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aoiseach Micheal Martin is among politicians and family at funeral of ex-SDLP leader John Hume

Taoiseach Micheal Martin was among those present today for the funeral of John Hume, the former SDLP leader who helped forge the Good Friday Agreement. 

Mourners began arriving at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry an hour before the beginning of today’s scaled-back service.

Among those attending the requiem mass was Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill as well as Mr Martin.

Meanwhile, Mr Hume’s widow Pat was accompanied by her family including daughters Therese, Aine and Mo as well as son John Junior.

Another son, Aidan, is based in Boston and is not able to attend his father’s funeral because of Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

Meanwhile, Derry musician Phil Coulter, played The Town I Loved So Well at the end of the service.

The 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, Mr Hume’s funeral would have been expected to draw huge crowds, but numbers were limited due to coronavirus restrictions.

There were emotional scenes outside the cathedral on Tuesday evening as Mr Hume’s widow Pat was tightly embraced by family members as she watched her husband’s coffin being carried inside the cathedral.

A socially-distanced guard of honour made up of SDLP activists watched on as the procession made its way to the doors of the cathedral.

They held candles in memory of the man hailed for his role forging the Good Friday peace accord.

The gesture was replicated in many homes across the island, as people placed candles in their windows in line with a request from Mr Hume’s family.

Mr Higgins, Mr Martin, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis all lit flames for the SDLP founding member.    

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

Painted murals of Hume have long been a feature of the walls of Londonderry – also known as Derry – a city bordering Ireland which witnessed some of the darkest chapters of ‘The Troubles’.

On one, his silhouette ranks besides fellow Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.

At the centre a bridge symbolises their commitment to reaching across divides.

At the foot of another, a small floral tribute had been added alongside a slate marker reading: ‘RIP John Hume – blessed are the peacemakers’.

The funeral service, which is being broadcast by the BBC and RTE, began with Bishop Donal Mc Keown paying tribute to the politician.

‘I welcome you all here as the Hume family gathers at the funeral service for John Hume.

‘This is at heart a family event as they grieve the loss of a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle.

‘I know that this is not just a local event. John belonged here but he also strode the world stage. So, I also welcome those from around the world who join us on television or social media platforms to pay tribute to a son of this city.

‘Many of you would have wished to be here in person. But that is not possible for reasons far beyond our control.

‘I want especially to acknowledge the many thousands of people from this city and from around the island who would have wanted to show publicly their esteem for John and their gratitude for what he, one of themselves, had achieved.’

Bishop McKeown read a message from the Vatican.

It said: ‘His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of Mr 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 said: ‘I was pleased to be able to meet John during one of my several visits to Northern Ireland.

‘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.’

Messages were also read from former US president Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A message from U2 singer Bono said: ‘We were looking for a giant and found a man whose life made all our lives bigger.

‘We were looking for some superpowers and found clarity of thought, kindness and persistence.

‘We were looking for revolution and found it in parish halls with tea and biscuits and late-night meetings under fluorescence.

‘We were looking for a negotiator who understood that no-one wins unless everyone wins and that peace is the only victory.

‘We were looking for joy and heard it in the song of a man who loved his town so well and his missus even more.

‘We were looking for a great leader and found a great servant.

‘We found John Hume.’

As the final bars of The Town I Loved So Well drifted out of the cathedral door the first crackle of applause sounded.

Stuttering at first, the instigators perhaps hesitant whether it was an appropriate response to such a moment, it quickly swept among all those congregated outside the church grounds to say goodbye to John Hume.

Two of his grandchildren spun round to see where the spontaneous act of appreciation had emanated.

They were greeted by a gallery of faces, some sheltering beneath umbrellas, perched high behind wrought iron railings on a road behind St Eugene’s Cathedral.

One man called out ‘Thank you John’.

Minutes earlier, the same onlookers were listening on a tiny portable radio balanced precariously on a car roof as Phil Coulter ended the funeral service on the piano with Mr Hume’s favourite song about his favourite place – Derry.

Outside, as the clapping spread to the limited number of mourners who had been able to attend the mass, Pat Hume held her focus on her husband’s wicker coffin as it was gently loaded into the hearse.

Behind her the assembled dignitaries applauded the man whose efforts to stop the bloodshed of the Troubles earned him the Nobel peace prize.

Irish President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis were among them.

In a sign of the strange times in which Derry bade farewell to one of its most famous sons, all wore face masks.

The applause finally subsided. But only momentarily.

As the hearse emerged from the cathedral gates, taking Mr Hume on his final journey to the City Cemetery, it rang out again.

This time accompanied by the words of Abide With Me, sung by church choristers standing at spaced out intervals close to the entrance.

As the cortege turned right up Creggan Street, a uniformed veteran of the Irish Defence Forces, standing like a sentry, raised a salute.

All around him people clapped.

Pat Hume, travelling in the black funeral car behind the hearse, lowered her window to acknowledge those on the roadside who had braved the rain to say their own personal thank you.

Earlier, she had sat at the end of the first pew of the cathedral as her son John Jnr insisted it was the family that owed the north west a thank you – for looking after Mr Hume as dementia gradually took hold.

‘The kindness shown to him by the people of Derry and Donegal, who stopped to talk to him in the street every day, guided him to protect his independence, and received him with gentleness if he was agitated, was a profound gift to all of us,’ he said.

‘We are eternally grateful to all those that helped over the years.’

Outside the bond Mr Hume had forged with those people, from the height of his political powers through to the fading of his light, was all too clear.

