Lyra McKee (1990 - 2019) - in memoriam

On Friday the unthinkable happened, while quickly checking over the news on my phone, the top story told me that Lyra McKee had been murdered in Derry. I didn't even get the second to think "surely some other Lyra McKee" because the photo was unmistakably THE Lyra - the Lyra I'd chatted to online on social media for nearly 5 years, the Lyra who had repeatedly sent kind thoughts whenever she thought I was upset.  The Lyra with whom a couple of times we had tried to meet up while she was quickly visiting Dublin, always falling apart on the day due to messy logistics.  THAT Lyra.

As I never had the choice of disbelief, my immediate instinct was anger: she wasn't just a random bystander, I thought, but someone targeted.  Unfortunately that is a narrative that has crept into many of the press reviews of Lyra.  But as more details came out, it became patently obvious that the target of the shooting was the local police who were policing a staged riot during which local people, out of natural curiosity, choose to onlook, and of whom, Lyra was unlucky enough to catch a stray bullet, seemingly in the head.  She barely made the rush to the nearest hospital before succumbing, leaving behind her a loving family, partner, friends and wider circle of more remote acquaintances, as well as readers who delighted in her presentation of "modern" Northern Ireland, a world generally away from riots and improvised petrol bombs.

The beauty of Lyra was her compassion, empathy and insight.  While she could dwell on intricate detail with ease, her real talent was describing and analysing the bigger picture.  This led her to report on stories nobody else bothered with: the high suicide rate of post troubles young men in the north, "disappeared" who had no apparent connection to paramillitarism, or the murder of Vanguard
Unionist MP Robert Bradford in 1981.  The latter was typical of Lyra: as someone who came from a "modern" NI background, having mixed religions in the family, she was capable of appreciating the nuances of both sides, not to mention the subtle eradication of class difference in NI political spheres.  It would be a pity if this work, literally within weeks of publication, would not be now printed.  It would be a fitting monument to Lyra for it to appear.

Lyra didn't have the bitterness many from NI (or indeed, the south) often have.  She didn't see the world through a simplistic lens based on religion, social class or politics.  Our main running private conversation about crap dates ended last year when she met Sara.  It should have been a big turning point in her life.  Sadly, that was not to be, as a gunman in Derry took her from those who loved her.

Lyra also has something in common with several others who died in the north - the circumstances of her murder were captured on camera by both CCTV and people capturing the riots on camera.  Unlike others, however, she wasn't another anonymous victim who only became known to the world because of her murder: she was already a well established and highly accomplished young writer.  Her loss is all of ours - but most particularly to Sara, and her family.  It is with deep sadness that we must say goodbye. Hopefully there is a big library in the afterlife waiting for more books for her to write. But we are still heartbroken and will miss her dreadfully.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam

LFF April 2019


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