News Letter journalist PHILIP BRADFIELD gives a personal account of the journalist he knew, and the legacy she leaves behind for NI
As I flicked open my phone on Friday morning, my eyes fell on the words... ‘Lyra McKee... condolences... killed’.
“Funny,” I said to myself. “I know someone called Lyra McKee.” Then the word ‘journalist’ crossed before my eyes. It seemed so surreal. Impossible. But it was true.
I met Lyra for the first time some years ago at a data journalism seminar. Ever since it seemed impossible to meet her without an all-enveloping hug. Smiling, effervescent, always positive, always caring.
Part of her disarming charm was that her life – and her heart – were open books. All the more surprising, perhaps, because she grew up in Belfast and was openly gay.
She was quite open about the challenges this brought in her formative years. And also about the real challenges she faced in taking an innovative and successful path to becoming an international journalist, author and speaker. At 29.
Perhaps what made Lyra unique was that she decided these challenges would make her a better person. While she wore her values on her sleeve – she was a passionate advocate for LGBT rights – she also worked at maintaining genuine friendships with people who held very different views on this and other issues.
One example of how she worked at bridging political gaps was how she, an Ardoyne native, approached the son of the late firebrand UUP MP Harold McCusker to find out more about the Twelfth. Son Colin McCusker said Lyra had joined his family for the Twelfth in 2014 in his home and at the field, and were still friends. “It was a memorable and special occasion,” he said.
And that really summed up the Lyra I knew. She was secure enough in herself that – without compromising anything – she unconditionally accepted others, even if their backgrounds or values were different, or even contrary, to her own.
One Lyra investigation, typically shining a light on the tragically vulnerable, concluded that since the Good Friday Agreement, more people in NI had died by taking their own lives than were killed in the Troubles.
Little did she know that on the anniversary of that deal in 2019, the world – literally – would be waking up with her name on their lips. A Nolan Show caller, paying tribute, said the involuntary sacrifice of the Omagh Bomb victims had created the atmosphere to make the Good Friday Agreement work. And perhaps in the same way, he said, it would take Lyra’s involuntary sacrifice to bring NI once again to its senses.
Lyra herself once said in an interview: “The true test of the Christian spirit is how you treat your enemies.”
Her legacy is surely the manner with which her life – and death – has now passed that baton on to all of us that she has left behind.