John Hume funeral: Tributes paid to Northern Irish hero who ‘never lost faith in peace’

Samuel Osborne
·5-min read
PETER MUHLY/AFP via Getty Images
PETER MUHLY/AFP via Getty Images

Former SDLP leader and Nobel laureate John Hume made peace visible even in the darkest moments, his funeral has been told.

During his funeral at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry, Hume was said to have saved the lives of others through his vision and work.

He was described as a man who made his family “laugh, dream and think”.

Father Paul Farren said Hume gave his life for his country.

“He focused on unity and peace, and giving that dignity to every person,” he said.

“We should never underestimate how difficult it was for John to cross the road and do what was intensely unpopular for the greater good.

“Even in the darkest moments, when people would have been forgiven for having no hope, John made peace visible for others.

“His vision revealed what could be, and with time and determination and single-mindedness and stubbornness, he convinced others that peace could be a reality.”

In his homily he said Hume never lost faith in peace, nor faith in his ability to convince others that peace was the only way.

“If ever you want to see a man who gave his life for his country, and his health, that man is John Hume. The world knows it,” he added.

Father Farren said Hume and his wife Pat have secured their place in the history of Ireland, “John being Ireland’s greatest”.

The coffin of John Hume is taken into St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry (Niall Carson/PA)
The coffin of John Hume is taken into St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry (Niall Carson/PA)

Hume’s son, John Hume Junior, told those gathered that his dad was a Derryman to his core.

Mr Hume Junior added: “If dad were here today, in the fullness of his health, witnessing the current tensions in the world, he wouldn’t waste the opportunity to say a few words.

“He’d talk about our common humanity, the need to respect diversity and difference, to protect and deepen democracy, to value education, and to place non-violence at the absolute centre.

“He might also stress the right to a living wage and a roof over your head, to decent healthcare and education.

“Marrying Pat, our mother, was without a doubt dad’s greatest achievement and she enabled him to reach his full potential.

“Along with mum, he taught us all our values and gave us all our moral compass. And for that we will be forever in their debt.”

Messages were also read from former US president Bill Clinton, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and U2 singer Bono.

Among the dignitaries were Ireland’s president, Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Northern Ireland‘s first minister, Arlene Foster, and deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill.

Others included former SDLP leader Mark Durkan and current leader Colum Eastwood.

Members of the family carry John Hume’s remains (Stephen Latimer/PA)
Members of the family carry John Hume’s remains (Stephen Latimer/PA)

Pope Francis also paid tribute to Mr Hume.

A statement from the Vatican said: “His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of John Hume, and sends the assurance of his prayers to his family and to all who mourn his loss.

“Mindful of the Christian faith that inspired John Hume’s untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland, his Holiness commends his noble soul to the loving mercy of Almighty God.”

A message from the Dalai Lama was also read during the service.

“I was pleased to be able to meet John during one of my several visits to Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Indeed, his deep conviction in the power of dialogue and negotiations in resolving the problem in his homeland has been an example of non-violent resolution of issues.

“It was his leadership and his faith in the power of negotiations that enabled the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to be reached. His steady persistence set an example for all of us to follow.

“Although my fellow Nobel laureate is no longer with us, his message about peace and non-violence in the resolution of conflict, no matter how protracted or difficult it may seem to be, will long survive him. He lived a truly meaningful life.”

People lined the streets outside the Cathedral and applauded as the funeral procession made its way along the route to the city cemetery where a private burial took place.

Hume, a Derry politician feted around the world as a peacemaker, died on Monday at the age of 83 after a long battle with dementia.

In ordinary circumstances, his funeral would have been expected to draw huge crowds, but numbers were limited due to coronavirus restrictions.

The funeral of John Hume at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry (Stephen Latimer/PA)
The funeral of John Hume at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry (Stephen Latimer/PA)

Hume was a key architect of the Good Friday Agreement and was awarded the Nobel peace prize for the pivotal role he played in ending the region’s sectarian conflict.

The former MP, Stormont Assembly member and MEP, led the party he helped found for 22 years.

He was a prominent figure in the civil rights campaigns of the late 1960s and also played a leading role in the formation of the credit union movement, which later became a grouping of unions to send people money.

Throughout his political career, he remained steadfast in his commitment to non-violence.

His participation in secret talks with then Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a key catalyst for the nascent peace process.

The SDLP leader faced intense criticism, including some from within his own party, when his dialogue with Adams became public in 1993.

Despite threats to his life, he persisted with his efforts to engage with the republican movement and to convince the IRA to end its campaign of violence.

The highlight of Hume’s career came in 1998 with the signing of the historic Good Friday accord which largely ended Northern Ireland’s 30-year sectarian conflict.

Along with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, now Lord Trimble, Hume was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his contribution to stopping the bloodshed.

In 2010, Hume was named “Ireland’s Greatest” in a poll by Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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