‘Ireland is now blessed by the peace John gifted to us all’
John Hume 1937-2020
11 pages of tributes and analysis including: Bertie Ahern, Bill Clinton, Kathy Donaghy and Miriam O’Callaghan
JOHN HUME personified hope, courage, and perseverance. To the world, he was a political and intellectual colossus. Still, to his friends, he was an ordinary man who achieved extraordinary things.
Reflecting on Hume’s life, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said never has the beatitude rung truer – “blessed be the peacemakers”.
“The life of John Hume will forever be a blessing upon this island since Ireland is now blessed by the peace he gifted to us all. It is the greatest legacy a political leader can bestow upon his country,” he said.
Being John Hume was not easy. And being from Derry and a Catholic was especially hard in the 1970s.
Hume watched as 13 peaceful marchers, his neighbours and friends, were shot dead by British paratroopers in the Bogside in January 1972.
After Bloody Sunday, few in the nationalist community in Northern Ireland were in the mood for peace. For many, picking up a gun would have been an easy thing to do. But he never wavered.
Reflecting on what marked John Hume apart from Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, Eastwood believes it was his courage.
“He was much more courageous (than Adams and McGuinness).
“It’s far harder to stand up against the might of the RUC, the IRA, the UDA – people who would kill you in the morning – without a gun in your hand.
“And the force of argument is your only weapon. That, for me, was the most inspiring thing about John Hume.
“That and the many thousands of SDLP people who spoke up in tough times and places and said, ‘No, you’re wrong – violence is not the way to do it’. The bottom line is they were proved right.
“The graveyards are full of people who didn’t need to die. It was only when the IRA embraced the thinking of John Hume and the SDLP that things began to change.
“He was always comfortable in the White House or Downing Street, but he was most comfortable here in Derry amongst his people.
“He was the leader of constitutional nationalism, and he was the leader of this city, and we still see him as that.”
Hume’s legacy is bound forever in his ability to speak and connect with people – all kinds of people.
Journalist and political activist Eamonn McCann explains this didn’t always make him popular. “You would hear people say ‘there he is talking to
the Americans and the bloody Brits again’. It was held against him in the early days,” McCann laughs.
“But John would have been content that all that talking was better than bloodshed. “He could talk to anyone. “What I remember him most for is his steadiness of purpose. Frequently I disagreed with him.
“He was consistent almost to a fault.
“He had an inner certainty that not everybody, including myself, always found comfortable.
“You could get into an argument with John, but you weren’t going to move him.
“At the end of the day, he would take your argument onboard and repeat his own.
“He was a frustrating fellow in a way. I don’t want to be over-sentimental, but I liked John a lot.
“Over the past 20 years, he and I got on very well – having not got on all that well at the outset. I’m very sad,” he said.
As tributes from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton flooded the news, John Cooley, manager of Badgers Bar in Derry city, said simply: “He was one of us. He loved Derry, he was always fighting our corner.
“John is responsible for bringing Seagate, thousands of jobs, to this city.
“He was a great friend of the owner here, Hugh McDaid, and used to come in all the time.
“He would have a wee Baileys or an ice-cream or a wee sweet and be chatting to everyone sitting about.
“People loved him. Although he was a statesman, he was an ordinary man.”
Hugh McDaid, the owner of Badgers and the former chairman of Derry City Football Club, was a lifelong friend of Hume.
“His death was inevitable, but I’m very sad.
“It was an absolute pleasure to have him as a friend. Not because he was John Hume but because he was another neighbour’s child.
“John would come down to me every day in the bar for years. We had the best of times. He enjoyed a wee Baileys, and he used to say to me ‘Guinness should be doing this in pints’.
“One thing people may not have known about him was that he played cricket, and he was good. But he enjoyed sport, in general. He took part in all kinds of sports.
“When John developed dementia, he would have ranted on a wee bit, but even then he was very sincere in what he was doing.
“He was aware of what he would be saying and doing and was protective of himself – he wouldn’t have his picture taken with people willy-nilly.
“There was always good fun around him. I loved going to matches in Dublin with him.
“We would arrive, and it was quite astounding the reaction people had to him.
“People down south treated him like a god. He wasn’t used to that in Derry.
“We all loved him, but he was one of us, and we were used to seeing him, I suppose.
“One time we had just arrived for a football match and a sergeant came over and said he was there to protect us.
“I was laughing, ‘no, no, we don’t need protection. We’re from Derry for heaven’s sake’.”
Despite being a Nobel Prize winner, McDaid remarks that Hume “never capitalised on his popularity”.
“He was too honest a person to live off the back of something that someone was praising him for. He was just a very plain person.
“I’ve lost a friend, but Derry city has lost a friend.”
Iconic image: John Hume is detained by a soldier during a civil rights protest in Derry in August 1971.
Homeplace: John Hume in his native Derry, where he enjoyed huge popularity; right, celebrating with his beloved Derry City FC.