Lyra McKee: Journalist shot dead in Northern Ireland had 'found calling' in life

Hayley Dixon
Lyra McKee was killed whilst observing a riot in Derry - REX

Lyra McKee’s mother has always recalled that while other children would mumble “Mummy, Mummy” in their sleep, she heard her own daughter asking, “Why? Why?”

It was that curiosity that would lead Ms McKee to her calling in life, to try and tell the stories of those who did not have a voice.

As tributes poured in from across the world for the “rising star”, Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, was among those to described her as “a journalist of courage, style and integrity”.

But he had no doubt, he said, that it was her “commitment and passion” that led her to observe the riot which would claim her life.

Ms McKee grew in north Belfast, just off the Murder Mile which was so named because of the number killings on the road during the Troubles.

She was just four years old when the ceasefire was called and often wrote about how her own life and the lives of those around her were defined by the decades of violence that had gripped Northern Ireland.

“The Ceasefire Babies was what they called us. Those too young to remember the worst of the terror because we were either in nappies or just out of them when the Provisional IRA ceasefire was called,” she wrote in an article about the high suicide rates.

“We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us.”

She was raised a Catholic, but friends say that she never let the division lines that divided her city into her life, and paid no attention to age or religion instead wanting simply to be a good person. 

Ms McKee had recently moved to Derry to live with her partner, Sara, with whom it is said she was very much in love. 

As well as working as a freelance journalist she had almost finished her book, The Lost Boys, which was due to be published by Faber in 2020.

Lyra McKee has written about growing up gay and Catholic in a city scarred by the troubles  Credit: PSNI

She rose to prominence after writing a piece about growing up gay in Belfast called Letter To My 14 Year-Old Self which was subsequently turned into a short film.

She had struggled with coming out, she explained, and had thought as a child that she was would "go to hell" for her sexuality. 

But she reassures her teenage self that journalism will help her through, adding: “For the first time in your life, you will feel like you’re good at something useful. You’ll have found your calling.”

She finished the piece with the line: “Keep hanging on, kid. It’s worth it. I love you.”

In 2016, Forbes Magazine named her one of their 30 under 30 in media and she had written for a number of publications.

Angels With Blue Faces, a non-fiction book about the Troubles murder of South Belfast MP Rev Robert Bradford, was released in 2018.

Her literary agent, Will Francis, who described her as “gifted, brave, kind and funny”, said that her latest book was to explore the side effects of the conflict and the disappearance of children in the 1970s.

The night after her death Ms McKee had been due to attend dinner with her partner and her friends Alison Miller and  Anna Burns, the Booker Prize winning author, where they had planned to discuss The Lost Boys.

Ms Miller vowed: “The book was almost finished and it will be finished.”