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