“Here’s to better times ahead and saying goodbye to bombs and bullets once and for all.” — Lyra McKee

Born on this day, investigative journalist Lyra McKee was shot and killed in Derry in 2019, during a standoff between police officers and dissident republicans. She was there as a journalist, covering the events. A masked person fired a shot at the police vehicles, and McKee was hit. Her haunting final Tweet:

She was 29 years old. This was devastating news.

Born in Belfast, right off the socalled “Murder Mile,” she was of the generation that came of age post Good Friday Agreement. In fact, she was killed on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Hers was a very perceptive take on the challenges and struggles of what she coined the “Ceasefire Babies,” her generation raised in the aftermath of decades of terror and violence (centuries, really). Her generation came up when all of it was supposedly “over” but … it wasn’t over, not really. McKee wrote:

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. I was four, Jonny was three. We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us.

That this important voice has been silenced makes me so angry and so sad.

She got a lot done in her 29 years. Martin Doyle featured her in his 10 Rising Stars of Irish Writing list. She was chosen by Forbes to be in the first European version of their regular feature “30 Under 30 in Media”. McKee worked as a freelance journalist, and had just signed a book deal with Faber & Faber prior to her death. I was very much looking forward to her first book, due out in 2020, called The Lost Boys. The book was described thus:

“The Lost Boys will explore the disappearances of a number of children and young men during the Troubles. Many of them were not believed to be victims of the IRA or the UVF. Some were kids who left home for school and never came home and their disappearances were never solved by the police. McKee will investigate what happened to them.”

Her 2016 piece in The Atlantic about the high suicide rate among the “Ceasefire Babies” is what first got my attention. It’s an extraordinary piece of journalism, and I highly recommend everyone read it: Suicide Among the Ceasefire Babies

She was also an advocate for LGBTQ youths. The struggles of growing up in Belfast are unique. It’s not like growing up other places. (Read Anna Burns’ extraordinary novel The Milkman. Burns was one of the many attendees at McKee’s funeral.) McKee spoke from and to those in that particular struggle. In 2015, she wrote a letter to her 14-year-old self on her blog – the blog-post proceeded to go viral, and was eventually made into a beautiful short film.

The man who murdered McKee. was caught on camera. The statements of condemnation came from both sides of the conflict – a rare thing. And yet the following year, things reverted back to the way they were, with dissidents continuing their threats/intimidation. Her murder rocked the community. Belfast is complicated, Derry is complicated, the whole situation is complicated, with centuries of bad blood on both sides. But still: nothing happening in re: an investigation into who the hell murdered her – no sense of the pursuit of justice, etc. – was outrageous. Like … nothing happened. McKee’s friends headed up the protests to get a conviction, demanding that something be done, that the investigation not be dropped, that at LEAST charges be made. This won’t just go away.

In 2019, Peter Taylor directed a documentary for the BBC about Lyra McKee’s friends, and their fight to find the man who killed their friend. It’s called The Real Derry Girls. You can watch the whole thing here.

In the fall of 2021 – finally – two men were charged “in connection” the murder of Lyra McKee. Three years after her murder charges are filed, and yet still: “Prosecutors said the two defendants are alleged to have been with the gunman who fired the fatal shot. A judge released the two men on bail until their next hearing on Oct. 7.” Finally, in January of this year, two men were charged with her murder and are going to stand trial. I know shit takes long but this long?

My friends Anthony and Carrie McIntyre, two journalists who live and work in Belfast, knew and loved Lyra McKee. As veterans of that conflict, they found hope for the future in her perspective, in who she was, and how she wrote. (I stayed with Anthony and Carrie when I was in Belfast almost 15 years ago.) Anthony’s site, The Pensive Quill, has a couple of different tributes to McKee, which I encourage you to read. This is such a huge loss. One of the pieces is by human rights lawyer Sarah Kay, and one is bymy friend Carrie, whose rage shimmers off the page.

Heartbreaking and infuriating.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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2 Responses to “Here’s to better times ahead and saying goodbye to bombs and bullets once and for all.” — Lyra McKee

  1. Mike Molloy says:

    Little late but: thanks for this post. Your post plus the links, especially that “real Derry girls” video, were pretty informative. They give a pretty clear sense of Lyra McKee and what she was about. What a terrible loss.

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