Lyra fell in love with beating heart of Derry

Lyra McKee outside the Sunflower Bar on Union Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Picture Jess Lowe Photography

The streets of Creggan, where Lyra McKee’s life was tragically cut short, could stand as a monument to Derry’s troubled past.

It would be hard to knock a door in Creggan and not find someone on the other side who has loved and lost in the Troubles, and on Thursday night, one more undeserving family was added to the heaving list.

Creggan is and always has been one of the biggest and closest-knit communities in Derry.

Years of facing unparalleled challenges together, battling rampant poverty and an army installed on every corner creates a sense of home in every neighbour’s house.

This is the beating heart of Derry that Lyra McKee fell in love with.

Much like her adopted city, those who loved her say she was warm and welcoming and despite her own strife, offered each and every person she could a helping hand.

Lyra and I, in our late 20s, are what she called “ceasefire babies”.

Lyra McKee Tribute

I started my life where Lyra’s ended. My mammy was born in a house not 200 yards from where Lyra was killed. I went to my first disco, and subsequently, saw my first riot, on the street where those scattered shots rang out on Thursday.

After the Easter holidays, children will walk to school along that road, life seemingly returning to normal, as the people of Derry steel their nerves once again in the face of such unspeakable tragedy. The street might be the same, but it will be marked in a way that hundreds of streets across the North are marked in the minds of those who can recall the life that was ended on their tarmac.

In one of her essays, Lyra described our generation as:

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.

“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.”

And she was right. The spoils of peace have not yet settled on our generation, but the tragedies of war seem repulsive to most of us.

Creggan lives in the shadow of its own hardest years, long-established unemployment and lack of opportunity, which infects all Troubles blackspots across the North, creates an environment where a riot, though a lot less frequent than they were, passes for a pastime.

A sense of frustration at no one and everyone, and a lack of any better offer, puts guns in the hands of boys and men who are not and could not be as brave as Lyra McKee.

Lyra deftly catalogued the experiences of a lost Good Friday generation, and the pain and pride of being a young, gay woman in a society she felt actively excluded her.

Neither the gunman who cut short her important life, nor Lyra herself, had yet experienced our long-awaited peace. But how one chooses to live, knowing they were promised more, is the marker of a person.

Yesterday, thousands of people in Creggan and the wider Derry area gathered on Fanad Drive, where Lyra died.

In a historic first, the pro-IRA graffiti that had long adorned the gable walls of the street had been painted over, a stark message to those who perpetuated the violence on our streets, that their time is finally up.

Pride flags blew in the warm April sun at the backs of Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald, standing on a Creggan street calling for a new day for our troubled city.

Every house in Creggan may have their own heartbreak, but Lyra McKee’s name will be forever etched in the heart of Creggan.

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