Even in the dark­est days, he did not turn his back on peace

Irish Independent - - News | John Hume: 1937-2020 - Miriam O’Callaghan Miriam O’Callaghan pre­sented a 2010 doc­u­men­tary for RTÉ mak­ing the case for John Hume to be recog­nised as ‘Ire­land’s Great­est’

JOUR­NAL­ISTS wit­ness all sorts of mo­ments in his­tory but it’s of­ten small in­ci­dents on the fringes that stick in your mind.

One of them for me was a win­try morn­ing in Oc­to­ber 1993 as I stood in a beau­ti­ful old grave­yard in Greysteel, Co Derry.

It was an­other day and an­other un­nec­es­sary fu­neral caused by the Trou­bles. On this oc­ca­sion, the cof­fin be­longed to one of the eight vic­tims of the Ris­ing Sun mas­sacre.

Just days be­fore the Greysteel at­tack by the loy­al­ist UDA, the Frizzell’s fish shop atroc­ity took place, where an IRA bomb killed 10 peo­ple. These were dark times.

All around the grave­yard women and men were cry­ing. Among the mourn­ers stood John Hume, with his wife Pat by his side. I could not stop look­ing at him, won­der­ing what was go­ing through his mind at that mo­ment. Then I no­ticed a woman go up to him and start speak­ing.

John be­gan to weep un­con­trol­lably and the woman ended up try­ing to com­fort him. She touched the side of his face to try to ease his pain. But John con­tin­ued to cry.


I found out later that the woman was a rel­a­tive of one of the vic­tims and that she had gone up to John to ask him to not give up, to keep on go­ing, to not lose heart.

Shortly af­ter this fu­neral, John Hume was hos­pi­talised for stress.

Pat Hume has since told me that around this time she asked John to stop, to give it all up, to step away, as the toll it was tak­ing on them and their young fam­ily was sim­ply too much.

But like all great peace­mak­ers, even through those dark­est days, John did not turn his back on peace, he did not give up.

Mak­ing peace is never easy, as he of­ten told me. Yet he made it his life’s mis­sion to bring peace to this is­land.

On the day of the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, I was pre­sent­ing ‘Prime Time’ from Belfast. His­toric is a word that is abused, mis­used and overused, but this was the most his­toric mo­ment any­one on the team had ever wit­nessed. It would change not just the course of Ir­ish his­tory, but also all of our lives for­ever. John was our lead guest that night.

Years later I was asked to cham­pion John Hume for a pub­lic vote on Ire­land’s great­est per­son, liv­ing or dead. It was 2010 when he won that com­pe­ti­tion. It re­ally should not have mat­tered all that much, but it did.

The man who had achieved so much in his life and had right­fully re­ceived end­less plau­dits and awards, in­clud­ing the No­bel Peace Prize, surely did not need any more con­fir­ma­tion of his im­por­tance to this small but proud na­tion.

But this award did mat­ter, and it mat­tered greatly to him and to his fam­ily, be­cause this was the Ir­ish peo­ple speak­ing by way of pub­lic vote.

John Hume set it as his life’s am­bi­tion to achieve peace in our coun­try, and he never gave up. He sac­ri­ficed almost ev­ery­thing for us.

He al­ways be­lieved that the root of the prob­lem was not a di­vided is­land, but rather a di­vided peo­ple, and through di­a­logue and agree­ment he suc­ceeded and changed our lives.

We should all be eter­nally grate­ful, and in a small way, I think the ‘Ire­land’s Great­est’ pub­lic vote was our way of show­ing that.

Shortly af­ter this fu­neral, he was hos­pi­talised for stress

Trea­sured mem­ory: A per­sonal photograph from Miriam O’Callaghan taken in 2003 show­ing her with John Hume and her son Conor, who is now 18 years old.

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