Belfast Telegraph

Alf McCreary: Cathedral with strong record of inclusivity is a fitting choice for Lyra's funeral

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)
Lyra McKee
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

St Anne's Cathedral, with its long history at the heart of Belfast and its proud record in recent years of inclusivity for people of all backgrounds, is a fitting choice for the funeral of Lyra McKee.

The cathedral, set on a site of the 18th century church of St Anne, has towering grandeur and the capacity to seat a very large congregation, but it also has the dignity and the intimacy to stage a fitting funeral for every occasion - from a great event of state to the passing of a former member of its own parish, or an individual who has made their own mark on society.

In the past two decades or so I have attended many such occasions on behalf of this newspaper, and I have always been impressed by the way in which the successive deans have adapted this vast building, with its gorgeous architecture and music, to suit every occasion.

One of the most impressive services recently was the cross-community commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War, where the main speaker was Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin. He talked movingly about his uncle, who had taken part in that awful conflagration.

As well as state and royal occasions, St Anne's has held funerals for people well-known in the worlds of entertainment and sport. During the period when the Very Reverend Houston McKelvey was dean, there was a packed congregation for the commemorative service for Derek Bell of The Chieftains. There was also a very large gathering for the funeral of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, when his daughter spoke movingly about the snooker star.

Despite the almost 'showbusiness' trappings of the funeral cortege, with its horse-drawn hearse and its procession through the streets of Belfast, the cathedral maintained dignity and a quiet solemnity, which was entirely fitting for the occasion.

St Anne's in recent years has a proud record of ecumenism, and it was one of the first major Protestant churches to welcome Catholic clergy to its pulpit on special occasions, such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

It also hosted many special Days of Prayer for Our Land, organised by Brother David Jardine, who is still a canon of the cathedral.

St Anne's has forged and maintained close links with the Catholic cathedral in west Belfast, and on occasions it has reached out to people of other faiths.

On one memorable occasion Dean McKelvey hosted the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist followers, who formed such a large congregation that the doors of the packed cathedral had to be closed for health and safety.

For all these reasons, including its outreach to people of all backgrounds, and its place at the heart of our society, St Anne's Cathedral is indeed a fitting place for the funeral today of a young woman whose short life demonstrated the importance of inclusivity as well as individuality, respect and tolerance and the need for all of us to care for one another in a world of such division, brutality and pain.

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