“Very high standards” at the Lyra McKee Writing Awards

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A large crowd turned out last Friday night for the Lyra McKee Writing Awards held in the Holywell Diverse City Building in Derry when winners in all four categories received their awards.

In some ways, it was a bittersweet awards celebration, as two of Lyra’s sisters, Nichola and Mary, as well as Nichola’s husband, John, were all given a warm welcome.

After a brief introduction by the event organizer, Eamon Baker, touting the impressive standards, the large number of entries and indeed the huge interest in the competition, he called on the mayor, Graham Warke, to contact support.
The mayor reiterated Eamon’s comments and said he was honored to be able to play a part in the awards and hoped it would grow stronger in the years to come, keeping Lyra’s memory alive.

Lyra’s sister Nichola presented a short film based on her late sister’s compelling play ‘Letter to Myself at Fourteen’ and described herself as ‘blown away’ by the strength of the heat and the welcome she, her husband and her sister received the night.

The winners in each of the four categories read excerpts from their work – Orlaigh Devine, Siobhan Livingstone, Aileen McCaul and Anne Gallagher. All winners in each of the four categories received their prizes which were presented by Nichola; mental health champion, triathlete and fitness guru, Danny Quigley; and by the Mayor.

The mayor also congratulated each of the writers who participated in the competition and especially congratulated the young adults who got involved, many of whom were present at the awards ceremony.

Towards Understanding and Healing then “created” on screen a very recently written and deeply touching poem – Suaimhneas – by poet, playwright and filmmaker Damian Gorman, who dedicated his poem to Nichola, Mary, Lyra, the whole family McKee and Lyra’s partner, Sarah Canning.

Gifted singer, radio host and counseling psychologist Anne Tracey closed the evening with a very moving rendition of Roy Arbuckle’s beautiful song ‘God smiled when you were born’

Speaking after the awards, Eamon Baker said: “Towards Understanding and Healing remains grateful for the support this whole process has received 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 leading up to the contest closing date.

“We also recognize the tragic loss of writer, creative writing facilitator and peacemaker, Liam Campbell. Liam was very supportive of this project from the start and was recruited to lead a number of writing workshops. His loss, like that of Anita Robinson who had agreed to judge, like that of Lyra herself, is incalculable. Liam, author of ‘The White Handkerchief’, worked at the Playhouse where the Theater of Witness is located.

“Towards Understanding and Healing is grateful for the very authentic peacebuilding workshops provided by the Theater of Witness performers, coordinated by Kieran Smyth, in support of this writing project, including James Greer, Anne Walker, Kathleen Gillespie and Robin Young.”‘

Mr Baker also mentioned the very practical support of John Meehan and the Inner City Trust who, aided by the Lab Fund, generously provided the prizes.

“They, along with the Community Relations Council, have supported the project since its inception. Congratulations also to the staff of the University of Ulster who organized a lively day of writing workshops in December at the Coleraine campus; and also the Junction staff, Richie and Maureen Hetherington, were very kind and supportive throughout.

“None of this would have been possible without the blessing of the McKee family and for that, at Towards Understanding and Healing, we are very grateful for the support of the priest of St Mary’s, Father Joe Gormley, who gave Lyra the last rites on that horrible night of April 18, 2019.”

Calling on all to continue their writing endeavors in the future, he concluded: “And as we move forward, there’s no doubt that Lyra herself would encourage all of us to keep writing, to keep being creative. “

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