Published: 20 April 2019

Lyra McKee gives her TED Talk at Stormont in November 2017

Lyra McKee gives her TED Talk at Stormont in November 2017

Lyra had such a genius for friendship and such an extraordinary ability to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds – and even sexual inclinations – that there’s people queuing up to share grief and stories about this tiny, gifted dynamo.

Like everyone who knew her well – and many who didn’t – I’m shocked and devastated.

I’ve been writing and talking about her non-stop since I heard the awful news yesterday morning because she is a rare shining creature we should not let fade out of national consciousness.

This murder is a terrible waste of a wonderful human being, but in her cruelly short life she had achieved a great deal and we must celebrate that.

So here are a few of my early thoughts about her.

If you’re my height, you take pleasure in having the occasional friend you can literally look down on, so I used to call her Midget, which she accepted with her customary good humour.

As I look back on our several years of friendship, it’s her energy and the bewildering range of her activities that immediately come to mind.

I like to keep up with my friends, but Lyra seemed always to be doing eight things at once and embarking on even more.

I would find I had completely missed extraordinary events like her TED Talk in 2017 on how gay people should counter religious bigotry by holding out the hand of friendship rather than being offended and abusive.

What was more, her various activities were sometimes hard to get a grip on.

Initially it took quite a bit of time to work out why someone who was eight when the Troubles ended and was brought up in a Catholic, republican area should be have been determined to write a book about the 1981 murder of the Reverend Robert Bradford despite having no guarantee that the evidence was there to get at the truth.

“But, Midget,” I would cry, after she told me of another disappointment, “that’s another cul-de-sac. Are you sure there’s any point in going ahead?”

Yet her enthusiasm was infectious and I came to grasp that the mysteries she identified had to be examined, and she understood that past events cast a terrible shadow on the present and therefore could not be ignored whatever the difficulties.

To her, it was vital to get at the truth about the past in order better to understand the present.

We talked about the Bradford book a lot, looking at different ways of circumventing the frustrations that she regularly faced.

I ended up involved in helping persuade people to crowd-fund what was published as Angels With Blue Faces. I don’t think I even raised an eyebrow when she said she was embarking on a book about boys who had simply disappeared during the Troubles and about whom she knew almost nothing.

By then I accepted that this wee creature had the doggedness, stubbornness and imagination to be a remarkable investigative journalist.

Many such people are also arrogant and ruthless, yet I knew her to be humble and compassionate, as well as confident and single-minded.

Combined with her exceptional talent as a writer, I knew that combination of qualities should make her a winner.

When, in 2016, Forbes magazine included her in a list of the 30 most influential media figures under 30 in Europe, they observed that “McKee’s passion is to dig into topics that others don’t care about”.

She had a totally original take on aspects of the past terrible decades and the way in which an event in the 1980s could lead to a tragedy decades later, and Faber & Faber had the sense to see her promise and back what will be published as The Lost Boys.

For me, probably my most treasured memories are of sitting with her on her own in Belfast or London as we chewed over something difficult or giggled over something funny.

Almost always there would be the moment when she’d excuse herself to make a call to her adored mother, whose prime carer she was, to check that she was taking her medication or to enquire if the cat had recovered from whatever was wrong with it.

It may sound corny, but Lyra’s life – though driven by her journalistic passion – was centred around love.

Love for her mother, for her family, for her friends, latterly for her partner Sara, and also for those victims everyone had forgotten about.

A few years ago, in an article about the state of Northern Ireland, she wrote: “Just because we’re not at war any more doesn’t mean the shadow of the gunman has left the room.”

He certainly hadn’t.

As Sinn Fein queue up to condemn Lyra’s murder, we should remember that the IRA presently killing and mutilating in Northern Ireland learnt their hideous business at the knees of the leaders of the Provisional IRA, who have been eulogised by Mary Lou McDonald and her colleagues.

That is the Provisional IRA who visited on many tens of thousands in the past the misery now being experienced by those who admired and loved wee Lyra McKee.

We will not let her be airbrushed out of history.

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