John Hume, 1937-2020

Irish Examiner - - Front Page - Aoife Moore Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

The marker of a politi­cian is leav­ing a place bet­ter than you found it, and John Hume left the North trans­formed.

Although the boy from the Bog­side went global dur­ing the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, his heart lay in Derry, and for me, and for thou­sands of other Derry peo­ple, we re­mem­ber John Hume most for his ded­i­ca­tion to his com­mu­nity.

Banks did not lend to the poverty-stricken peo­ple of Derry, so John Hume knocked on ev­ery door in the Bog­side ask­ing peo­ple to start a sav­ings ac­count in the credit union he had cre­ated with his own money.

Dur­ing the 1969 elec­tion, he called to ev­ery house to tell peo­ple they had a vote, and should use it, they had a voice now what­ever their re­li­gion or fi­nan­cial sta­tus, a voice that he had fought and was beaten on the sand of Mag­illi­gan Beach for.

En­tire gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple in the North can run be­cause John Hume stood.

Like most Derry men, John was head­strong. He wouldn’t be dis­suaded from what he saw as a ne­ces­sity for peace. Politi­cians and me­dia out­lets who pil­lo­ried John Hume for fa­cil­i­tat­ing the peace process are to­day pay­ing trib­ute to his pa­tri­o­tism. Threats and vit­riol be­came com­mon­place, from both sides of our tor­tured com­mu­nity, but John Hume knew that courage was not, not be­ing afraid, but be­ing afraid and do­ing what you know is right any­way. He knew that a united Ire­land, which he so longed for, would have to in­clude all of us, whether Lon­don or Dublin liked it or not.

Friends say he would of­ten be­come de­pressed at the lack of progress and the state of the con­flict. He held it close to heart and took each fail­ure per­son­ally. John saw all the po­ten­tial his peo­ple had and knew how great Ire­land could be if we could just emerge from the shadow of the past.

He cam­paigned for a uni­ver­sity for Derry and in do­ing so re­minded its peo­ple of their worth. He told them they de­served the spoils of peace and the op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded to peo­ple across the Ir­ish Sea or a step over the bor­der. It is no easy feat to raise peo­ple up when there has al­ways been a boot on their back.

It was John Hume’s em­pa­thy for oth­ers that made him so pow­er­ful. He un­der­stood all the rea­sons that put guns into the hands of young boys and ded­i­cated his life to re­mov­ing them. He had looked into the eyes of wid­ows and moth­ers who had lost their sons and knew North­ern Ire­land could not con­tinue with each gen­er­a­tion be­com­ing more trau­ma­tised and di­vided as the ones who came be­fore.

The best politi­cians are of­ten ac­ci­den­tal ones, and there is no greater ex­am­ple than John Hume.

He viewed him­self as a teacher who had seen the bla­tant dis­crim­i­na­tion that was foisted on his peo­ple, the ghet­toi­sa­tion of his com­mu­nity, and the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties for the boys he taught, and was cer­tain it had to change.

He of­ten said that he never saw him­self as a leader, but as some­one who helped peo­ple, stand­ing in stark con­trast to those elected of­fi­cials to­day who com­pete for the big­gest port­fo­lio and pay packet. He had no am­bi­tion to be the Deputy First Min­is­ter of the new gov­ern­ment that he had ded­i­cated his life to cre­at­ing.

John Hume was un­til the end, an or­di­nary man, an or­di­nary man who won the No­bel Peace Prize, and who chat­ted eas­ily with lo­cals in the bar of Green­cas­tle Golf Club as he did with the pres­i­dent of the United States and Nel­son Man­dela.

One of the cru­ellest tragedies of John’s death is that the peo­ple who loved him, from a stu­dent he taught, to the man in the pub, to Bill Clin­ton, can­not gather in Derry’s cathe­dral to say good­bye, and fill the streets of John Hume’s Bog­side to show his wife and fam­ily what he meant to us all.

When John be­gan suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia, it was never hid­den. It was a heart­less di­ag­no­sis for some­one so un­de­serv­ing. The great­est mind in North­ern Ir­ish pol­i­tics, which had given so much, was giv­ing up. John and his life part­ner Pat did not keep it from the peo­ple of Derry and there was no em­bar­rass­ment about his ill­ness.

John con­tin­ued on his long walks around the town, there isn’t a taxi man in Derry who hasn’t de­liv­ered John back to Pat, safe and sound, and free of charge.

As he be­gan to de­te­ri­o­rate, the peo­ple of Derry, in an un­said prom­ise, be­gan to look af­ter John. He was of­ten joined on his walks with strangers, who’d walk with him, ask­ing about his health and steer­ing him in the di­rec­tion of home.

John Hume looked af­ter us, so Derry looked af­ter him. John Hume may be the fa­ther of the peace process, but he will al­ways be one of Derry’s great­est sons. Rest in peace, John.

‘I want to see Ire­land as an ex­am­ple to men and women ev­ery­where of what can be achieved by liv­ing for ideals, rather than fight­ing for them, and by view­ing each and ev­ery per­son as wor­thy of re­spect and hon­our.’

Pic­ture: Leif Skoog­fors/Getty

John Hume over­looks the Bog­side neigh­bour­hood in Derry in 1970. The No­bel Peace Prize win­ner and ar­chi­tect of the Good Fri­day Agree­ment died yes­ter­day, aged 83.

Pic­ture: Pace­maker

John Hume with his wife Pat af­ter his elec­tion to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in 1979.

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