Belfast Telegraph

Mourners hear powerful plea for Lyra McKee’s death not to be in vain

Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The priest at the funeral of Lyra McKee has said her tragic death can be the "doorway to a new beginning" for Northern Ireland as he pleaded with politicians to make her murder a "catalyst to start talking again".

Father Martin Magill was a friend of the 29-year-old, who was killed after being shot during serious rioting in Londonderry last Thursday night.

The New IRA said they shot the journalist and offered its "sincere apologies" for the murder - a move met with a chorus of contempt.

The congregation at the packed St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast was led by Ms McKee's partner Sara Canning (35), her mother Joan McKee (68), brothers Gary and David and sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary.

Fr Magill told those gathered that the next generation of Northern Ireland citizens need hope, security and prosperity, not to live in the shadow of the gunman.

He said: "One of Lyra's friends was reported as saying 'we have had enough. There is a younger generation coming up in the town and they don't need guns put in their hands. They need jobs, they need a better health service and education. They need a life, not a gun put in their hands'.

"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."

Fr Magill had met Lyra on several occasions and said they kept in contact.

However, he said one of the things they didn't discuss was her love for Harry Potter - mourners were asked to wear merchandise from the series to reflect her love for the films and books.

Fr Magill added: "Like so many others I couldn't believe it when I heard the 7am news on Good Friday morning that Lyra McKee had been shot dead the previous night.

"I'd met Lyra on several occasions, we had kept in contact by phone, WhatsApp and Twitter.

"I would, however, have to confess that I wasn't aware of her great love of Harry Potter.

"I hadn't heard the term 'Hufflepuff' until I did an internet search and found this definition - '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."

The congregation laughed as he recalled their last humorous exchange on Twitter.

He said: "While Harry Potter didn't feature in our conversations, what did - and it was our last exchange on Twitter at the end of March - was when Lyra tweeted me 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?'"

Fr Magill gave an overview of Lyra's life and detailed her many accolades in the world of journalism.

He told how in her early days Lyra struggled with reading and required extra support, but things changed dramatically when one of her teachers began to read her class The Twits by Roald Dahl.

He said: "This was the spark that got Lyra interested in reading, and then thanks to her granny Patricia Lawrie buying her each of the Harry Potter books as they were published this led to her life-long interest in Harry Potter and later on to exchanges in social media with JK Rowling.

"Lyra's love of reading was further nurtured when she went to St Gemma's High School, just off the Oldpark Road also in north Belfast.

"Her interest in journalism began at the age of 14 when she wrote for the St Gemma's school newspaper.

"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.

The coffin of journalist Lyra McKee is taken out of the church after her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The coffin of journalist Lyra McKee is taken out of the church after her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Theresa May pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee
Irish Prime minister Leo Varadkar (R) and Prime Minister Theresa May (C) leave St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019, after attending the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP/Getty Images)
Irish President Michael D Higgins consoles Sara Canning, partner of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee as her funeral takes place at St. Anne's Cathedral (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Funeral and service of thanksgiving for journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn(centre) and Irish President Michael D Higgins(right) pictured at and at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mourners and friends pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast.
Mourners react as the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, is placed into a hearse following her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Funeral and service of thanksgiving for journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Mourners and friends pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
DUP leader Arlene Foster at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee
Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Mourners gesture as pallbearers carry the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee (29), who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, during the funeral service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019.
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Mourners gather outside of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019, during the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Mourners gesture as pallbearers carry the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee (29), who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, during the funeral service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
The coffin is carried into the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
The coffin is carried into the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
General view of the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÕs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Picture Matt Mackey / Press Eye.
Prime Minister Theresa May paying her condolences to the family of Lyra McKee
Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar , 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.
Mourners arrive for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish President Michael D Higgins pictured at he funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Prime Minister Theresa May pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast.
President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
A mourner arrives carrying a wreath for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sin Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton. The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald arrives for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Leo Varadkar arrives for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - APRIL 24: The congregation arrive for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Journalist and campaigner for LGBT rights, Lyra McKee, 29, was shot dead last Thursday while observing the rioting in Londonderry. Her family gave a statement in which they said her "openness and her desire to bring people together made her totally apolitical". The New IRA have admitted responsibility for her killing. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald pictured at he funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The hearse carrying the body of murdered journalist Lyra McKee arrives at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Sinn Fein leader Michelle and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Simon Coveney TD at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 SDLP leader Colum Eastwood at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Mike Nesbitt pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Michelle O'Neill, Vice President of Sinn Fein arrives for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald arrives for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Naomi Long Alliance Party Leader at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
General view of the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Mourners begin to gather for the funeral of Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

"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."

He told how, over the years, her writing won her much acclaim, such as her letter, when she was 24, to her 14-year-old self about growing up gay in Belfast.

Fr Magill continued: "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.

"Last month the Irish Times featured Lyra in an article considering the 10 rising stars of Irish writing.

"Her memory also lives on in her TEDx talk, 'How uncomfortable conversations can save lives', about the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Her book on the murder of Rev Robert Bradford, the Member of Parliament for South Belfast, called Angels With Blue Faces was due to be published later this year."

He told how Lyra had came to see him as part of her research on a book she was working on called Lost Boys.

He added: "We met on several occasions and kept in contact.

"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. Nichola her sister who spoke earlier described Lyra like 'a dog with a bone' when she had found something that interested her."

Fr Magill said he experienced and admired her "gentle, determined doggedness".

"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," he added.

"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 paid tribute to the strength of Lyra's partner, family and friends as he said he can't begin to imagine what they have been going through.

He also commended the strength of Lyra's friends who took part in a "very powerful gesture of non-violence" as they placed red handprints on the walls of the headquarters of a dissident republican-linked group Saoradh in Derry earlier this week.

The priest acknowledged too those who have given information about the murder to police.

He said: "I pay tribute to the courage and determination of the women who in a very powerful gesture of non-violence, one by one placed their hands in blood red paint on a wall and said loudly 'we are not afraid'."

He continued: "I commend the 140+ people in Creggan who have contacted the police.

"There is a rule in many of our communities that we do not, we should not, give information to police and that, to do so is to become a 'tout.'

"But that was one of a number of rules - rules that also said that it was okay to brutalise children for petty crimes, or rules that say you can live in the locality until you are told you can't or rules that said that the only way we could gain 'freedom' was by other fellow-human beings losing their lives.

"But this week I have seen these rules turned on their head.

"I have seen many people stand up and condemn this culture of violence and coercive control.

"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.

"There will be special measures put in place to ensure your safety and where you will not be intimidated by coercive controllers, if you do so."

Fr Magill said that our political leaders needed to work together again so that our young people can "have a life, not a gun put in their hands".

He commended the coming together of nationalist and unionist leaders in Creggan for a vigil less than 24 hours after the murder but demanded to know why it took "the death of a woman with her whole life in front of her" to get to that point.

His strong words brought the congregation - including Prime Minister Theresa May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill, and the DUP's Arlene Foster - to their feet in a standing ovation.

"Many of us will be praying that Lyra's death in its own way will not have been in vain and will contribute in some way to building peace here," he said.

"Since Thursday night we have seen the coming together of many people in various places and the unifying of the community against violence.

"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."

Fr Magill urged our politicians to "get back around the table and talk".

"I know you as politicians have a very difficult job to but then so too did Lyra," he said. "There is another valuable lesson from her life - she was like 'a dog with a bone' when she believed she could make a difference.

"When it comes to our peace process, I would love to see this dogged attitude to the rebuilding of an Assembly that works for the common good."

He added: "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."

Following the service Lyra was buried in Carnmoney Cemetery.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph