Belfast Telegraph

Lyra McKee mural draws crowds at street art festival

An artist adds finishing touches to a mural in Belfast dedicated to journalist Lyra McKee
An artist adds finishing touches to a mural in Belfast dedicated to journalist Lyra McKee
An artist adds finishing touches to a mural in Belfast dedicated to journalist Lyra McKee

By Gillian Halliday

A mural dedicated to Lyra McKee has appeared in central Belfast as part of a major street art festival.

The image of the murdered journalist, who was shot by a New IRA gunman in Londonderry on April 18, has been painted outside the Sunflower Pub.

The mural - spray-painted by Dublin artist Emma Blake, known as ESTR - is one of a series of street art displays forming the basis of the Hit the North Street Art Festival 2019.

This year 22 artists have taken over most of Kent Street with artwork, with people stopping to take pictures of Ms McKee's portrait over the bank holiday weekend.

Yesterday as the mural was continuing to take shape, festival curator Adam Turkington told the Belfast Telegraph that Ms Blake wanted to honour the late writer.

The image of Ms McKee (29) is painted alongside the words of a powerful letter she wrote to her 14-year-old self.

The letter, which has gained worldwide prominence since her death, spoke of her struggles growing up as a gay teenager in Northern Ireland.

It contained the touching message: "It won't always be like this. It's going to get better" - words that have gained added resonance since her murder by the terror group.

Mr Turkington said: "Emma spoke to Lyra's partner and family to get their blessing beforehand.

"One of Lyra's sisters has visited and taken photographs."

He revealed the location of the mural had been specially chosen because it faces an existing artwork produced by artist Emic, where Lyra had once posed for a photograph.

"That photograph of Lyra went all around the world after her death," Mr Turkington added.

The site is also close to St Anne's Cathedral, where the late journalist's funeral was held on April 24, when Fr Martin Magill made a powerful plea for politicians to work together.

The festival curator said the public reaction to Lyra's portrait has been positive.

He added: "I think it's really important for people. It keeps her legacy going."

The street portrait comes as pro-IRA graffiti in Londonderry's Creggan area - where Ms McKee died - was painted over with messages of positivity and inclusiveness in her honour.

Within days of her death, friends and supporters of the writer defaced an office belonging to Saoradh, believed to the political wing of the New IRA, by putting handprints on the building's walls in red paint.

Addressing this, Mr Turkington said the festival artwork was a natural progression, given how the aftermath of the journalist's death has been expressed on walls.

"Street art has its roots in activism and in anti-establishmentism, but also in finding ways to communicate with each other about things that really are hard to talk about," he said.

Mr Turkington said street art here is "all about building a shared space" and places where people can co-exist.

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