Along that last slow drive to the cemetery, there were not the thousands that would have been expected if the funeral had happened in normal circumstances.

But there were enough to leave the family in no doubt what the former SDLP leader meant to the town he loved so well.  

Mr Hume, a 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.

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 Mr 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 Mr 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, Mr Hume was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his contribution to stopping the bloodshed.

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

His death came just six months after that of fellow Good Friday architect and long-time SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon.

A number of vehicles were hijacked in Derry on Tuesday afternoon, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accusing those responsible of violating the grief of the city.

Former Conservative prime minister John Major, whose government helped pave the way for the Agreement, described Hume as ‘one of the most fervent warriors for peace’.

Hume’s family say the SDLP founder, who had dementia and was being cared for in the Owen Mor nursing home in Londonderry, died after a short illness.  

Hugely admired at both home and abroad for his fierce determination for peace, Hume was yesterday remembered fondly by statesmen around the world.

In a statement, President Clinton, who flew to Northern Ireland to support the peace process, said: ‘Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend John Hume, who fought his long war for peace in Northern Ireland. 

‘His chosen weapons: an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence, persistence, kindness and love. 

‘With his enduring sense of honor, he kept marching on against all odds towards a brighter future for all the children of Northern Ireland.

‘Through his faith in principled compromise, and his ability to see his adversaries as human beings, John helped forge the peace that has held to this day.’

Mr Blair made a rare broadcast appearance to underscore Hume’s importance to delivering peace.

He said: ‘John Hume was a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past.

‘His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and he will rightly be remembered for it. 

‘He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.

‘Beyond that, he was a remarkable combination of an open mind to the world and practical politics.’

Mr Major said: ‘Few others invested such time and energy to this search and few sought to change entrenched attitudes with such fierce determination.

‘Those whose communities have been transformed into peaceful neighbourhoods may wish to pay tribute to one of the most fervent warriors for peace.

‘He has earned himself an honoured place in Irish history.’    

Boris Johnson described Hume as ‘a political giant’ while Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to his ‘courage’.

Hume co-founded the Social Democratic and Labour Party to campaign for a united Ireland – but by peaceful means – and served as its leader between 1979 and 2001.

He was a strong opponent of the IRA, whose militant behaviour plagued the region with violence.

But to deliver peace, he got round the negotiating table with Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams to thrash out a peace deal. 

Mr Adams yesterday said: ‘The Good Friday Agreement in 1998, 12 years after we first met, was a landmark moment for both of us.’ 

Regarded as the architect of the Agreement,he was co-awarded the highly-coveted 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

Accepting the award, he 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 honor.’ 

Current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Hume was Ireland’s most significant and consequential political figure.

‘It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined – an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny,’ he said.  

Meanwhile, in a statement, Mr Hume’s family said: ‘We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness. 

‘Celebrating community in all its diversity went to the heart of John’s political ethos and we are very appreciative that our communities supported, respected and protected John.

‘John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and a brother.

‘He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family. 

The family added: ‘It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: ‘we shall overcome’.’

 

The Catholic leader of the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party, Hume was seen as the principal architect of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement.

He shared the prize with the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, for their efforts to end the sectarian violence that plagued the region for three decades and left more than 3,500 people dead.

‘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 honor,’ he said in 1998.

‘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.’

Born January 18, 1937, in Northern Ireland’s second city – Londonderry to British Unionists, Derry to Irish nationalists – Hume trained for the priesthood before becoming a fixture on the political landscape.

An advocate of nonviolence, he fought for equal rights in what was then a Protestant-ruled state, but he condemned the Irish Republican Army because of his certainty that no injustice was worth a human life.

Though he advocated for a united Ireland, Hume believed change could not come to Northern Ireland without the consent of its Protestant majority.

He also realised that better relations needed to be forged between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between London and Dublin.

He championed the notion of extending self-government to Northern Ireland with power divided among the groups forming it.

‘Ireland is not a romantic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 million people divided into two powerful traditions,’ he said.

‘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.’

While both Hume and Trimble credited the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic for approving a referendum that led to power sharing, it was Hume’s diplomacy that offered the impetus to the peace process that led to the 1998 Good Friday accord.

Hume won the breakthrough in Belfast’s political landscape in 1993 by courting Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, in hopes of securing an IRA cease-fire.

That dialogue burnished Adams’ international credibility and led to two IRA cease-fires in 1994 and 1997.

Like most Protestant politicians at the time, Trimble had opposed efforts to share power with Catholics as likely to jeopardize Northern Ireland’s union with Britain. He at first refused to speak directly with Adams, insisting that IRA commanders needed to prove they were willing to abandon violence.

He ultimately relented and became pivotal in peacemaking efforts.

Hume had envisioned a broad agenda for the discussions, arguing they must be driven by close cooperation between the British and Irish governments.

The process was overseen by neutral figures like U.S. mediator George Mitchell, with the decisions overwhelmingly ratified by public referendums in both parts of Ireland.

‘Without John Hume there would not have been a peace process,’ Mitchell said at the time the prize was announced. ‘Without David Trimble there would not have been a peace agreement.’

Tributes poured in after’s Hume’s death was announced, from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chief European Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, and Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.

‘It is impossible to properly express the scale and significance of John Hume’s life,’ Martin said in a tweet.

‘He was one of the towering figures of Irish public life of the last century. His vision and tenacity saved this country. We owe him and his wife Pat so much.’

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