Inside the church, tears and laughter for Lyra McKee at her funeral
Inside the 100 year-old St Anne’s Cathedral in the heart of Belfast there was standing room only 45 minutes before the funeral of Lyra McKee was due to start.
Elderly women with white perms, pearl earrings and impeccable pastel suits sat next to people in their 20s, with multi-coloured hair, piercings, Harry Potter scarves and Marvel comic t-shirts.
Giant of Northern Irish journalism UTV’s Ken Reid greeted person after person at the doorway as he tried to make his way to his seat.
Lyra’s friends filed in, wearing homemade #TeamLyra t-shirts, with Harry Potter-esque crests on the front.
Some of their eyes were already filled with tears as they were helped to their seat by friends, many with Pride pins on their lapels, and greeted familiar faces as they squeezed into heaving pews.
Necks craned to see the many well-known faces who attended: Sinn Fein leaders Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald came in together, arms linked.
DUP leader Arlene Foster, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, entered the church separately and alone, until it was time for Prime Minister Theresa May, and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to arrive.
The British leader entered via a back door, followed by Irish President Michael D Higgins, and many security personnel.
When the service began the congregation heard from Lyra’s beloved Stephen ‘Uncle’ Lusty, a long-time friend who paid tribute to the 29-year-old in a frank and honest eulogy that detailed her many attributes, from her opinions on straight sex to the time she phoned him after midnight for advice after she had broken the ringpull on a can of cider and needed his engineering experience to get inside it without spilling any.
The laughter in the pews was loud and genuine.
Many wept when he spoke about Lyra’s plans to propose to her beloved girlfriend Sara in New York, and her Donegal wedding in 2022, a dream they were both tragically denied.
Female folk duo Saint Sister played the Cranberries song ‘Dreams’, now labelled a ‘Derry Girls anthem’ after its recent use in the hit Channel 4 show.
The words echoed around the huge stone walls, as they sang without accompaniment for the adopted Derry girl, before Lyra’s sister Nichola Corner began her own tribute.
Nichola deftly catalogued Lyra’s young years as the baby of the house, doted on by her older siblings and their partners, and the unconditional love shared between Lyra and her mother Joan, a love Nichola said “will continue, despite the empty space that cannot be filled”.
She called on all there to live Lyra’s vision: “We must change our own world, one piece at a time. Now let’s get to work.”
In a striking moment, Catholic priest Fr Martin Magill, from St John’s Parish in Belfast, spoke directly to Sara, and reflected he could not imagine the pain she was suffering.
He wondered aloud how her 68-year-old mother, and brothers and sisters found the strength to make the over-hour long car journey from Belfast to Altnagelvin Hospital, already knowing Lyra was dead.
He quoted the first reading of the service, “blessed are the peacemakers”, and in a rousing speech, spoke directly to the politicians.
He pleaded with them to return to the table, to offer those who had been denied the spoils of peace what they were owed.
The crowd erupted in a long, loud, standing ovation when he lamented: “Why does it take a 29-year-old’s death to get to this point?”
When Lyra’s coffin was carried down the long aisle, a blessing was sung in Irish, as her heartbroken family followed, mum Joan, pushed in a wheelchair, grabbed the hands of those on the end of the pews, who offered small fleeting comfort as the sun began to light the dim church through the open doors.
The politicians walked close together, Mrs Foster walked with the SNP’s Ian Blackford, while proud Derry men SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and the Mayor of Derry John Boyle, followed close behind Mary Lou McDonald who wiped tears from her eyes as they left the church.
More than thousand people filed out behind them, every creed, race, age and gender, in wheelchairs, in prams and on foot.
A man passed by with a tote bag that read: “This is who I am.”
For Lyra McKee’s funeral, it seemed perfect.