Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: I'm angry at her killer, at the people who gave the orders... and at how my generation has failed people like Lyra

Police officer looks at flowers left at the scene where 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee was shot on Thursday night
Police officer looks at flowers left at the scene where 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee was shot on Thursday night

By Lindy McDowell

My first gut reaction, scrolling through early morning online coverage of the story... what are you doing in there, Lyra? Why is that picture of you right there in the middle of that shocking, breaking story about a young woman shot dead?

That cheeky wee face. That big, big heart. That so-familiar smile of yours. Eyes dancing with intelligence, curiosity and fun and love. Head tilted towards the camera. Open, honest, vibrant and so, so full of life.

And now dead. Murdered. You, Lyra. How can this be?

That story of bloody, senseless murder of a young woman of only 29 years of age, gunned down in the darkened streets of Derry, would have been hard enough to believe anyway.

But for it to be you, Lyra. You above all people...

I had the privilege to know Lyra McKee for a number of years as she grew from aspiring investigative journalist into the brilliant talent that she became.

Named by Forbes magazine as one of their 30 under 30. On the cusp of even greater acclaim with the upcoming publication of her book The Lost Boys.

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I can't imagine what those closest to her are going through right now. Her poor family, her girlfriend about whom she wrote with such love in this paper only a few weeks ago.

And her friends. Lyra had many, many friends from many and diverse backgrounds. But of all her friends it is those of her own generation my heart aches for most.

The ceasefire babies, she once dubbed her generation.

Those ceasefire babies will hardly remember the full unremitting horror of the Troubles; in some ways to them all that must seem like ancient history. In some ways...

For it is an ancient history whose shadow engulfs them too.

Not just with this, this brutal, unthinkable murder of lovely young Lyra, whose killing will leave a scar on their lives and in their hearts forever.

But because in this place we've never shaken free of the obdurate grip of our bloody past. We've handed down to Lyra's generation the old divisions, the hatred, the grievances, the tribal loyalties.

We've passed all that on like some broken family heirloom that they must look at and wonder: "What the hell has this got to do with me?"

And yet they can't get rid of it either. Our legacy is their millstone.

And yes, of course things have changed here. Changed utterly. Northern Ireland is a different planet to what it used to be.

"Back in our day," we tell Generation Ceasefire, "You can't imagine what it was like."

But they can. That is the tragedy for their generation. And the shame of ours.

For the Good Friday Agreement was supposed to be the full stop, wasn't it? The barrier between then and now.

The barrier didn't hold.

The Agreement was signed on Good Friday 21 years ago. That used to be regarded - 21 years - as your coming of age.

The Agreement comes of age this year, marked on Good Friday 2019 by news of the murder of a young woman who was only a little girl when that momentous document of hope and auspice and assurance was signed.

My God, we let them down didn't we? Our generation who were supposed to see to it that those ceasefire babies would grow up in some brave new future untrammelled by old enmity and ancient quarrel.

Lyra McKee is young enough to be my daughter. No. I can't say it that way any more, can I?

I have to put her in past tense, that kindly, lively, determined wee girl with a whole golden life ahead of her.

I'm so angry at the man who murdered her. Who two nights ago took aim and fired up a darkened street, supposedly aiming at a police Land-Rover but not caring who he killed, whether man, woman or child.

I'm angry at the faceless, gutless men who gave him the orders.

But most of all, I think I'm angry at myself. At my generation who let down Lyra's generation.

Listening to the politicians gliding through their rehearsed statements of sympathy on Radio Ulster was like listening to a background bulletin of my own youth. The condemnation of new murder in threadbare old pieties.

And then on came Fr Joe Gormley from St Mary's in the Creggan, his voice breaking with hurt and distress, talking about the raw despair of seeing Lyra's mother brought to Altnagelvin.

If the gunman could have seen that, he said, if they could have seen the heartbreak they'd caused...

It wouldn't matter. They don't care.

What matters is Lyra. Her partner. Her family. Her friends.

She is such a loss too to the profession she determinedly worked her way into. But even talking about her work you go back to the personal, the heart of the girl.

What marked Lyra's work was her passion for the humanity of the story. Throughout all the meticulously researched facts, that was what shone through. In a recent feature for this paper about the awful epidemic of suicide among the young, she finished with an appeal to any reader feeling vulnerable and alone.

Those heartfelt words had all the warmth of her. You could almost hear that distinctive voice of hers, so earnest with compassion.

It's not been easy for young journalists of her generation to find their place in an industry which like so many others is changing and evolving, in some ways out of all recognition. It's no longer just a job that smells of ink and thunders with that singular roar of massive presses churning out the end product.

It's also now the limitless world of online media, sometimes more anonymous, sometimes more intimate.

Lyra was utterly, utterly determined to make her mark in it all. She got her start in newspapers like this one and she never let go.

Her investigative journalism led to the book deal with Faber & Faber that will undoubtedly cement her place as the gifted writer that she was.

But what bitter irony that the girl who told the story of other lost lives is lost herself. That she will be survived by those books of hers.

It is unthinkable to me that I am writing about her gone, dead, murdered.

Not Lyra. Not you, Lyra.

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