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Attitude Pride Awards: The journalist and activist lost to an act of senseless violence

Lyra McKee was using her work to change Northern Ireland for the better before her tragic death in April 2019.

2019-07-05

Lyra McKee, a 29-year-old journalist whose work on Irish politics and The Troubles had been published by the likes of BuzzFeed, Private Eye and The Atlantic, had been fast making a name for herself as one of Northern Ireland's brightest young writers.

In 2014, a blog post entitled 'Letter to my 14-year-old self', in which she described the challenges of growing up gay in Belfast, had made waves across the country and beyond, and was subsequently made into a short film.

Her 2017 TEDTalk, which has been viewed almost 150,000 times on YouTube, poignantly adressed the Orlando Pulse massacre as she urged faith groups to rethink their teaching on LGBTQ people.

"Lyra's activism was a quiet activism," says her partner Sara Canning. "She used her story, and her voice, to do good."

When Attitude meets Sara, a 35-year-old nurse, from Derry, Northern Ireland, little more than three weeks have passed since her partner Lyra was shot and killed while observing rioting by dissident youths in the city's severely deprived Creggan estate.

The pair had discussed marriage and Lyra was to propose on a trip to New York the pair were set to embark on just days after the riot broke out. 

In both her life and work, Lyra represented the new, modern Ireland: one of openness and inclusivity. It made it all the more cruel that it was wounds from her country's troubled past which would ultimately lead to her death.

"I don't know if I'll ever come to terms with it," Sara says. "I wake up every morning and I reach for her side of the bed."

Lyra's shocking death sparked an outpouring of grief from across the UK, the world, and Ireland's polarised political spectrum. 

While an intensely personal tragedy, it was one which also threw into stark relief long-held divisions which, as Brexit continues to loom heavy on the horizon and Northern Ireland approaches two and a half years without a functioning government at Stormont, look set to become ever-more inflamed.

Theresa May was among the leaders from across the political specturm who came together for Lyra's funeral at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast a week after her death.

"I said to her: 'Don't tell us about devolved issues, because we're not devolved [at the moment]. You have to be our government" Sara recalls.

"My overall message for everyone I spoke to that day was that you need to do better. You need to up your game. Northern Irleand has been left to flounder."

The New IRA, who claimed repsonsbility for Lyra's death, have apologised to Sara and Lyra's family for what happened on the Creggan estate that night. But the police are yet to charge anyone in connection with the killing.

"What they did was take away somebody who had an amazing life ahead of her - hopefully with me - who had so many stories left to tell." Sara says. "She looked out for the disenfranchised, she wanted to make a difference - and they took that away.

"She changed a lot of hearts and minds. That's going to be her legacy."

Listen to Lyra and Sara's story below: