The funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee brought together leaders from across the political divide today, including the heads of Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party whose power-sharing deal has broken down.
The DUP’s Arlene Foster sat next to Sinn Fein leaders Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, where the funeral for McKee, who was shot dead in Creggan, Derry, last week, began at 1pm.
The devolved assembly and executive in Northern Ireland collapsed more than two years ago and has yet to sit since as a result of ongoing disagreements between the rival Irish republican and unionist parties.
The funeral was also attended by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Irish Taioseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar, with more than 50 members of the National Union of Journalists forming a guard of honour for McKee’s body.
At the same time, a vigil was held in London where McKee was remembered as a “brilliant young, working class, lesbian woman journalist” with a “bright future ahead of her”.
To a standing ovation, Father Martin Magill told mourners in Belfast: “We have seen the coming together of so many people in various place sand the unifying of the community against violence. I commend our political leaders for standing together in Creggan on Good Friday.
“I am however left with a question. 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?”
He later added: “I pray that Lyra’s murder may be the catalyst needed for parties to start talking.”
McKee’s older sister Nichola Corner, one of five surviving siblings, referenced Harry Potter’s Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore in her address, a nod to the books of which McKee was a huge fan, as many of her friends also wore clothing inspired by the series for the service.
“Let’s face it: none of us will ever be the same again,” Corner said. “We have all been changed by the events of last Thursday.
“We don’t have Dumbledore’s time turner that will enable us to change the past. But within each of us we have the power to create the kind of society that Lyra envisioned.
“One where labels are meaningless. One where every single person is valued. One where every single child gets the chance to grow up and to make their dreams come true. This is Lyra’s legacy that we must carry forward.”
McKee’s close friend Stephen Lusty described her as someone who had “many friends drawn from all walks of life – all shapes, all sizes, all genders, interests and views were welcomed”.
Remembrance services were held simultaneously across the UK for McKee, including in Glasgow, Derry and in London, where some 60 people gathered for a vigil at journalists’ church St Bride’s in Fleet Street.
Twenty-nine candles were lit in front of the altar at St Bride’s (pictured below) to symbolise each year of McKee’s life.
And her poignant letter to her 14-year-old self, written in 2014, about being gay and her future in journalism, was read out.
The vigil was one of a number organised by the NUJ, of which McKee was a freelance member.
NUJ president Sian Jones told the Fleet Street gathering that the “brave” and “authentic” McKee’s life was “cut short, but her work and legacy will live on”.
“Lyra is one of 14 journalists who have been killed across the world this year,” she said.
“Those statistics are rarely something we associate with our work in the UK – so often easily explained or ‘othered’ as killings in far-away conflict zones. But not on this occasion.”
Jones added: “Lyra was an authentic voice who could explain her world to us and draw us into it. She was a rare talent. She was killed last Thursday by people whose story she was attempting to tell.”
Steve Bird, the NUJ’s father of the chapel at the Financial Times, told Press Gazette he was pleased the vigil could take place at the journalists’ church.
“There’s been such an outpouring of love and support for Lyra and it’s really symbolic of the feeling in Northern Ireland at the moment that people are so angry and desperately don’t want to go back to that kind of sectarianism.
“She’s like a beacon of hope so it’s really good we can celebrate this.”
Newsrooms across the UK have also shared moments of silence and applause in solidarity under the hashtag #WeStandWithLyra.
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) April 24, 2019
QRadio Journalists have this morning observed a minute’s silence in memory of murdered Journalist Lyra McKee ahead of her funeral in Belfast. Lyra, 29, was shot dead in Derry- Londonderry last week whilst reporting on a riot in the Creggan area. #WeStandWithLyra @NUJofficial pic.twitter.com/GB4h2auV7S
— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) April 24, 2019
— Rupert Evelyn (@rupertevelyn) April 24, 2019
— The Bureau (@TBIJ) April 24, 2019
In Cork, journalists (incl. @NUJofficial members) & non-journalists alike say #WeStandWithLyra Anyone can say same by signing the Book of Condolence for Lyra McKee opened by Lord Mayor @mickfinn01 in Cork City Hall (Anglesea Street) until May 7 @LyraMcKee #LyraMcKee pic.twitter.com/MKcfk9mfFb
— Niall Murray (@niallmurray1) April 24, 2019
Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire