The people of Derry say farewell to John Hume

The people of Derry say farewell to John Hume
The late John Hume's remains are carried from St Eugene's cathedral in Derry after the requiem Mass of the former SDLP leader, MP, MEP, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

When John Hume was approached by strangers later in life, he would take their hands, and say: "Tell me who you are, again."

Just as John took everyone in Derry by the hand, yesterday the people of Derry led their most dedicated son to his final resting place.

Although asked to stay away or stay apart, mourners began arriving at St Eugene's Cathedral in John's beloved home town an hour before the beginning of Wednesday morning's service. They stood at the railings in the damp Derry summer to say goodbye to their neighbour, their former MP, and their hero.

It is reflective of the type of people the Hume family are that, as the dignitaries filed into the hall in silent echo, so did staff from the nursing home who cared so lovingly for John in his final days, invited by those who meant the most to Ireland's greatest statesman, his family.

His life partner, Pat, was flanked by their children. She, it was noted, has given more of her life for Ireland than any woman alive or dead. Pat Hume lived under threat for many years of her marriage, was the family's main breadwinner in their early life, and spent long periods without her husband while he worked for peace.

She stood in silent tears as their family priest, Fr Paul Farren, told mourners: "If the history of Ireland is written and does not include Pat Hume, it will be an incomplete history."

In his sermon, Fr Farren told those present, and the thousands of people watching online, that there are people alive today who would not be without the efforts of John Hume.

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

"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."

Those attending the requiem Mass included President Michael D Higgins and the Taoiseach, alongside SDLP activists past and present. Among the small congregation were the North's First Minister, Arlene Foster, and Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill. The presence of the two women in this Catholic Church, together, while they run a Northern Ireland no longer divided as it was, is a tribute to John Hume's work.

In a message that the man himself would have loved, Pope Francis paid tribute to John.

A statement from the Vatican said: "His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of John Hume. 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."

In a Derry first, the Dalai Lama sent a tribute, noting that Hume's "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".

"Although my fellow Nobel laureate is no longer with us, his message about peace and nonviolence 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 from Bono and Bill Clinton were read aloud too, just in case we were in any doubt how far the boy from the Bogside had come.

Despite the lauding and tributes, the Mass, like John, kept Derry at its core.

Mr Hume's son, John Hume Jr, told mourners that he was a Derryman first and last, "and those deep roots of neighbourhood and community served to nourish him through the difficult years", and laughed as he said that his father had "kept the Irish chocolate industry in healthy profits".

"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," John Hume Jr said. 

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

In a day of many tragedies of circumstance, a poem written by Aidan Hume, Mr Hume's son, was read by his sister Mo.

Aidan, who is based in Boston, was not able to attend the funeral because of Covid-19 travel restrictions. Mo broke down as she read the tribute to their father.

At the end of the Mass, a simple man, in his simple coffin, was led away to the sound of applause.

Though a much smaller celebration than he deserved, John Hume goes to his resting place a giant in the world of politics and, more importantly, in his hometown.

Had all the people who loved John Hume come to Derry to applaud, we, like him, would have shaken the whole world.

I can only pray 

for a bright, brand new day 

In the town I love so well

Rest in peace, John Hume.

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