Bloody Sun­day left Hume dev­as­tated as his home­town made head­lines world­wide

The ded­i­cated young teacher and rights ac­tivist could not have fore­seen how the Trou­bles would change life ir­re­vo­ca­bly, writes

Irish Independent - - News | John Hume: 1937-2020 - Kathy Don­aghy

THERE is a photograph of John Hume taken in Derry in 1969. He’s standing in the mid­dle of a street on his own with his hands raised in sup­pli­ca­tion as six po­lice­men car­ry­ing riot shields walk to­wards him. His ex­pres­sion is calm de­spite the ob­vi­ous ten­sion as he im­plores them to stop.

It says much about the man. Calm, re­silient and yet un­wa­ver­ing in his be­lief that there is al­ways an­other way, a peace­ful way.

John Hume was born in 1937, the el­dest of seven chil­dren to Annie and Sean Hume. At the time the fam­ily lived in one room of his grand­par­ents’ tiny ter­raced house on Lower Nas­sau Street in Derry. They moved out when he was four years old, as the fam­ily grew.

Ed­u­cated at St Columb’s Col­lege in the city and later at St Patrick’s Col­lege, Maynooth, he had orig­i­nally stud­ied to be a priest but de­cided not to con­tinue train­ing for the priest­hood.

He spent sev­eral sum­mers study­ing in France: at Sain­tMalo, Brit­tany and at the In­sti­tut Catholique in Paris. He re­ceived his mas­ter’s de­gree from Maynooth in 1964.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he be­gan teach­ing French and His­tory at St Colman’s sec­ondary school in Stra­bane. It was a job he loved, but his tal­ents were such that he would be­come in­volved in lo­cal self-help schemes and was al­ways busy.

Af­ter a few years spent work­ing in a smoked salmon busi­ness he set up, he re­turned to teach­ing at his old school, St Columb’s Col­lege in Derry.

When he mar­ried Pat in 1960, she had only heard him speak in pub­lic once, at a de­bate where the mo­tion was that “Ire­land should join the Com­mon Mar­ket”. As well as teach­ing, he spent his free time fol­low­ing Derry City Foot­ball Club, or play­ing cricket for City of Derry.

In her es­say for the book ‘John Hume – Ir­ish Peace­maker’, edited by Seán Far­ren and De­nis Haughey, Pat Hume re­calls how through­out the 1960s her hus­band was ac­tive in the lo­cal com­mu­nity and was among a co­hort of peo­ple who es­tab­lished the first credit union in North­ern Ire­land and the Derry Hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion.

Dur­ing this time John and Pat Hume’s fam­ily grew – Terese, Áine, Ai­dan and John all ar­rived. Their youngest daugh­ter Mo was born in 1972. Life was busy and Pat has writ­ten that there was no sense of what was ahead.

Civil rights abuses drew John Hume into po­lit­i­cal life. They were hap­pen­ing all around him. While the Derry Hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion built many homes, they would meet re­sis­tance from lo­cal govern­ment which feared any change in the city’s care­fully drawn elec­toral map.

Through­out the late 1960s, in­spired by Martin Luther King who he much ad­mired, Hume and other lead­ers of the Civil Rights move­ment took to the streets to de­mand an end to the gross dis­crim­i­na­tion suf­fered by Catholics in jobs and in hous­ing in North­ern Ire­land.

In 1969, he first ran for elec­toral of­fice and was elected MP to the North­ern Ire­land par­lia­ment. The fol­low­ing year he was one of the founders of the new So­cial Demo­cratic and Labour Party (SDLP) with Gerry Fitt as leader and him as deputy leader.

Hume and the SDLP would win their first vic­tory in 1971, when the North­ern Ire­land Hous­ing Ex­ec­u­tive was cre­ated to man­age mat­ters of pub­lic hous­ing in­de­pen­dently of lo­cal di­vi­sions. The vic­tory was short-lived, as the Trou­bles were about to ex­plode.

With the in­tro­duc­tion of in­tern­ment in 1971, the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere be­came highly charged. On Jan­uary 23, 1972, Hume led a march against it on Mag­illi­gan Beach in Co Derry, where some in­ternees were be­ing held. Ac­cord­ing to Pat Hume, when her hus­band re­turned that day, he was deeply wor­ried.

“The march had been met by sol­diers of the Para­troop Reg­i­ment and he had seen that these men were not re­spon­sive to rea­son and had used un­nec­es­sary vi­o­lence to­wards the marchers. He was so dis­tressed about the risk of serious vi­o­lence that he pleaded with NICRA (North­ern Ire­land Civil Rights As­so­ci­a­tion) that the march planned for the fol­low­ing Sun­day in Derry should be can­celled,” she writes in the book ‘John Hume – Ir­ish Peace­maker’.

But the march went ahead – and the day of Jan­uary 30, 1972, en­tered the an­nals of his­tory as Bloody Sun­day.

The con­se­quences of it dev­as­tated Hume. What was hap­pen­ing in his home­town was now mak­ing front-page news all over the world.

Through­out the bloody vi­o­lence of the years that fol­lowed, Hume tire­lessly worked for po­lit­i­cal progress. As North­ern Ire­land con­tin­ued to make world-news head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons, it was to Hume that the in­ter­na­tional me­dia would turn to talk about the cri­sis.

His abil­ity to ex­plain the com­plex sit­u­a­tion to a mass au­di­ence, while stick­ing rigidly to his mes­sage of tol­er­ance, re­spect and non-vi­o­lence, meant he was much in de­mand.

In his own words, he summed up his ap­proach when he said: “Ire­land is not a ro­man­tic dream, it is not a flag; it is 4.5 mil­lion peo­ple di­vided into two pow­er­ful tra­di­tions. The so­lu­tion will be found not on the ba­sis of vic­tory for ei­ther, but on the ba­sis of agree­ment and a part­ner­ship be­tween both. The real di­vi­sion of Ire­land is not a line drawn on the map but in the minds and hearts of its peo­ple.”

In the 1980s, as the IRA con­tin­ued to wage its cam­paign of vi­o­lence, Hume be­gan secret meet­ings with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

A new book pub­lished ear­lier this year on the for­mer SDLP leader’s time in Amer­ica says Hume was bun­dled into a car and “kept” by the IRA for sev­eral days af­ter a failed meet­ing in 1985, three years be­fore the fa­mous Hume/Adams hand­shake that many see as the be­gin­ning of the peace process.

Not ev­ery­one wel­comed news of his meet­ing with Adams. He was ex­co­ri­ated by some and vil­i­fied in many sec­tions of the me­dia, where he was branded a ter­ror­ist sym­pa­thiser.

The pres­sure on him at that time was im­mense. It in­creased fur­ther when the IRA blew up a fish­mon­gers on the Shankill Road in Belfast in 1993 and Adams was pic­tured car­ry­ing the cof­fin of one of the bombers.

A week later, eight peo­ple were killed by the UDA in a gun at­tack in a bar in Greysteel, Co Derry, which was car­ried out in re­venge for the Shankill bomb­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Mark Durkan, who suc­ceeded Hume as SDLP leader in Jan­uary 2001, Hume could feel all the pain and anger from these out­rages, much of which was be­ing di­rected at him.

His health suf­fered as a re­sult. He lost weight and was ex­hausted.

But still he per­sisted. The US di­men­sion to his tireless work in se­cur­ing peace has been the fo­cus of re­cent at­ten­tion. A book and doc­u­men­tary last year by Mau­rice Fitz­patrick on Hume in Amer­ica doc­u­mented his work State-side to en­hance the chances for peace.

And while Bill Clin­ton is the US politician most firmly as­so­ci­ated with the peace process, Hume had been lay­ing the ground­work in Amer­ica for many years – en­list­ing the help of prom­i­nent Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing Se­na­tor Ted Kennedy.

In early 1994, Hume had pressed Bill Clin­ton to grant a US en­try visa to Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams.

While Clin­ton ac­knowl­edges it was a risky de­ci­sion, with many in his ad­min­is­tra­tion against it, he granted the visa with the hope of ad­vanc­ing the prospect of peace.

Clin­ton has re­ferred to Hume as the “Ir­ish con­flict’s equiv­a­lent to Martin Luther King”.

Through­out all this time, Hume also served as an MEP, where he was com­mit­ted to us­ing the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment as a place to put North­ern Ire­land on the map. The prac­tice of con­sen­sus pol­i­tics, he felt, of­fered a model for the North.

In 1998, af­ter all those years of toil, the Good Fri­day Agree­ment was signed. It put in place a blue­print for peace in North­ern Ire­land and Hume is re­garded widely as its prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect.

Later that year he and David Trim­ble, who was the leader of the Ul­ster Union­ist Party at the time, were awarded the No­bel Prize for Peace.

In its ex­pla­na­tion of the de­ci­sion to select Hume as one of the joint win­ners, the No­bel Com­mit­tee de­scribed him as be­ing “the clear­est and most con­sis­tent of North­ern Ire­land’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in his work for a peace­ful so­lu­tion”.

In his No­bel lec­ture, de­liv­ered in Oslo in De­cem­ber 1998, Hume said the Good Fri­day Agree­ment opened a new fu­ture for all the peo­ple of Ire­land: “A fu­ture built on re­spect for diversity and for po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ence. A fu­ture where all can re­joice in cher­ished as­pi­ra­tions and be­liefs and where this can be a badge of honour, not a source of fear or di­vi­sion.

“The Agree­ment rep­re­sents an ac­com­mo­da­tion that di­min­ishes the self-re­spect of no po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion, no group, no in­di­vid­ual. It al­lows all of us – in North­ern Ire­land and through­out the is­land of Ire­land – to now come to­gether and, jointly, to work to­gether in shared en­deav­our for the good of all,” he said in his speech.

Peace was some­thing he had ded­i­cated his life to achiev­ing. But it had not come with­out a cost. His health was the price he paid for those years of con­stant pres­sure and cease­less work.

And when cel­e­bra­tions to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of the Good Fri­day Agree­ment took place, Hume was too ill to at­tend.

In a ra­dio in­ter­view mark­ing the an­niver­sary of the his­toric agree­ment, his wife Pat said her hus­band’s de­men­tia meant he had lit­tle or no mem­ory of the role he played in se­cur­ing peace.

“But per­son­ally I hope that some­where in John there will be a sat­is­fac­tion that he did his best – and he cer­tainly did,” she said.

In ad­di­tion to his No­bel Prize, he is also the re­cip­i­ent of the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, and is the only per­son to have been awarded all three ma­jor peace awards.

His great­est sup­porter: John Hume and his wife, Pat, on their wed­ding day in 1960


Dark­est hour: Bloody Sun­day in Derry in 1972, when mem­bers of the Bri­tish Army’s Para­chute Reg­i­ment opened fire on a civil rights march through the city. Top, John Hume tries to rea­son with riot po­lice in April 1969.

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