Specially commissioned article for the Community Relations Council.
The winners of a writing competition in honour of Lyra McKee were announced at a special gala event that took place in May 2022.
The Community Relations Council supported this project through its CR/CD Small Grants Scheme. The support was for Community Relations workshops. The competition element (which is not eligible under the CR/CD scheme) was supported through match funding.
This article was written by Eamon Baker from Towards Understanding and Healing, which is a peacebuilding organisation based in Derry/Londonderry.
Lyra McKee Writing Competition Award Ceremony
As soon as we at Towards Understanding and Healing had eagerly gathered in the entries, both short stories and journalism, for the Lyra McKee inspired writing competition in mid-February 2022, they were forwarded on to our adjudicators, Maura Johnston and Darach MacDonald.
Says Maura about Lyra McKee: “Lyra was a young woman bursting with talent cut down so cruelly many years before her time. She had so much to say and do. So much to write. So much to offer us through her writings as we strive to make this part of our island a better place for everybody, whatever their background, whatever their faith, whatever their politics. My husband Kevin is from Creggan and I know the streets and the vibrant community there well. It was so distressing to hear that another death stemming from political violence had occurred in a community working hard and creatively to move forward from the long hard years of the Troubles. The Lyra writing event has given all sides and shades of the community in the Derry and Strabane District Council area opportunities to create both short stories and journalistic writing and no better way to remember Lyra. As she wrote so powerfully, so optimistically, in retrospect so poignantly: “It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.”
Our second adjudicator, Darach Mac Donald, a native of Clones now resident in Derry, is very well known both as a journalist, author and guest speaker. He served as editor for the award winning Ulster Herald group of newspapers from 2000 to 2009.
Maura and Darach completed the challenging adjudication process in April which led to the finale event in the Holywell DiverseCity Community Partnership Building on Friday 6 May when a full house heard the winners announced. This was in some ways a bittersweet prize giving celebration attended by two of Lyra’s sisters, Nichola and Mary, as well as by Nichola’s husband, John. Nichola introduced a short film based on her late sister’s compelling piece: “Letter to my fourteen year old self” and described herself as “blown away” by the strength of the warmth and welcome she, her husband and her sister received on the night.
The winners in each of the four categories read from their work: Orlaigh Devine; Siobhan Livingstone; Aileen McCaul; and Anne Gallagher. All the winners across each of the four categories received their prizes which were presented by Nichola, Danny Quigley and mayor Graham Warke.
Towards Understanding and Healing then premiered on screen a recently written and deeply touching poem – Suaimhneas – from poet, playwright and film maker Damian Gorman. Damian dedicated his poem to Nichola, Mary, Lyra, the entire McKee family and to Lyra’s partner, Sarah Canning. Gifted vocalist, radio presenter and counselling psychologist Anne Tracey brought the evening to a close with a very moving rendition of the beautiful Roy Arbuckle song: “God smiled when you were born.”
Towards Understanding and Healing remains grateful for the support this whole process has had from writers and writing facilitators: Sue Divin, Felicity McCall, Pamela Brown and Jim Simpson who provided many hours of writing workshops throughout our community in the months before the closing date for the competition. We acknowledge too the tragic loss of writer, creative writing facilitator and peace builder, Liam Campbell. Liam was very supportive of this project from the word go and had been pencilled in to facilitate a number of writing workshops. His loss, like that of Anita Robinson who had agreed to adjudicate, like that of Lyra herself, is incalculable. Liam, author of The White Handkerchief, worked in the Playhouse where Theatre of Witness is based. Towards Understanding and Healing is grateful for the very authentic peacebuilding workshops provided by Theatre of Witness performers, co-ordinated by Kieran Smyth, in support of this writing project including: James Greer, Anne Walker, Kathleen Gillespie and Robin Young.
We are also so glad of the very practical support from John Meehan and the Inner City Trust. The Inner City Trust supported by the Lab Fund generously provided the prize monies. Community Relations Council have backed the project from its inception. Ulster University staff put on a lively day of writing workshops back in December up on the Coleraine Campus. Junction staff Richie and Maureen Hetherington have been very kind and supportive all along.
None of this would have at all been possible without the blessing of the McKee family and for that we at Towards Understanding and Healing are very grateful as we are for the support of St Mary’s priest, Father Joe Gormley who gave Lyra the last rites on that horrific night, 18 April 2019.
And as we move forward there is no doubt that Lyra herself would be encouraging all of us to keep on writing , to keep on being creative.
Here is a selection of images from the event: