Belfast Telegraph

Kathryn Johnston: We all knew that one day Lyra McKee would make international headlines but never could any of us have imagined that those headlines would tell how she was cut down in the line of duty to become the latest victim of the Troubles

Journalist and author Lyra McKee
Journalist and author Lyra McKee
Lyra and her partner Sara Canning
Lyra with Kathryn Johnston in Londonderry at last October’s fiftieth anniversary of the civil rights movement

By Kathryn Johnston

The Cold Case Detectives by Lyra McKee Lyra McKee is a freelance journalist and writer Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. So does this one. It can be summarised as a bullet, a bullet, and a bullet.

This was Lyra McKee's foreword to a collection of essays called 'Paper Trailers' - a series of personal reflections collated and published by Ciaran MacAirt, a writer, researcher and victims' campaigner in Belfast.

From the very minute I met Lyra when she was just 16 I could tell she was a born storyteller. What motivated her was to uncover the real, often concealed, truth behind the stories of many of the victims of the Troubles, and to restore meaning and agency to their lives.

My late husband, Liam Clarke, former Political Editor of the Belfast Telegraph, and I had first got to know her when she wanted to discuss stories that either or both of us had worked on.

Within a couple of years, by 2006 in fact, Sky News had named her their Young Reporter of the Year. And by 2016, Lyra had been named one of Forbes Magazine's elite 'Thirty to watch under Thirty' list.

Last year she secured a two-book publishing deal with Faber & Faber, the first of which, The Lost Boys, about the unknown victims of the Troubles, is to be published in 2020.

We all knew that one day she would make international headlines.

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But never could any of us have imagined that those headlines would tell how she was cut down in the line of duty to become the latest victim of the Troubles.

Last Thursday night, Lyra was murdered by Saoradh - the 'New IRA' - when one of their number fired a handgun up a side street where Lyra stood near a PSNI Land Rover with her partner, Sara, as she reported on rioting in Creggan. She was killed instantly.

The thing about Lyra was that you couldn't walk down the street with her in Belfast without getting drawn into a number of conversations. She was a talker. That was one of the main things she loved about Derry, the warm and open people she had met there since moving up to live with her partner, Sara.

