The night we ended up shar­ing a bed – all in the pur­suit of peace

Irish Independent - - News | John Hume: 1937-2020 - Tim Pat Coogan

REM­I­NISC­ING about John Hume, it oc­curs that look­ing at his ca­reer brings to mind an ice­berg, both for stature and for the fact that so much of it lies un­seen.

A very large por­tion of his ca­reer was sus­tained and di­rected by the ad­min­is­tra­tive and po­lit­i­cal tal­ents of his wife Pat.

Ob­vi­ously there are in­nu­mer­able sto­ries one might tell about a fig­ure like John; but I re­mem­ber one oc­ca­sion in par­tic­u­lar, when I was en­gaged in what proved to be a fu­tile ex­er­cise, but at the same time il­lus­trated John’s will­ing­ness to try any­thing that might yield a peace div­i­dend.

I per­suaded him to ac­com­pany me to Con­voy in Co Done­gal to meet a man called Frank Mor­ris who had been jailed for his IRA ac­tiv­i­ties in the Six Coun­ties. At the time, the Trou­bles, as we came to know them, had scarcely be­gun. I wanted to per­suade Frank, with John’s help, that in­ter­na­tional me­dia had be­gun tak­ing an in­ter­est in the North and the com­men­tary was almost uni­formly sym­pa­thetic to the na­tion­al­ist cause.

I then hoped Frank would im­press on his Repub­li­can col­leagues the fact that suit­case bombs go­ing off in streets would surely de­stroy this im­age.

John de­murred a lit­tle at first, say­ing that he al­ways found that once he suc­ceeded in con­vinc­ing an IRA man to rely on di­a­logue not bombs, a harder one in the IRA cir­cle would con­vince him oth­er­wise.

Yet he agreed to ac­com­pany me, but first he had to speak with a con­stituent in Derry.

When we even­tu­ally got to Con­voy, Frank was nowhere to be found. His more-thanhos­pitable wife, how­ever, sug­gested we spend the night at their home.

How­ever, John and I had to share the same bed.

At the enor­mous break­fast which she pro­vided the next morn­ing, Mrs Mor­ris ribbed us both, in­quir­ing of John: “What were you two fel­las do­ing last night?”

John looked at her from two heav­ily pouched eyes – into each one you could have poured a glass of brandy

– and replied in heav­ily ac­cented Derry: “Sh­leep.”

With noth­ing to show for our ef­forts, we dis­con­so­lately headed back to Derry. John re­ceived a call that we should visit Ivan Cooper’s house.

On ar­rival we found Ivan standing be­side the wreck­age of his car which had been blown up overnight.

John posed for pic­tures taken by the BBC. Con­stituency work, Derry style!

A few years later, John got an­other call of­fer­ing an­other pos­si­ble peace div­i­dend.

It would in­volve go­ing to Frank­furt to meet an Ir­ish Amer­i­can politician called Ted Kennedy.

John bor­rowed the money for the fare, and set off to com­mence what turned out to be one of the most valu­able re­la­tion­ships of his rich ca­reer.

Like Con­voy, the visit could have ended fruit­lessly, but at least he would have tried.

His pur­suit of peace led him to the re­al­i­sa­tion that achiev­ing it would ul­ti­mately have to hurt those he loved — the mem­ber­ship of his own SDLP party which he helped found and came to dom­i­nate.

When Fr Alec Reid be­gan his sub­ter­ranean peace ef­forts, putting po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents in touch with each other; John agreed to meet with Gerry Adams and con­tin­ued to do so even though the ini­tial talks foundered dis­as­trously; John dis­cov­ered that the Pro­vi­sion­als in­tended to photograph the in­ter­view.

When it came in 1998, the con­fer­ring of the No­bel Prize on John was no more than his just re­ward.

By the time the Good Fri­day Agree­ment era dawned, he was almost burnt out.

His ex­er­tions: the late nights, the po­lit­i­cal strain of deal­ing with Dublin, Belfast, Lon­don and Wash­ing­ton, the in­dig­ni­ties of age, all took a heavy toll, but John by now had won not only the ear and trust of the Kennedys but also of Bill Clin­ton.

He helped to bring the agree­ment to birth and it is a com­men­tary on the in­ad­e­quacy of Union­ist phi­los­o­phy that his op­po­nents did not whole­heart­edly em­brace bring­ing that in­fant to a state of healthy adult­hood.

His legacy is such that – in Ire­land, Amer­ica, and the UK – those who dealt with John Hume will for­ever honour his mem­ory.

“Here was a Cae­sar! When comes such an­other?”

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