Our extract this week is from Sorry for Your Trouble by Ann Marie Hourihane…
24 April 2019
‘Do you know where St Anne’s Cathedral is?’ asks the small old lady as we wait at the pedestrian crossing at the bottom of Donegall Street in Belfast. I say I will show her. She used to know this area quite well, Mary says, but she hasn’t been around here in years. ‘I’ve come the whole way in from Andersonstown,’ she says. Andersonstown is a republican area in west Belfast, about four miles away. ‘God forgive me, but I hate them ones that done it,’ she says.
She turns to stand in Writer’s Square, opposite the cathedral, where the crowds will later form. Lyra McKee was a writer who operated largely through the medium of journalism. A member of the generation she called the Ceasefire Babies, she died in that most traditional of Northern Ireland settings, at a republican riot on the eve of the Easter weekend, always a flashpoint because of its association with the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. Shortly before her death, she tweeted a picture of an armoured police vehicle making its way through the dark streets of Derry. ‘Derry tonight,’ she wrote. ‘Absolute madness.’
Lyra was a Belfast girl. She had moved to Derry – or emi- grated, as she put it herself – to live with her partner, Sara Canning, a phlebotomist at Altnagelvin hospital in the city. The two of them – the young journalist and the young phlebotomist – were watching the riot standing near the police and police vehicles. We know that the person who fired the shot that struck Lyra in the head and killed her was a member of the dissident republican group that styles itself the New IRA: the group claimed responsibility.
We don’t know who this person was or what he was hoping to achieve in firing the shot. (The fifty-two-year-old man who would later be charged with Lyra’s murder claims he was only pick- ing up the bullet casings at the scene of the shooting.) The police put Lyra into one of their Land Rovers and drove through a burning barricade to get her to Altnagelvin hospital – Sara’s hospital – as quickly as they could. But she was dead. She was twenty-nine years old. I walk up the steps to the cathedral. This is a Protestant cathedral, hosting the funeral of a Catholic. Suddenly there is a wave of sound, like the crackle of rain, coming from outside.
It is the sound of applause: the crowd outside is greeting the arrival of Lyra McKee’s coffin. The coffin is carried through the front door. Many of us feel that no matter who is shot, it is always the wrong person. But Lyra McKee was the wrong person to a spectacular degree. It takes her sister, Nichola, nineteen minutes to say what Lyra, the youngest in their family, meant to them. Lyra’s friend Stephen Lusty reads out some of the texts he received from her. They ask for his advice on opening the broken lid of a cider can – ‘Lusty, you’re an engineer’ – and on chatting up women.
Nichola says that Lyra used to call her disabled mother, for whom she was a carer, at least fifty times a day: ‘Sometimes she was only upstairs.’ These chirpy details seem strange remembered here, in the vaulting cathedral, with the prime ministers of Ireland and the United Kingdom sitting together in the front row and the leaders of Northern Ireland’s main political parties side by side behind them. This has to be the closest that Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill have been to one another in a long while: the power-sharing government created by the Good Friday Agreement has been suspended for two years, and Northern Ireland has been run by civil servants during that time.
Lyra McKee didn’t have much time for the politics of Northern Ireland. ‘I don’t want a United Ireland or a stronger Union,’ she wrote. ‘I just want a better life.’ Her TEDx talk about growing up gay in Northern Ireland – ‘I hated myself for much of my life because of what religion taught me about people like me’ – ended with an impassioned reference to the 2016 massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which forty-nine people were killed by a single gunman. She wrote and spoke also about the suicide rate of her generation in Northern Ireland, and about post-traumatic stress disorder amongst her peers, the generation that was supposed to have escaped all the bad things: ‘As surely as people from the Welsh valleys knew coal miners or Scots knew the taste of haggis, Northern Irish youths knew someone who was murdered,’ she wrote. When another friend of Lyra’s, the Catholic priest Father Martin Magill, asks why it took the death of a twenty-nine-year-old woman to bring the politicians together today, his remarks are interrupted by a standing ovation. It starts at the back and surges up the church until it reaches all the important people in the front.
Sorry for Your Trouble
by Ann Marie Hourihane
is published by Sandycove
and is available now for €20