Only for John Hume‘s commitment, determination, and hard work, the Northern Irish peace process may never have come about. Earlier this week, he passed away, and today, his funeral is taking place in St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. Because of COVID19 restrictions, only 120 people can attend the funeral with John Hume’s family urging the people of Derry not to line the streets but light candles in their windows instead. John Hume was a Derry man through and through, and the city is deeply proud of his achievements and the crucial role he played in building peace in the North.
As he was brought from Donegal to Derry last night, people gathered to show their respect, clapping and paying tribute to his legacy. Before the ceremony this morning, Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, read out messages from many world leaders including the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and Bill Clinton.
Under normal circumstances, the church would have been packed, and the whole city of Derry would have marked John Hume’s passing. Although authorities closed off the Cathedral grounds to the public, people gathered at the railings from early morning. Politicians from the Republic of Ireland, the President of Ireland, and Northern Irish and British politicians celebrate his life and work at the funeral ceremony today.
At a time when the IRA was still engaged in a campaign of violence, he took the controversial decision to hold secret talks with Gerry Adams, a step unthinkable to most. But Hume’s clear commitment to finding a way to a united Ireland by exclusively peaceful means was unfaltering and led directly to peace negotiations. The Good Friday Agreement would not have been possible without the bravery of John Hume.
The administrator of the Cathedral of St Eugene, Father Farren, said:
“In a time in our world when often small-mindedness and self-focus seems to be the driver John never put anybody or any specific group first. He put everybody first. He didn’t focus on difference and division.
“He focused on unity and peace and giving that dignity to every person. We should never underestimate how difficult it was for John to cross the road and do what was intensely unpopular for the greater good.”
“John never lost faith in peace, and he never lost faith in his ability to convince others that peace was the only way.
“If ever you want to see a man who gave his life for his country, and his health, that man is John Hume.”
John Hume’s ‘conviction in the power of dialogue’ lay the foundation for peace in Northern Ireland
John Hume was born in Derry in 1937. He joined the Irish Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and went on to campaign for greater independence for Northern Ireland through cooperation between the two sides of a divided community. A fervent belief in dialogue lay at the heart of his work and had him meet the then leader of Sinn Fein for over a decade. These talks lead to the IRA ceasefire and ultimately to the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking to Belfast reporters, Gerry Adams paid tribute to John Hume on Monday:
“He was singularly against the IRA. But he was a Derry man so he knew that republicans who were involved in armed struggle were serious, so the way to get at that wasn’t to have the stand-off that we had… when John bent his will, along with me and with others, to find an alternative way forward, that was what worked.”
“I think what was significant was he was a Derry man, so he wasn’t in an ivory tower, he wasn’t in a little bubble, he was presented by Father Alex Reid with the possibility that if we could shape an alternative, we could shape a new political dispensation.”
In December 1998, John Hume was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble for their work in brokering peace in Northern Ireland.