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

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

The spontaneous applause was echoing around the vaulted Cathedral and mourners were on their feet before the full sentence had even been uttered.

In commending political leaders for standing together in Derry on Good Friday in the wake of Lyra McKee's brutal and senseless murder, Fr Martin Magill posed the one question everyone wanted to ask: "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?"

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou-McDonald and her DUP counterpart Arlene Foster, who sat side-by-side in the third row, slowly got to their feet and reluctantly joined in with the standing ovation, almost the last to do so of the 600 people who had come to celebrate a short, but incredibly impactful life.

DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sin Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sin Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

It was a surreal moment.

But it was just one of many symbolic gestures during the funeral of Lyra McKee, a journalist, daughter, partner, campaigner, friend and talented writer who packed so much into her short life.

The hearse carrying the body of murdered journalist Lyra McKee arrives at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
The hearse carrying the body of murdered journalist Lyra McKee arrives at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Two pews ahead, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stood with British prime minister Theresa May, President Michael D Higgins and the Queen's representative Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle.

The congregation was led by Ms McKee's partner Sara Canning, her mother Joan McKee, brothers Gary and David and sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary.

President Michael D Higgins comforts Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning outside the church. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
President Michael D Higgins comforts Lyra McKee's partner Sara Canning outside the church. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

"Lyra had many friends, drawn from all walks of life, all shapes, all sizes, genders, interests and views were welcomed," her friend Stephen Lusty told the congregation, the description clear to be seen from the crowd.

Indeed Nichola Corner described her little sister Lyra as someone who wanted to "create a society where labels are meaningless".

But it was the politicians present, who with a dogged stubbornness have left Northern Ireland without an Assembly for more than two years, that Fr Magill wanted to address.

Since Ms McKee's death many have suggested that this dreadful act could mark a turning point in the political deadlock and this was echoed by Fr Magill.

"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.

"One of Lyra’s friends was reported as saying: ‘We have had enough. There is a younger generation coming up in the town and they don't need guns put in their hands," said the priest, as this time, the clapping began to ripple from outside St Anne's Cathedral in central Belfast where hundreds more people had gathered, many wearing Harry Potter scarves, Marvel T-shirts and LGBT colours to honour Lyra.

"As our politicians we need you to be working together to make that happen so that especially for those living in deprived areas, they will feel the peace process is working for them as well – and especially for young people living in these communities," said Fr Magill.

Floral tributes at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Floral tributes at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Her playful and mischievous spirit was remembered as Fr Magill told the crowd of their last exchange on twitter just last month when Lyra tweeted him with a photo of herself dressed in a nun’s veil with a glass of cider accompanied with the words: ‘Got roped into performing as part of a Sister Act tribute act for Foyle Hospice. Hey @MartinJMagill, you need any help with mass tomorrow?’

This and other anecdotes from those who spoke gave an insight into a "gentle, innocent soul" whose "desire to bring people together made her totally apolitical".

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

The tears of the many young people in attendance highlighted the deep injustice of the cutting short of a life which was full of potential and future dreams.

Ending his eulogy Fr Magill made one last plea: "I know you as politicians have a very difficult job to do but then so too did Lyra. There is another valuable lesson from her life - she was like ‘a dog with a bone’ when she believed she could make a difference. When it comes to our peace process, I would love to see this dogged attitude to the rebuilding of an Assembly that works for the common good.

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.

The appeal again drew applause from mourners.

And so it was like a kick in the gut to see Mary Lou-McDonald and Arlene Foster exit the church separately, both women refusing to make eye contact or appear together in front of the crowd.

The glimmer of hope shown from the pair in Creggan last week and again when they sung hymns together inside the cathedral had, in that moment, been quenched.

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

The applause, which seemed to will a new dawn for Northern Ireland, an inclusive, accepting and united Northern Ireland that Lyra wanted so much, almost forgotten.

Quoting Lyra's own words Ms Corner told mourners: "We must change our own world, one piece at a time. Now let's get to work."

We can now only hope that decades and centuries of hatred have not left us with political ears that simply cannot or will not hear the applause and listen to these words.

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