A new essay collection commemorates the life and work of the late journalist—and shows why, even in the early stages of her career, McKee forged a voice brimming with empathy and integrityby Anna Cafolla / May 13, 2020 / Leave a comment
In a 1965 interview with the BBC, the author Edna O’Brien articulates the “stifling” landscape that Irish writers navigate, and how it creates “the urgency to write or to scream.” Her interview is sandwiched between others with men who laud the censorship of the arts in a not-so-distant past Ireland. Across her 19-book oeuvre, O’Brien captured an amorphous Ireland, and grappled with its suppressive past: a country reckoning with a new generation intent on its liberalisation. She is one of several era-defining veteran voices that shook a stagnant Irish society, writing both delicately and ferociously on war, gender, familial struggles, and social strife—giving voice to a generation of Irish women long bridled by the religious, patriarchal state.
That sense of purpose and urgency reverberates through a new generation of Irish writers, and is captured in Lost, Found, Remembered, a new commemorative selection of essays, book passages, and articles both unreleased and well-known from the late Belfast-born writer and journalist Lyra McKee. From Northern Ireland’s Troubles and the imperfect peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement came a post-conflict generation: the “ceasefire babes.” Though she hated that term, McKee reflected on it for a seminal article for the Atlantic in 2016. In it, she investigates the high suicide rates in some of NI’s most deprived communities, still dealing with the residual trauma of a war supposedly snuffed out over a decade ago. Like O’Brien years before, McKee illuminates the contemporary battles against Irish societal stopgaps.
“We were the Good Friday agreement generation, destined to never witness the horrors of war but to reap the spoils of peace. The spoils just never seemed to reach us,” McKee writes further in a Mosaic piece that same year. In both pieces, and in what became her journalistic endeavour, she deftly unpicks the layers of stigma that bolster silence around mental health and wider suffering in Northern Ireland. McKee treats the nebulous political and social constraints, the multi-faceted identities of the country, and the individuals at its stormy heart with care and compassion. She shows an acute awareness of the horrors and violence her generation was spared from, while navigating their own stifling world.