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Lyra McKee funeral: ‘Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman to get us to this point?'

 The coffin is carried from the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Maeve Connolly, Neil Crossey, Claire Simpson

LYRA McKee's funeral has heard Catholic priest Fr Martin Magill challenge politicians on why it took the 29-year-old's death to bring them together.

Ms McKee was shot dead by dissident republicans as she observed a riot in Derry's Creggan estate on April 18. New IRA has admitted her murder and offered "sincere apologies".

A vigil was held in the Creggan the day after her death and among those who addressed the crowd were DUP leader Arlene Foster, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald and Ms McKee's partner, Sara Canning.

Speaking at Ms McKee's funeral in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast this afternoon, Fr Magill urged dissident republican groups to “take the road of non violence” and to the sound of applause from inside and outside the cathedral asked a question of politicians.

"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 us to this point?’"

His question earned a standing ovation from the congregation.

Fr Magill described Ms McKee's death as a "huge injustice"', adding that in death she had "united people of many different backgrounds, as further evidenced by this diverse congregation at her funeral".

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'’.”

Fr Magill commended people in Creggan who have contacted police since Ms McKee’s death and urged others to do the same in order to “see a new society built on justice and fairness, on hope and not fear”.

To more applause, he quoted one of Ms McKee’s friends in Derry who said: "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."

 Lyra McKee has been remembered as someone who built bridges at her funeral service in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Brian Lawless, PA Wire

Mourners heard many different tributes to Ms McKee who was from north Belfast and had recently moved to Derry to set up a home with Ms Canning.

Older sister Nichola Corner said "she was and always will be our baby" and her death had created "an unfillable hole in our mum's life".

Ms McKee was the youngest of six children and spoke to her mother "at least 50 times a day". The pair "were like Velcro", she added.

Ms Corner also spoke of the relationship between her sister and partner Sara Canning, who she described as another sister welcomed into the extended family.

She described how Ms McKee had rang her one night to say "I think I've found the one".

Ms McKee would be remembered as "an inspiration to many people" whose life story was all about "rising above or pushing against external challenges", she added.

Quoting her sister, Ms Corner told mourners: "In the words of Lyra herself, we must change our own world, one piece at a time. Now let's get to work."

After delivering her powerful and humorous eulogy, the congregation gave Ms Corner a standing ovation.

In his introductory comments, Dean Stephen Forde said: "Lyra was a person who broke down barriers and reached across boundaries. This was her hallmark in life, this is her legacy in death."

A mourner wearing a Gryffindor scarf holds an order of service as she arrives for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Ms McKee's friend Stephen Lusty delivered a eulogy filled with anecdotes which caused laughter to ring out in the cathedral.

He said Ms McKee's "starlight" filled St Anne's and spoke of a smart, feisty and compassionate friend who had loyally supported him through dark times.

Mr Lusty said his friend was planning to propose to Ms Canning next month and had shown him pictures of the engagement ring she had chosen.

"She made me put a date in my diary for the wedding in Donegal in 2022 and gave me strict instructions to wear my kilt, which she always wanted to borrow, adorn it with some Harry Potter, and to find or re-find my own version of Sara."

She was, in his words, a "new age punk", the embodiment of the Troubles-era band Stiff Little Fingers' Alternative Ulster hit.

"She embodied the future of finding commonality, enjoying difference in others."

Ms McKee's lasting legacy should be peace, he added.

"We have two choices, we can look into the holes and wait forever... or we can fill those holes today.

"Today we grieve but tomorrow let us fill that hole by adopting Lyra's future and vision."

Read more: Lyra McKee's murder has brought about a sea change - PSNI

Mourners began arriving at St Anne's Cathedral more than an hour before the service which had been described as a celebration of the 29-year-old's life. Hundreds of mourners unable to find a seat in the cathedral stood outside, listening to the service being broadcast over a PA system and joining in the prayers and some hymns.

They broke into applause as the funeral cortege arrived at the church at 12.35pm and again there was applause as Ms McKee's remains were carried into St Anne's for the 1pm service.

Wreaths on the hearse spelt out Team Lyra in the rainbow colours of the LGBTQIA community.

 Flowers spell out Team Lyra in the rainbow colours of the LGBTQIA community. Picture by Liam McBurney, PA Wire

Many young people wore scarves and t-shirts representing Ms McKee's love of Harry Potter and Marvel books and films. Some also had rainbow flags around their shoulders and clutched bunches of flowers.

Dignitaries in attendance included Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, President Michael D Higgins, Taniaste Simon Coveney, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Politicians from all the main parties were also present, including DUP leader Arlene Foster, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and her deputy Michelle O'Neill, the SDLP's Colum Eastwood, Alliance leader Naomi Long and UUP leader Robin Swann.

After the funeral, as the dignitaries stood by the steps of the cathedral members of the public approached Theresa May and shook her hand.

Members of the National Union of Journalists formed a guard of honour as Ms McKee's coffin was brought to the waiting hearse.

 

Members of the public shake hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May after the funeral. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Lyra McKee was shot dead in Derry's Creggan estate on Thursday April 18

 

 

 Sara Canning, the partner of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, spoke at a rally in Derry's Creggan estate on April 19. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

 Friends arrive for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Ahead of laying their loved one to rest Lyra McKee's family released a statement asking people to respect her philosophy which was that "the only way to overcome hatred and intolerance is with love, understanding and kindness".

"We ask everyone who knew Lyra to continue her message of positivity and hope, by respecting her memory with dignity and respect. We as a family know that the whole community has been touched by the events of Thursday night and that many are rightly angry.

"However, we would ask that Lyra's life and her personal philosophy are used as an example to us all as we face this tragedy together. Lyra's answer would have been simple, the only way to overcome hatred and intolerance is with love, understanding and kindness."

Read more: 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 The hearse carrying the remains of Lyra McKee arrives at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney, PA Wire

 Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
 

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