The priest officiating at the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee today praised those people in Creggan who had come forward with information and urged other witnesses to do so.
Father Martin Magill, who knew Lyra, said the long-standing culture of fear and intimidation needed to be broken, as he also paid tribute to the “courage and determination” of the women who in a “very powerful gesture of non-violence, one by one placed their hands in blood red paint on a wall and said loudly ‘we are not afraid,’” at Junior McDaid house in Derry earlier this week.
Lyra McKee was an innocent bystander when she was shot and killed when a New IRA gunman opened fire during rioting in the Creggan area of Derry on Thursday night.
In his address, Fr. Magill said: “I commend the 140 plus people in Creggan who have contacted the police. There is a rule in many of our communities that we do not, we should not, give information to police and that, to do so is to become a ‘tout.’ But that was one of a number of rules - rules that also said that it was OK to brutalise children for petty crimes, or rules that say you can live in the locality until you are told you can’t, or rules that said that the only way we could gain ‘freedom’ was by other fellow-human beings losing their lives.
“But this week I have seen these rules turned on their head. I have seen many people stand up and condemn this culture of violence and coercive control. We need to send a very different message and so I appeal to those who have information about Lyra’s murder but who haven’t yet come forward to do so now.
“If you want to see an end to these brutal rules, and see a new society built on justice and fairness, on hope and not fear, then you can help build that society by letting the police know what you know. There will be special measures put in place to ensure your safety and where you will not be intimidated by coercive controllers, if you do so.”
Fr Magill was addressing mourners at St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast on Wednesday afternoon as he delivered the Reflection at the invitation of Dean Stephen Forde.
Addressing Lyra’s family and partner Sara Canning, he said: “I have no idea what you Sara, Lyra’s partner must have felt on Thursday night when those shots rang out and Lyra was hit and fell to the ground.
“I can’t begin to imagine what you Lyra’s mum, and you her sisters and brothers must have gone through when Sara phoned to tell you Lyra had been shot.
“I can’t imagine the agony of your drive to Altnagelvin hospital knowing that Lyra had died.
“Many of us here in this cathedral have been praying for you since we heard the dreadful news and will continue to do so.”
Speaking about the reaction he added: “Since the story of Lyra’s murder broke on Holy Thursday into Good Friday, there has been an enormous sense of grief and solidarity with you from many people at this huge injustice.
“Many, many wonderful things have been said about her including the warm and deserved tributes paid to her by the Secretary of State and by MPs of all parties in the House of Commons yesterday evening. In death Lyra, has united people of many different backgrounds, as further evidenced by this diverse congregation at her funeral.
“Like so many others I couldn’t believe it when I heard the 7am news on Good Friday morning that Lyra McKee had been shot dead the previous night.
“I’d met Lyra on several occasions, we had kept in contact by phone, ‘Whatsapp’, and Twitter. I would however have to confess that I wasn’t aware of her great love of Harry Potter. I hadn’t heard the term
‘Hufflepuff’ until I did an internet search and found this definition - ‘Hufflepuff is the most inclusive among the four houses; valuing hard work, dedication, patience, loyalty, and fair play.’ It struck me that the definition could just as easily have been about Lyra.
“Whilst Harry Potter didn’t feature in our conversations what did and it was our last exchange on Twitter at the end of March when Lyra tweeted me with a photo of herself dressed in a nun’s veil with a
glass of cider accompanied with these words: ‘Got roped into performing as part of a Sister Act tribute act for Foyle Hospice. Hey @MartinJMagill, you need any help with mass tomorrow?’”
Fr Magill said her interest in journalism began at the age of 14 when she wrote for the St Gemma’s school newspaper.
“Over the years her writing has won her much acclaim such as her letter when she was 24 to her 14 year old self about growing up as gay in Belfast. In 2016, aged just 25, she was acknowledged internationally as an exceptional achiever with an exciting future by Forbes magazine in their 30 under 30 list because of her work as an investigative reporter. Last month the Irish Times featured Lyra in an article considering the 10 rising stars of Irish writing. Her memory also lives on in her TEDx talk, “How uncomfortable conversations can save lives”, about the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Her book on
the murder of Rev Robert Bradford, the Member of Parliament for South Belfast, called Angels with Blue Faces was due to be published later this year.
“Lyra came to see me as part of her research on a book she was working on called Lost Boys. We met on several occasions and kept in contact.”
Fr Magill said he wanted to commend 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 us to this point?’
“I dare to hope that Lyra’s murder on Holy Thursday night can be the doorway to a new beginning. I detect a deep desire for this. One of Lyra’s friends was reported as saying: ‘We have had enough. There is a younger generation coming up in the town and they don’t need guns put in their hands. They need jobs, they need a better health service and education. They need a life, not a gun put in their hands.’
To those who had any part in her murder, I encourage you to reflect on Lyra McKee, journalist and writer as a powerful example of ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’. I plead with you to take the road of non violence to achieve your political ends.”