Lyra McKee funeral: British and Irish political leaders join murdered journalist's loved-ones in Belfast – as priest calls for shooting to mark 'new beginning'
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Lyra McKee funeral: British and Irish political leaders join murdered journalist's loved-ones in Belfast – as priest calls for shooting to mark 'new beginning'

HUNDREDS of mourners joined political leaders from across the UK and Ireland at St Anne' s Cathedral in Belfast this afternoon for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President of Ireland Michael D Higgins ahead of the service – while DUP leader Arlene Foster sat with Sinn Féin leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill for the celebration of Ms McKee's life.

A number of Ms McKee's family and friends wore Harry Potter and Marvel Comics costumes to reflect her love of both, while members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) formed a guard of honour as their slain colleague's coffin entered the cathedral to applause.

Mc McKee, 29, was shot dead on Thursday night amid rioting in the Creggan area of Derry – a killing admitted to by the New IRA and condemned around the world.

Chief among the mourners at Wednesday's interfaith ceremony were Ms McKee's partner Sara Canning, mother Joan, brothers Gary and David and sisters Joan, Nichola and Mary.

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Catholic priest Fr Martin Magill called on those in attendance to work together to ensure that the killing marks a new beginning for Northern Ireland.

He urged leaders from all sides of Stormont's suspended power-sharing executive to bring the political impasse which started in January 2017 to an end and cooperate for a better future.

The congregation rose to their feet in applause as he 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 us to this point?"

LGBT activists were among the mourners in Belfast on Wednesday afternoon (Image: RollingNews.ie)

"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.

"To those who had any part in her murder, I encourage you to reflect on Lyra McKee, journalist and writer, as a powerful example of 'The pen is mightier than the sword'. I plead with you to take the road of non-violence to achieve your political ends.

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"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."

Fr Magill added that he had "no idea" what Ms McKee's partner Sara must have experienced since the fatal shots rang out in Derry's Creggan estate last Thursday.

"I can't begin to imagine what you Lyra's mum, and you her sisters and brothers must have gone through when Sara phoned to tell you Lyra had been shot," he continued.

"I can't imagine the agony of your drive to Altnagelvin Area Hospital knowing that Lyra had died".

The priest said he met Ms McKee on several occasions and regaled the congregation with stories of her love for the Harry Potter series, Roald Dahl's The Twits, and journalism.

"Let me give a brief overview of Lyra’s life. She was born on March 31, 1990. She attended Holy Family PS just off the Limestone Road. In her early days at school, she struggled with reading and required extra support," Fr Magill explained.

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Lyra, 29, was remembered as a "gentle, innocent soul" (Image: RollingNews.ie)

"Her interest in journalism began at the age of 14 when she wrote for the school newspaper. Shortly afterwards Lyra became involved in a charity called 'The Headliners' – which gives young people a voice by using journalism and media as a tool for learning and campaigning.

"This project played an important part in her being awarded the Sky News Young Journalist Award 2006. After school and further education, Lyra studied online journalism at Birmingham City University graduating with an MA degree.

"Over the years her writing has won her much acclaim such as her letter when she was 24 to her 14 year old self about growing up as gay in Belfast.

"And in 2016, aged just 25, she was acknowledged internationally as an exceptional achiever with an exciting future by Forbes magazine in their 30 under 30 list because of her work as an investigative reporter."

Fr Magill also described his most recent exchange with Ms McKee, on Twitter at the end of March.

She tweeted him with a humorous photo of her dressed in a nun's veil and a glass of cider, with the message: "Got roped into performing as part of a Sister Act tribute act for Foyle Hospice. Hey @MartinJMagill, you need any help with mass tomorrow?"

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In an emotional plea, the clergyman added: "We need to send a very different message and so I appeal to those who have information about Lyra's murder but who haven't yet come forward to do so now.

"If you want to see an end to these brutal rules, and see a new society built on justice and fairness, on hope and not fear, then you can help build that society by letting the police know what you know."

Three people have been arrested over the murder, but all have since been released without charge.

Ms McKee was a top young journalist who featured in Forbes' 30 under 30 in media 2016 list (Image: Twitter)

Ms McKee's friend Stephen Lusty delivered an anecdote-filled eulogy which brought laughter from every corner of the packed cathedral.

He said her "starlight" filled St Anne's as he spoke of how the world had been robbed of a young talent destined to become a stateswoman.

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

"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."

Paying tribute to her little sister, Nichola Corner said "she was and always will be our baby" as she was the youngest of six children.

She added that her sister and her mother "were like Velcro" and spoke on the phone constantly, with her death creating "an unfillable hole in our mum's life".

Ms Corner further urged people throughout Northern Ireland to create a new society in her sister's memory, before the conclusion of her speech was greeted by a standing ovation.

Several songs were performed during the emotional service, including an acapella rendition of Dreams by Limerick band The Cranberries.

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Ms McKee grew up in north Belfast and had recently moved to Derry to set up a home with her partner Sara when she was shot dead.

She is survived by her partner, her mother and five siblings.