Lyra's partner - Sara Canning
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Lyra's partner - Sara Canning A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
An upset friend as A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
A vigil is held for Lyra McKee in Fanad Drive Creggan on April 19th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Naomi Long Long at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The Vigil for 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Forensics at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Mary Lou McDonald at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Colm Eastwood SDLP at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
Lyra Vigil
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Arlene Foster at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Mary Lou McDonald at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Sarah Canning Partner of Lyra McKee during a vigil at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Sarah Canning Partner of Lyra McKee during a vigil at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 Sarah Canning Partner of Lyra McKee during a vigil at the scene after 29-year-old Lyra McKee who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Frt. Joe Gormley, PP, Creggan.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. DUP leader Arlene Foster arrives with party colleagues Gary Middleton and Gregory Campbell. Included are Fr. Joe Gormley and Bishop Ken Good.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. PSNI officers place floral tributes left at the scene.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Local Sinn Fein Councillor Kevin Campbell speaking with DUP leader Arlene Foster and party colleagues Gary Middleton and Gregory Campbell.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. PSNI officers place floral tributes left at the scene.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, with Mayor Councillor John Boyle.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, with the DUP's Gregory Campbell and Arlene Foster
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. DUP party leader Arlene Foster, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and Sinn Fein MEP Martinas Anderson.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, SDLP party leader Colum Eastwood, Gregory Campbell, MLA, The Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor John Boyle, DUP leader Arlene Foster and Councillor Kevin Campbell.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. SDLP party leader Colum Eastwood, DIUP party leader Arlene Foster and the Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor John Boyle.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, DUP party leader Arlene Foster, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and Sinn Fein MEP Martinas Anderson.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Most Rev. Dr. Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, and Right Rev. Dr. Ken Good, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Most Rev. Dr. Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, Right Rev. Dr. Ken Good, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, and the Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor John Boyle.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Alliance leader Naomi Long, Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald and DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Most Rev. Dr. Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Alliance leader Naomi Long, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald and DUP leader Arlene Foster, Bishop Ken Good, Mary Hamilton and Bishop Donal McKeown.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Lyra McKee's partner Sarah Canning speaking to DIUP leader Arlene Foster.
The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee. Alliance leader Naomi Long, Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald and DUP leader Arlene Foster, Bishop Ken Good, Mary Hamilton and Bishop Donal McKeown.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th April 2019 - Photo by Lorcan Doherty / Press Eye. The community vigil held on Fanad Drive, Creggan, following the murder of 29 years-old Lyra McKee.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 18/4/2019 The NUJ hold a vigil at the Guildhall in memory of 29-year-old Lyra McKee ,who was shot dead during rioting after police searches in Derry's Creggan area on Thursday night. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the New IRA "are likely to be the ones behind this" and detectives have started a murder inquiry. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
PRESS EYE BELFAST - 19/4/19- PSNI officer lays floral tributes left by members of the public following the murder of 29-year-old Lyra McKee during rioting after police searches in the area last night.
PRESS EYE BELFAST - 19/4/19- Lyra McKee shooting, Derry. Grafitti close to the scene.
PRESS EYE BELFAST - 19/4/19- PSNI officer receives floral tributes left by members of the public following the murder of 29-year-old Lyra McKee during rioting after police searches in the area last night.
PRESS EYE BELFAST - 19/4/19- PSNI officer searching Fanad Drive in Creggan, Derry following the murder of 29-year-old Lyra McKee during rioting after police searches in the area last night.
PRESS EYE BELFAST - 19/4/19- Floral tributes left by members of the public following the murder of 29-year-old Lyra McKee during rioting after police searches in the area last night.
PRESS EYE BELFAST - 19/4/19- Floral tributes left by members of the public following the murder of 29-year-old Lyra McKee during rioting after police searches in the area last night.
A woman with a rainbow flag at a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 19, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Unrest Vigil. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
People hold candles during a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 19, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Unrest Vigil. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
People hold candles during a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 19, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Unrest Vigil. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
People signing a book of condolence after a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 19, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Unrest Vigil. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
John O'Doherty of the Rainbow Project reads a letter written by Lyra McKee when she was aged 24 called, Òa letter to my 14-year-old selfÓ, during a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 19, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Unrest Vigil. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
John O'Doherty of the Rainbow Project reads a letter written by Lyra McKee when she was aged 24 called, Òa letter to my 14-year-old selfÓ, during a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 19, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Unrest Vigil. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
People hold candles during a vigil at Belfast City Hall in memory of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 19, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Unrest Vigil. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

But she was a listener, too. I don't think there was one homeless person on the streets in Belfast that she didn't know by name and personal circumstance. I often bumped into her around the City Hall and on Great Victoria Street as she bent down talking about what was new with them before she gave them whatever she could afford.

There wasn't an ounce of malice in her, but that doesn't mean she was some sort of plaster saint. She had a quick and ready wit, and could more than hold her own in any company. She was prone to ferocious fits of the giggles, and letting off steam in what one friend called 'her funny half-hours'.

Lyra often worried that she might have inadvertently hurt your feelings, and often timidly asked if you understood what she had meant, when she feared she might have given offence, when of course she had not.

She loved her mother, Joan, with a fierceness that was matched by the protectiveness she showed towards all her large family and many friends. And to Marie the cat. And above all to the love of her life, her partner Sara, who had changed so much for her and brought so much happiness into her life.

Our thoughts and love are with Sara and Lyra's family today.

All who knew her loved the bones of her. She was a beautiful, intelligent, loving and generous young woman.

Just a month ago on her way to Derry, Lyra called into my house in Ballymena to discuss plans that we had and to catch up. The next day, she sent me the latest version of proofs of her book, Angels With Blue Faces, about the murder of Rev Robert Bradford, shortly to be published by Excalibur Press.

At the end of her foreword to the book, she wrote this final paragraph.

'Finally, thank you, dear reader - thank you for buying this book. I hope the read is worth it. My share of the proceeds from sales is going to Paper Trail, a charity run by researcher Ciaran MacAirt which helps survivors of the conflict - regardless of religion, political belief or other affiliations - investigate the deaths of their loved ones during the Troubles, by providing training courses in research skills and/or doing the research on their behalf. It empowers victims by helping them ask questions and obtain answers about what was often the most traumatic experience of their lives. Your money will help Paper Trail continue to do this, as Northern Ireland continues to recover from the devastation left by 30 years of war.'

When I asked Ciaran MacAirt yesterday for permission to use that paragraph in this piece he drew my attention to her earlier foreword to his collection, quoted above.

Last night, he vowed: "The story of Lyra McKee does not end with a bullet. Her family and friends will see to that."

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