Haunting words of murdered journalist Lyra McKee fill every corner of St Anne's Cathedral at her poignant funeral
THE inspirational words of murdered journalist Lyra McKee filled every corner of St Anne's Cathedral yesterday as mourners at her funeral heard how "we must change our own world, one piece at a time".
Tears and laughter combined to create a poignant, moving service of remembrance for a young north Belfast woman described as someone who "broke down barriers and reached across boundaries".
The service of thanksgiving at the Belfast cathedral saw leaders of British and Irish political parties join figures from across Northern Ireland's divide to mourn the loss of the 29-year-old, shot dead by dissident republicans in Derry while observing rioting.
Crowds had gathered from early, some wearing Harry Potter scarves and others clutching the rainbow flags of gay pride. At 12.45pm, the cathedral fell silent as Ms McKee's devastated family and partner Sara took their seats at the helm of the iconic church.
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British Prime Minister Theresa May emerged minutes later from the Chapel of Unity and approaching the family, kneeled down to Ms McKee's mother to pay her respects before shaking hands with family members.
In a service "fitting of a stateswoman", a procession of dignitaries were led into the church.
Belfast lord mayor Deirdre Hargey, Irish minister for children, Katherine Zappone, Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney and UK secretary of state Karen Bradley all took their seats in the second row.
Taosieach Leo Varadkar then led the way into the first row, followed by Mrs May, President Michael D Higgins and Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle.
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Also in attendance was DUP leader Arlene Foster, who was seated beside Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill.
UUP leader Robin Swann, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and former SDLP politician Mark Durkan were there as well as Green party leader Claire Bailey, Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson, the DUP's Gregory Campbell and Diane Dodds, UUP's Danny Kennedy and Speaker of the Assembly Robin Newton.
PSNI chief constable George Hamilton, deputy chief constable Stephen Martin were also in the congregation as well as clergymen Rev Harold Good and Rev Ken Newell, Ann Travers, whose sister was shot dead by IRA gunmen in 1984, and Toni Ogle, daughter of murder victim Ian Ogle.
The angelic voices of the cathedral choir heralded the beginning of the service shortly after 1pm as the doors were opened and the applause from the crowds gathered outside filtered through the building as Ms McKee's coffin was carried in.
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Her mother Joan broke down in tears as her daughter's coffin was placed at the altar, as Dean Stephen Forde told the congregation they had gathered to "remember a talented and fearless young woman".
"Lyra was a person who broke down barriers and reached across boundaries," he said.
"This was her hallmark in life, this is her legacy in death".
As the first hymn ' How Great Thou Art' was played, Ms McKee's partner broke down and hugged family and friends beside her, many who had worn specially designed 'Team Lyra' t-shirts.
A tribute read by Ms McKee's friend Stephen Lusty drew much applause as he described her as "smart, kind, passionate, interesting, fiesty, generous, funny, truly compassionate".
He said her "starlight" filled the cathedral and she "embodied the future of finding commonality, enjoying difference in others".
He told mourners they had been robbed of a talent "destined to become a stateswoman", with only holes left behind adding that her lasting legacy should be peace.
"Today we grieve but tomorrow let us fill that hole by adopting Lyra's future and vision."
Mr Lusty also said his friend was planning to propose to her partner and marry in Donegal in 2022.
Her sister Nichola Corner received a standing ovation after quoting the murdered journalist's words: "In the words of Lyra herself, we must change our own world, one piece at a time. Now let's get to work".
She said "Lyra was an inspiration to many people" adding "who knew one day she would be writing books and making such a lasting mark on the world".
She described her younger sister as the "kindest and most gentle person the world will never forget" and said every single person should get the chance to grow up and make their dreams come true.
"This is Lyra's legacy and we must carry it forward," she said.
But it was parish priest Fr Martin Magill's address that had the most challenging message, receiving a standing ovation when he asked mourners why it took her murder to unite political parties.
"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 said.
Fr Magill said: "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."
He added: "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."
He said since the killing, many had condemned the culture of violence and coercive control practised by dissidents.
"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," he said.
"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."
The priest also made a direct appeal to the north's political leaders to break the Stormont negotiations impasse.
"I pray that Lyra's murder may be the catalyst needed for parties to start talking, to reform that which was corrosive in previous assemblies and to begin anew".