The panicked phone call that began, “Lyra’s been hit in the head… the police have taken her to the hospital…” late on April 18, 2019, threw my family into a nightmarish reality from which we cannot awake. Three years have passed since the murder of our youngest sister, Lyra McKee, yet the excruciating pain of our great loss remains the same.
yra was an incredibly caring and thoughtful person who was always looking out for others. Ever since Lyra could speak, she was driven by a deep sense of justice and an even deeper need to understand what motivated people to do the things that they do.
As an uncommonly curious and empathetic person, “Why?” was the question that was always on Lyra’s lips and she genuinely wanted to know the answer. As she began building her career, Lyra used her work and her growing influence as a means to help other people; giving a voice to the forgotten and unheard.
As the youngest of six, Lyra was our mother’s “blue eye” — they were inseparable. Lyra took great pride in our mother’s strength of character and her ability to raise her children single-handedly despite the social and economic circumstances that surrounded our family. To tell you the truth, we are all intensely proud. Tragically, despite our mother’s great strength, she died of a broken heart less than a year after Lyra’s murder — adding further to our immense grief.
It’s still hard to believe that Lyra isn’t here. It’s still hard to believe that she was shot dead. It’s still hard to believe that everything that has happened over the past three years was anything but a bad dream. Strangely, I still often feel like I will wake up from that nightmare and Lyra will come bounding into my house excitedly telling me about her latest discovery or I will answer the phone to her voice saying, “Nic, you’re never going to believe the dream I had last night…” but it is the reality — Lyra was murdered and we can’t escape from it.
Although Lyra is never far from our thoughts, anniversaries hold particular significance for families and friends. Due to pandemic restrictions over the past two years, Monday was the first anniversary where family and friends could come together to pay tribute to Lyra. After attending vigils organised by the National Union of Journalists, we had planned to quietly mark this day by laying wreaths near to where Lyra’s life was taken on Fanad Drive and at her final resting place. Sadly, our peaceful and dignified intentions were marred by the deplorable actions of others.
As we joined Father Joe Gormley in prayer on Fanad Drive at midday, republican bands began banging their drums nearby, interrupting the solemnity of our prayerful vigil. If that wasn’t bad enough, as we left the place where terrorists stole the life of our precious Lyra, the drumming stopped — a coincidence? I find it hard to believe.
In fact, I believe that this action was deliberate and sparked by objections to a republican commemoration parade that was being organised in collaboration with Saoradh for yesterday.
Was it unreasonable to ask that such a parade be deferred or brought forward to ensure that we could pay tribute to Lyra on her anniversary amid dignity? In 1916, the year apparently being honoured by such commemorations, Easter Monday was on April 24. But April 18 — Lyra’s anniversary — will always be April 18 — it will never change.
As we arrived back to Belfast to continue our tributes to Lyra in the city of her birth, we were saddened to hear about disorder up north once again and prayed that no one would find themselves being thrown into an unexpected nightmare akin to our own.
Sitting outside now with the twinkling stars trying to break through the cloudy night sky, Lyra’s immortal words ring in my ears: “Northern Ireland is a beautiful tragedy, strangled by the chains of its past. It’s a place full of darkness and mysteries. It’s also my home. Sometimes I love it and hate it in equal measure.”