Thursday night’s murder of Lyra McKee cast a dark pall over Londonderry on Good Friday. The atmosphere was sombre, the population incredulous after the barbaric shooting which had claimed the life of the 29-year-old journalist and stunned citizens who thought such bloodshed had been consigned to history.
Good Friday is a significant time in the Christian calendar, an occasion for deep soul-searching and profound introspection. It is also the night before the dawn. Its bleakness heralds the approach of Easter Day with its message of hope.
So it was in Derry. The sun shone brightly but a dark mood hung over the Good Friday Walk of Witness through the city centre which had been arranged long before Ms McKee’s murder. The leaders of the four main Churches and the Mayor, John Boyle, helped carry a cross from St Columb’s Hall to the Guildhall’s steps. The dead journalist’s name was on the lips of the dozens of people who took part in the procession. There was widespread incredulity at the vicious brazenness of Lyra McKee’s killers.
Bishop Ken Good had earlier expressed outrage at the killing, urging the community to turn their backs on the men of violence, and calling on those behind last night’s attack to recognise the futility of what they were doing and end their violence.
It was a call repeated by Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin at an open-air news conference outside the Guildhall, where he was surrounded – tellingly – by the church leaders and other civic and political leaders. “We need the violent dissident Republican groups to step back,” Mr Martin said, “we need them to go out of business.” He urged people to use Lyra McKee’s murder as an opportunity to “confront properly the mindsets that led to the tragic events we saw last night”.
After the news conference, the Deputy Chief Constable, the Mayor and the two Bishops left for a vigil on the street in Creggan where Ms McKee had been fatally injured 15 hours earlier. On arrival they were met by an unprecedented sight: leaders of the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party standing together, on a Creggan street, along with a representative of the Ulster Unionist Party. All five addressed the vigil, as did Bishop McKeown and Bishop Good.
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said she was there to stand in solidarity with the community. “On this holy day of Good Friday,” she said, “do remember that there is an Easter Sunday as well and there is hope. We look forward to that hope and I ask you to cling on to that today.”
Ms McKee’s partner, Sara Canning, told the many hundreds of people present that the murder had left her without the woman she was planning to grow old with. “The senseless murder of Lyra McKee has left a family without a beloved daughter, a sister, an aunt and a great-aunt,” Ms Canning said, “so many friends without their confidante.” We were all the poorer for the loss of Lyra, she said.
There was another vigil at tea-time, back in the city centre in Guildhall Square, this time organised by the trade union movement who applauded Lyra McKee’s years of activism for equality and rights for all in society.
Inside the Guildhall, a book of condolence has been opened. Among the first signatories were the Mayor, the Deputy Chief Constable, and the local church leaders: Bishop Good, Bishop McKeown, Rev Colin McKibben (Presbyterian Church) and Rev Dr Richard Johnston (Methodist).