Belfast Telegraph

Malachi O'Doherty: Lyra McKee's death was incredible because this is not her war... her causes were contemporary, like Pride and suicide in her own traumatised second generation from the Troubles

Tributes left at the scene where Lyra McKee was murdered in the Creggan estate in Derry
Tributes left at the scene where Lyra McKee was murdered in the Creggan estate in Derry
The NUJ holds a vigil at the Guildhall in her memory

By Malachi O'Doherty

I woke up on Friday morning to see that I had missed a call from a radio station that wanted to discuss the rioting in Derry and then a text from my brother asking if Lyra McKee had been targeted or hit by chance.

I was then near frantic to get online and read the news but already feeling that Lyra McKee being shot was the most unlikely, the most incongruous thing.

But there it was, all over Twitter people saying, 'I can't believe it'.

I had gone to bed knowing that a woman had been shot in Derry. That had not struck me as incongruous. That was perfectly congruent with what had been happening in Derry in the past year.

Last July kids had been rioting in the Bogside. One lig had been filmed setting his own tracksuit alight with a badly handled petrol bomb.

And a sniper had opened up on the police near the city walls.

So there were people in Derry with guns and a willingness to use them and when the news came through that a woman had been bit by a bullet, I found that sad and worrying but not surprising.

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When I heard that that woman was Lyra McKee everything changed for me.

Which is not fair to the other woman it might have been, another reporter or a mother on the street looking out for her children, or one of the vast anonymous whoever.

And I ask myself why this death was incredible when the prospect of a death was not.

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

Part of the answer is simple. I knew her. This tragedy touched me in the way that the death of a stranger would not have done.

But that's not all of it.

Part of it comes from a sense that things are tiresomely familiar in their patterns here and this death does not fit.

Suppose the news had been that one of the older hands in journalism had been shot, would that have been as shocking? This is a thought experiment.

I think not. The sadness would have been accompanied by a recognition of this old hand having already been lucky more than once, a sense of luck having run out, as you'd expect it to.

I was thinking back to my own hapless days as a young journalist in dangerous situations and part of the shock of the news was the realisation that this could have been me.

And not me as I am now - I haven't covered a riot for decades - but me as I was in my 20s, as vulnerable and new to covering riots as she was.

Lyra is the first journalist to die as she did, fired on at a riot scene, yet all of us, of my generation anyway, have been to riots and at least not got killed.

This was incongruous in another way. I didn't think of Lyra as a frontline news reporter in that way. She hadn't been tweeting from the heart of bother the way, for instance, Belfast Telegraph photographer Kevin Scott routinely does. Her work was more like my own, based on interviews and research and analysis.

Whenever she phoned me up to discuss stories it wasn't with a suggestion of going to dangerous places and side-stepping petrol bombs, it was about who she should talk to, where she could find so and so.

We had the same publisher and met up in London last year at the Faber & Faber party for authors. We had the same editor, Laura Hassan, and Laura talked about how impressed she was with Lyra but how vulnerable she looked. She asked me if I would keep an eye out for her, but I put that down to editors in London being a bit dazzled by what's ordinary here.

Still, I thought that if Lyra got herself into bother it would be by annoying someone by her enthusiastic probing, not by stopping a bullet at a riot scene.

Or by being tactless or getting things wrong through being young and inexperienced, not that old hands don't get things wrong too.

There has been a change in the way in which people like Lyra find their way into journalism.

In the past you started out on a newsdesk with other professionals around you. You learnt from watching them as much as from seeking advice from them.

Journalism has been casualised. Lyra was a self-starter from outside the professional structures. Her tools were the social media. She was fascinated by the past but that past was meant to be over.

Her involvement in journalism was to be an adventure that would take her places. It wasn't meant to be a face-on confrontation with forces that might destroy her.

She knew the value of making contact with other journalists and we have seen in the tributes to her how many of them regarded her as a friend, admired her and encouraged her.

There wasn't much that experience could have taught her that would have kept her out of the way of that bullet if she was really determined to see that riot but the danger could have been made more plain to her.

The police had gone into the Creggan because they knew there were guns there.

They had been fired on before in a Derry riot.

Nothing justifies anyone being surprised that shots were fired that night or that they were fired recklessly for that was true of last year's shooting too.

So what are the lessons?

First, that the new wave of self-starting journalists making their hopeful ways into freelance careers through social media and blogging do not have the cover of experienced colleagues that we had.

We have seen in other war zones how people have set off with portable kit in the hopes of getting pictures and stories that they could sell and got themselves into deep trouble.

If trouble resumes here then that will be a greater feature of it than it ever was before.

But there is another level on which the death of Lyra was incredible. This is not her war.

Her causes were contemporary, like Pride, suicide in her own traumatised second generation from the Troubles.

The young man who shot her, clinging to a defunct ideology, could not have been aiming his gun at anyone whose response to the past was less like his own, or at anyone who would be more interested in comprehending how that ideology had come to be fossilised in his young brain.

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