend Stephen Lusty paid tribute to his “smart, kind, passionate, interesting, feisty, generous, funny, truly compassionate” friend and said her “starlight” filled the cathedral.

He said on the day she died, she had told him about the ring she had bought for her partner Sara and that she planned to propose in New York in May.

He had seen her just hours before she died and she had showed him pictures of the engagement ring.

“She made me put a date in my diary for the wedding in Donegal in 2022 and 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 told the congregation.

Lusty said she was fearless and naive in her early days. She supported him through dark times, 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.

A crowd gathered outside listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.

She was 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 40 years later her loss showed what it took to live in an Alternative Ulster.

They had been robbed of a talent destined to become a stateswoman, with only holes left behind.

Her friend said McKee’s lasting legacy should be peace.

“We have two choices, we can look into the holes and wait forever… or we can fill those holes today. Today we grieve but tomorrow let us fill that hole by adopting Lyra’s future and vision.”

McKee’s sister Nichola Corner said it was the responsibility of everyone to ensure her legacy was carried forward.

Irish President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service

Her funeral was cross-community and mourners spanned both sides of the Irish border.

Father Magill said: “I dare to hope that Lyra’s murder on Holy Thursday night can be the doorway to a new beginning. I detect a deep desire for this.”

The service of thanksgiving was held in the Church of Ireland’s St Anne’s Cathedral, a short distance from her north Belfast home.

Magill said: “To those who had any part in her murder, I encourage you to reflect on Lyra McKee, journalist and writer, as a powerful example of ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’.

“I plead with you to take the road of non-violence to achieve your political ends.”

Since the killing many have condemned the culture of violence and coercive control practised by dissidents, the clergyman said.

“We need to send a very different message and so I appeal to those who have information about Lyra’s murder but who haven’t yet come forward to do so now.

“If you want to see an end to these brutal rules, and see a new society built on justice and fairness, on hope and not fear, then you can help build that society by letting the police know what you know.”

He called on political leaders to break the Stormont negotiations impasse.

“I pray that Lyra’s murder may be the catalyst needed for parties to start talking, to reform that which was corrosive in previous assemblies and to begin anew.”

The congregation was led by McKee’s partner Sara Canning, 35, her mother Joan McKee, 68, brothers Gary and David and sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary.

Her family have paid tribute to a “gentle, innocent soul” whose “desire to bring people together made her totally apolitical”.

The New IRA is an amalgam of armed groups opposed to the peace process and it recently claimed responsibility for parcel bombs sent to London and Glasgow in March.

Police believe the violence in Derry was orchestrated in response to an earlier search by officers aimed at averting imminent trouble associated with the anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) formed the guard of honour.

In London, NUJ members, journalists, trade unionists, LGBT activists and supporters attended a vigil at St Bride’s – dubbed the journalist’s church – in Fleet Street, which started at the same time as her funeral. 

The church lit 29 small candles for the slain journalist and a book of condolence will be available to sign all day.

As the funeral was being held, a number of journalists posted tributes on social media with the hashtag #WeStandWithLyra.

BBC presenter Andrea Catherwood tweeted: “Cameras down in Doha to remember fellow journalist #LyraMcKee senselessly murdered in Derry. Her values of inclusion, love and equality are N Ireland’s future.”

Other images showed journalists paying their respects in newsrooms for outlets including Channel 4 News and the BBC.

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