Northern Ireland

Priest at Lyra McKee funeral 'was moved to tears'

Fr Martin Magill talked to BBC News NI about his funeral address
Image caption Fr Martin Magill talked to BBC News NI about his funeral address

The Catholic priest who criticised Northern Ireland's political leaders at the funeral of Lyra McKee has said he was reduced to tears after the service.

Fr Martin Magill was moved after a member of the murdered journalist's family thanked him for his political message and his tribute to Ms McKee.

He said he was "amazed" at the standing ovation he received during his funeral address.

His remarks reached a global audience on social media, TV and radio.

Lyra McKee was shot dead during rioting in Londonderry on 18 April.

Her funeral was held in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on Wednesday.

Within 48-hours, Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach (Irish PM) Leo Varadkar had issued a joint statement setting up a new talks process aimed at restoring devolution in Northern Ireland.

In a BBC News NI interview, Fr Magill talked in depth about his funeral address.

Asked what inspired his challenging question to the political leaders, he said it was through a telephone conversation with the Rev Harold Good - former president of the Methodist Church who has been involved in the Northern Ireland peace process.

"I just wanted to get the wisdom of his years and his experience," he said.

"I wanted just to get another opinion on it (the funeral address).

"It was in that phone conversation that the question emerged."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media caption"Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?"

Fr Magill said he was "taken aback" by the reaction to his address and was not "expecting what happened at all".

"I've been amazed by it," he said.

"I didn't really know anything, I phoned a friend, the Rev Steve Stockman, later on.

"It was after coming from the graveside, I'd phoned Steve and he said to me 'I think this has gone viral'."

The priest said that if "there's a common message coming through the many, many different messages that I've had it would be something like 'you were speaking for us'."

"That resonated with people and people got to their feet to acknowledge that," he added.

'Moved to tears'

"I pushed something and there was like a sense of energy had been released and I unwittingly did it with my words."

Fr Magill said that members of Ms McKee's family had thanked him for his address.

"But I suppose I was particularly moved when one of Lyra's nephews who is an 11-year-old, David, came up to me, shaking my hand, thanking me for the lovely things I'd said about his auntie and also thanking me for the message that I gave," he said.

"I was completely taken aback by this, I didn't expect an 11-year-old to be doing this and I suppose being very honest, it actually moved me to tears."

Image copyright Brian Lawless / POOL

Fr Magill said he did "not want children to live through the type of childhood (I had), going to school in north Belfast and the mayhem... I just don't want to see that again".

"I suppose the whole thing about the Good Friday Agreement for example is that this was offering us a different future, that we don't have deaths like Lyra's," he added.

"The amount of suffering that people have, and they are still carrying it to this day, I want to see an end to that."

'My call'

Fr Magill also responded to the criticism some people had that it was a day to be pastoral not political.

"I began by acknowledging the pain of Sara (Lyra's partner), the pain of her mum, her brothers and sisters," he said.

"My whole focus at the start was on Lyra.

"But I'm also very conscious that as a baptised Christian, there is a prophetic role. It's part of my call."

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Lyra McKee was shot dead while observing rioting in Derry.

He said he was "amazed" when he heard that 48 hours later that the British and Irish governments had announced a new talks process.

"Now I'm not going to get carried away," he said.

"I'm conscious that party leaders had written to the secretary of state.

"It was not actually my words as such, it was what the people did.

"What they did in the cathedral by applauding and getting onto their feet… they actually literally got the politicians to move."

His message to the politicians was "to think about the common good, to think about all of us, to play their part".

"I was commending (at the funeral) Lyra's doggedness," he said.

"I am going to go back to that again.

"We need that doggedness.

"No more Lyras."

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