Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Lyra McKee was the best of us, and her name should never, ever be forgotten

Fionola Meredith remembers interviewing the murdered journalist when she was just a 17-year-old schoolgirl

Murdered journalist Lyra McKee
Murdered journalist Lyra McKee
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

Any killing is a tragedy. But that someone so young, so bright-eyed, so fully, vibrantly, abundantly alive, should be wiped out in a moment by a terrorist's bullet seems like the very definition of a crime against humanity.

Lyra McKee was clearly a joy and an inspiration to those who loved her. Yet even for those of us that didn't know her, what emerged in the aftermath of her death was a vivid picture of someone with a really extraordinary ability to connect with those around her.

By all accounts, Lyra cheerfully disregarded every single one of the usual political and religious trip-wires that can cut people off from one another, instead approaching everyone with the same frank, engaging spirit of inquiry.

Ahead of her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral - a markedly inclusive and ecumenical occasion, attended not just by dignitaries like Theresa May and Leo Varadkar, but by a vast diversity of devastated friends and admirers - Lyra's family spoke movingly of her openness.

They described her ability to "make friends with anybody and everybody, no matter what their background, those of all political views and those with none", which made her "totally apolitical".

How much of this easy open-mindedness was down to her own unique personality, her "warm and innocent heart", and how much was formed by her painful experiences as a young gay woman growing up in a working-class Catholic area of north Belfast, I don't know.

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What is obvious is that Lyra had a luminosity all her own, and that shining light has been cruelly extinguished from the world.

Many people have been speaking about their memories of Lyra, but it was only after her death that I realised that I had met and interviewed her back in 2007, when she was just 17 years old, and an active member of a youth news agency in Belfast called Headliners.

This week, I went back through my computer files and found my interview notes from that time. They made poignant reading.

In 2006, when she was 16, Lyra had won the Sky News 'Young Journalist of the Year' competition, and even then she spoke with the characteristic honesty, confidence and brio that she is remembered for today.

Frankly admitting that she was never a "straight A student", she told me: "I always dreamed of winning an award for journalism, it's the sort of thing that normally only happens to grammar school girls. This competition proves it doesn't matter what your background is, and it gave me the opportunity to show what I was capable of."

She said that working with Headliners "offered me a clean slate, a chance to prove myself, to show I had a talent I could be proud of".

"The stereotyped formula where I come from is that you leave school then work in a shop. But now I'm going on to do my A-levels."

Lyra was only on the cusp of adulthood then, with all kinds of opportunities ahead of her, and it seems unbearably sad that she got to live so little of it.

All that hope, all that potential, obliterated by the violence which chokes the life out of this country: massively reduced now in scale yet seemingly ineradicable, obscenely creeping like a poisonous fungus from generation to generation.

Amid the horror and mourning, there is a great need for Lyra's death to be the last of its kind, even though history teaches us that this will not be the case.

We have been here before and no doubt we will be here again.

Nonetheless, her murder exerts an enormous moral pressure on our political leaders to renounce their current self-indulgent stand-off, to overcome their differences and resurrect Stormont.

As Fr Martin Magill asked at Lyra's funeral, to a standing ovation: "Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?"

With her open heart and open mind, Lyra was the future. She was part of a new generation who refuse to be bound by sick old sectarian and social divisions. She was the inheritor of that humane, decent mind-set that sustained the majority of people, who wanted no truck with violence of any political colour, through the awful decades of the Troubles.

Curious, talkative and kind, ever eager to tell a story, or to start a conversation with a stranger, Lyra was the best of us. She will not be forgotten.

Belfast Telegraph


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