Northern Ireland news

West Belfast priest Martin Magill describes 'overwhelming' response to Lyra McKee funeral appeal

Fr Martin Magill received a standing ovation from mourners - which some politicians were slow to join in with - after delivering a powerful reflection during a funeral service for murdered journalist, Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral 
Marie Louise McConville

A WEST Belfast priest whose powerful words at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee prompted a standing ovation from mourners has described the reaction to his reflection as a "humbling experience".

Fr Martin Magill, parish priest at St John's on Falls Road, delivered a reflection during the service of thanksgiving for Ms McKee, who was shot and killed by dissident republicans during rioting in Derry last Thursday night.

The funeral at St Anne's Cathedral was attended by the north's political parties who have been united in their condemnation of the murder.

Fr Magill, who was a friend of the writer, asked: "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?"

The question prompted a standing ovation and applause from mourners both inside and outside the cathedral, including DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader Michelle O'Neill who appeared to momentarily stay in their seats before joining the standing ovation.

Read more: Lyra McKee funeral hears priest challenge politicians

Fr Magill described the response to his words as "overwhelming".

"Even in the cathedral itself, the number of people who came up to me afterwards and thanked me," he said.

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"It was a very positive response in the cathedral and then when I got back, I have not been able to respond to all the e-mails, tweets, Faceboook messages and WhatsApp messages. I have been inundated with messages."

He said he had also been contacted by many members of clergy from across the denominations.

"The number of priests that have made a point of contacting me I am specially grateful for," he said.

"They are saying well done and that I spoke well and they thanked me for my courageous words. Some of them said they were very proud. It has been very touching and affirming. An elderly priest from Dundalk rang me last night, another priest from Galway contacted me. I have had messages from all over the world, from Turkey for example and quite a number of places in the states.

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The priest said there has been "a very, very clear, consistent message ..... `Thank you for putting into words what so many of us have been thinking'.

"I think people desperately need leadership," he said.

However, he also revealed he had also received some criticism, adding it was "perfectly fine and healthy and to be expected".

The cleric said he didn't expect the standing ovation or applause.

"I was taken aback," he said.

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"I didn't see it coming".

In the aftermath of his comments, the priest, who was applauded when he arrived to con-celebrate morning Mass in his own parish yesterday morning, said he had a "gracious phone call" from Arlene Foster, had enjoyed a "friendly exchange" with Mary Lou McDonald.

"The whole experience of the response had been overwhelming, very, very humbling, embarrassing in some ways," he said.

Fr Magill revealed Lyra McKee's 11-year-old nephew had approached him at the graveside, shook his hand and told him he had "really put a good message out to people", while another 11-year-old parishioner had told her mother that Fr Magill had not made the comments "for himself - he did it for Lyra, her family and he did it for everybody. I'm really glad he did".

"That means something to me," he said.

"These two children have really got me. It doesn't get much better than that."

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