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Sunset on Cave Hill, Belfast

There is always something surreal about sunshine on a sombre day. Something which, not for the first time, Northern Ireland experienced on Friday the 19th of April 2019. In many ways it can represent a new start, a new awakening, a new opportunity. But the thought of something new in light of such sadness can also feel so horribly ill-timed. Mourning, sorrow and days strewn with grief-filled, sleepless nights are so strangely important in the wake of a passing. In turn, it initially feels so difficult to take any kind of positive meaning out of heartache; both due to an incapacity to see light through the darkness and also out of respect.

This process of searching for hope in the shadows, however, is something which Northern Irish people have become accustomed to. Something that so many have been forced to become accustomed to, due to the enormity of cruelness which the country continues to endure. After last night’s events in Derry, which claimed the life of celebrated journalist and writer Lyra McKee, it is so difficult to see where the hope in our society is emanating from. Chiefly, as it occurred on the 21st anniversary of an agreement which was designed to signal the end of such tragedy.

It is the work and actions of Lyra, however, that represent the light which filled the skies on Friday morning. While Lyra told stories filled with optimism about the future that Northern Ireland was building, she also wrote about the ways in which our country was failing us. Not just how and where it was failing us, but why. Even when looking at those involved in the riots last night, I can imagine she felt a degree of compassion for them. An understanding as to why those individuals have become the evil, cowardly people that they are.

And that represents what all good investigative journalists do. They don’t just analyse the consequences of the issues they look into, but they examine the causes of them. They delve into the reasons behind why problems exist and how they have developed overtime. They become deeply infused with the issue as a whole and, in turn, it becomes a part of their work. A huge step towards correcting a problem, after all, is by truly comprehending what it actually is at its core. That is the crucial ingredient of any process which seeks to instigate change.

Indeed, how can we genuinely feel compelled to act against something if we do not care about it? And how can we begin to care about something if we do not fully understand it? What is at the core of progressive action is a critical conscience about what it is exactly that we are trying to report on and trying to challenge. Lyra’s work encapsulated this as much as anyone. I would suggest that this is an indicator as to why she is so well regarded. It also a reason as to how she was able to bring, and through her work will continue to bring, so much hope to us all.

There is always light to take from the darkness, even when it seems impossible. Just like Leonard Cohen reminded us, ‘there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. And, in the wake of last night’s events, that is the feeling of today. There is so much positivity that radiates off the work and actions of Lyra. It is so cruel, however, that much of it will be felt in her absence. A society grows great, as the proverb goes, when old men plant trees the shade of which they shall never sit in. That is the society which we should all strive for. It is also the society that people like Lyra are creating.

Research assistant at Queen's University Belfast

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