John Hume, Derry man and global peacemaker died on August 3rd, 2020.
One of the greatest leaders of modern Irish history, John was a proud northerner who was very proud of his Derry roots. As a young teacher in Derry during the worst of the troubles, I often used John’s words to help our young navigate the hatred and sectarianism, which was part and parcel of daily life in Derry.
John often 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.”
This quote was the basis of a dance I helped to co-ordinate called the “Dance of Co-existence”, which told the story of our two cultures in the northern part of the island of Ireland. Performed in Derry’s Guildhall in the presence of Mr. Hume and his wife Pat, and later in Dublin, before the President of Ireland, the dance was a moment to pause from the “troubles” and allowed young people to learn about and appreciate each other’s history, culture and story.
As well as being a great leader, John Hume was an activist who believed in Catholic Social Teaching and especially the idea that the character of any society is based on how it treats its weakest. He often said: – “I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals, rather than fighting for them, and by viewing each and every person as worthy of respect and honour. I want to see an Ireland of partnership where we wage war on want and poverty, where we reach out to the marginalized and dispossessed, where we build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow.”
Growing up Derry, John Hume knew first hand the deprivation visited on the catholic community in Derry with inadequate social housing, poor infrastructure and the highest male unemployment in Western Europe. The social conditions of the people of Derry are best immortalized in the song – The Town I Love So Well, written by musician Phil Coulter, also from Derry.
Drawn into public life, Hume began to campaign on issues such as housing and helped set up a credit union in his native city. But more traumatic times, including Bloody Sunday, lay ahead.
Despite a majority nationalist (catholic) population, Derry’s council was controlled by unionists (protestant) – and its reform was among the key demands of the civil rights movement.
Hume lived in the Bogside, scene of some of the earliest confrontations, and he witnessed at first hand the slide from peaceful protest to violent street confrontation. He knew how quickly violence could erupt and the message of injustice can be lost. In 1985, he played a key role in negotiations over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which for the first time gave Dublin a limited say in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
Elected as the MP for Foyle in 1983, he was also well regarded as a Member of the European Parliament. He had enormous influence in the United States, where he rubbed shoulders with Teddy Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
But it was in direct talks with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, which reached a new intensity in 1994, that he took his biggest risk in the search for peace, provoking unionist fury.
During a conference held in New York, organized by Carol Rittner rsm, Mr. Hume shared a platform with Gerry Adams (Adams had been given a 48 hour visa to enter the USA by President Clinton), where the two men tried to outline their vision for the future. I was lucky to be present at the conference and while the world media had eyes only for Adams, the real hero and the man who risked most was John.
John Hume was a humble man and never forgot his roots. He was proud of his native city and knew how northerners can sometimes be treated and dismissed south of the border!
The people of Ireland owe a debt of gratitude to his gentle wife Pat, who did so much in the background to raise her family, teach and support the dreams of the man she loved. John Hume may have been a global figure, a Nobel Laureate and peacemaker. He was a man of the people for the people. He dared to invent the future, because he believed that another world was possible.
John was our John Lewis. John Hume was a relative. John was a friend.
Deirdre Mullan rsm
This article was first published in Mercy e-News