Who Is (Was) Lyra McKee, And What The Bloody Hell Is Going On In Northern Ireland?
Well, goddamn it, a wonderful person we'd never heard of until last night is dead. Lyra McKee was 29, an investigative journalist who specialized in looking at the legacy of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. She was murdered by someone shooting at police during rioting in Derry, or perhaps Londonderry, depending on who you want to piss off by using either name for the city. The rioting broke out after police "started carrying out searches in the area because of concerns that militant republicans were storing firearms and explosives" in advance of attacks planned to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Police are blaming the violence and McKee's death on the "New Irish Republican Army," a radical republican group formed a few years ago from several smaller groups. Despite the name, the group has no ties to the old Provisional Irish Republican Army, which renounced violence and disarmed in 2005 following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which was supposed to have brought peace to Northern Ireland, and kind of did, at least much of the time.
McKee is being remembered by colleagues and readers as a promising journalist who was expected to go far. A year ago, McKee signed a two-book deal with Faber & Faber; the first of the books, The Lost Boys, an investigation of eight young men who disappeared in Belfast during the Troubles in the '60s and '70s, will be published next year. A 2016 Forbes profile said "McKee's passion is to dig into topics that others don't care about." For instance, CNN reports, McKee spent five years investigating a story about the only rape crisis center in Northern Ireland and its long struggle to regain funding after the government eliminated it.
"There are wrongs you cannot fix," she said about the story. "As a younger reporter, I found this so hard to stomach. For me, journalism was about saving the world; if I told the terrible stories, someone would have to do something about them. Someone would sit up and notice."
McKee's most widely read work was a much more personal piece of writing (from what we've seen, though, all her writing was personal), a 2014 "Letter to my 14-year-old self" about growing up gay in very Catholic Belfast, and about how a journalism program she joined when she was 15 made all the difference:
Life is so hard right now. Every day, you wake up wondering who else will find out your secret and hate you.
It won't always be like this. It's going to get better.
In a year's time, you're going to join a scheme that trains people your age to be journalists. I know the careers teacher suggested that as an option and you said no, because it sounded boring and all you wanted to do was write, but go with it. For the first time in your life, you will feel like you're good at something useful. You'll have found your calling. You'll meet amazing people. And when the bad times come again – FYI, your first girlfriend is not "the one" and you will screw up that history exam – it will be journalism that helps you soldier on.
The essay was later adapted into a short film, and suddenly a lot more people had heard of this Northern Irish journalist.
Letter to my 14 year old self - Short Film www.youtube.com
And now she's been murdered by a bunch of assholes who think replaying a bloody guerrilla war would be a terrific way to make things better in Northern Ireland. The hell with them.
A friend and fellow journalist tweeted a screencap of McKee's final tweet:
Journalists and writers and political leaders in Ireland and Britain are offering tributes; this one, by her friend Susan McKay, is especially good. She notes that McKee had "moved (emigrated, she said) to Derry just a few months ago to live with her partner, Sara, a nurse at the hospital" and says McKee doubtless would have felt compassion for the young militants who were shooting at police, "recognising that as well as throwing fireworks and petrol bombs, they were throwing their own precious youth away."
And of course there's the work she's left behind; we're going to spend some time after work today with this 2016 Atlantic piece about suicides among "the generation nicknamed the Ceasefire Babies -- those of us too young to remember the worst of the terror," but who nonetheless live with its aftereffects. Look at this lede:
I grew up just off Belfast's Murder Mile, a stretch so called because of the number of casualties there during the Troubles, the decades-long conflict over the status of Northern Ireland. The wider area around the Mile was known as the Murder Triangle for the same reason. Just streets away from my family's house, it wasn't uncommon for loyalist paramilitaries to drive around, single out a target, and pull the trigger.
The Good Friday Agreement, a key part of the peace process that ended the Troubles, was signed when I was 8 years old. But even the bloodshed of my childhood hadn't left me prepared for the news, a decade after peace began, that my friend Jonny had killed himself at age 17. My friend Mick delivered the news—he'd heard from Jonny's stepfather that his body had been discovered on the grounds of the mental institution where he'd been staying after a previous suicide attempt.
I don't remember much of what happened Mick told me, other than walking upstairs, kicking something in the bathroom, and cursing Jonny for dying.
We weep for all the stories Lyra McKee will never tell now, the stories that may well go unnoticed. Goddamn it all.
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