Funeral of John Hume hears peacemaker ‘gave dignity and life to so many people’

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

Patricia Hume (centre) arrives at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry for the funeral of her husband. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Patricia Hume (centre) arrives at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry for the funeral of her husband. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

By Freya McClements in The Irish Times

The funeral of Nobel Laureate and former SDLP leader John Hume has taken place in St Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry. His son John Hume jr paid tribute to his father in a powerful and emotional eulogy.

John Hume was “a man who gave his life for his country” and who saved the lives of others, a priest has told mourners at his funeral.

“Make no mistake about it – there are people alive today who would not be alive had it not been for John’s vision and his work,” Fr Paul Farren said. “It could be any one of us,” he added.

He gave “thanks to God for the gift of life itself that so many people have today simply because of John’s vision of peace, commitment to peace and to making peace a reality”.

Fr Farren also paid tribute to Mr Hume as “a proud Derry man first and foremost”, whose “aim was to bring life and prosperity to this city – to lift people out of poverty and he did everything possible to make that a reality”.

John and Pat Hume, he said, “have secured their place in the history of Ireland, John being Ireland’s Greatest”.

He said: “Today we pray that John has secured his place not in Ireland, not in Europe but in paradise.”

In his homily, Fr Farren described Mr Hume as a man who “never passed by on the other side. John never kept a distance. He stopped. He showed compassion. He got involved. He gave dignity and he gave life to so many people.

“In a time in our world when often small mindedness and self-focus seems to be the driver, John never put anybody or any specific group first. He put everybody first. He didn’t focus on difference and division.

“He focused on unity and peace and giving that dignity to every person. We should never underestimate how difficult it was for John to cross the road and do what was intensely unpopular for the greater good,” he said.      

Fr Farren spoke of Mr Hume’s compassion, recalling the tears shed by him at the funerals of those killed in the Greysteel massacre in Co Derry in 1993, and the renewed determination it had given him to secure peace in the North.

“It was compassion – a compassion that visibly bubbled over in the cemetery in Greysteel that drove John on the final and often lonely and always difficult road to peace.

“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 yes, with absolute stubbornness, he convinced others that peace could be a reality.

“John never lost faith in peace and he never lost 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, ” he said.

“The world knows it,” Fr Farren said. “He is the only person in the world to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, The Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Peace Prize. Pope Benedict XVI made him a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of Saint Gregory the Great.”

‘A life well lived’

Mr Hume’s son, John jnr, also paid a personal tribute to his father, recalling his love for his wife Pat – whom he met in a well-known ballroom, Borderland, in Muff, Co Donegal, and whom he described as his father’s “greatest achievement” – and for his family; his love for his home city of Derry and for Donegal, and for his favourite Crunchie chocolate bars.

He also thanked the people of Derry and Donegal for their kindness towards his father, “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. We are eternally grateful to all those that helped over the years,” he said.

He also thanked the staff of Owen Mor care home in Derry, where Mr Hume spent his final years, saying that the “care Dad received in the last years of his life allowed him to retain his dignity, individuality and his magnificent strength of character, despite his overwhelming disabilities”.

“It allowed him to overcome,” he said.

If his father were here, Mr Hume said, he would “urge us to look at those young carers and the incredible and heroic daily work they do as a model for future leadership – their ethos of deep respect, a respect for everyone regardless of where they come from or stage of life”.

He said: “These are the foundation stones that are critical to all communities. The Reverend Martin Luther King might describe it as the politics of love.

“Dad would urge us to listen, so that in spite of it all; we shall overcome. Thank you Dad for a life well lived,” he said.

The President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins arrives at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins arrives at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire


Due to the coronavirus restrictions only about 120 people could be present inside St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry for Requiem Mass. The cathedral grounds were closed to the public, but local people had gathered along the railings since about 10am to pay their final respects.

Inside the cathedral, a portrait of Mr Hume was placed at the side of altar, with candles in front of it.

Among those present were the President Michael D Higgins, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, the North’s First and Deputy First Ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, and the North’s Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

Also in attendance were friends and colleagues from throughout Mr Hume’s life, including civil rights leader and co-founder of the SDLP Austin Currie, Derry civil rights leader Micheal Canavan, and songwriter Phil Coulter, as well as staff from the Derry care home where Mr Hume spent his final years.

International tributes

Pope Francis said he had been “saddened” to learn of Mr Hume’s death, and sent his prayers and blessings.

He paid tribute to Mr Hume’s achievements as a peacemaker, saying he was “mindful of the Christian faith that inspired John Hume’s untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland.”

The Dalai Lama praised his “deep conviction in the power of dialogue and negotiations in resolving problems in his homeland”, which he said had been an “example of non-violent resolution of issues.”

Mr Hume’s “steady persistence” message of “peace and nonviolence in the resolution of conflict, no matter how protracted or difficult it may seem to be, will long survive him,” he said. “He has lived a truly meaningful life.”

Tributes were also read by the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, from the former US president Bill Clinton, and the UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Clinton said he and his wife Hillary had been “deeply saddened” by the passing of their friend, Mr Hume, “who fought his long war for peace in Northern Ireland, his chosen weapons an unshakeable commitment to non-violence, persistence, kindness and love.

“He was Ireland’s Martin Luther King,” he said.

Mr Johnson said that “last night a candle was lit and placed in the door of Downing Street, to pay respects to John Hume”.

He said: “The world has lost a giant of a politician, who was recognised the world over for the immense contribution he made to Northern Ireland.

“We should never forget the lasting impact he made and will continue to have on Northern Ireland. His unending determination and courage paved the way for peace and because of all he did then Northern Ireland is a safer stronger and better place. This will be his legacy,” he said.

A tribute was also sent by Bono, who described him as “a man whose life made all our lives bigger.”

“We were looking for a great leader and found a great servant,” he said.

Arriving at the cathedral, the North’s First Minister, the DUP leader Arlene Foster, said she was pleased to have been able to come and pay her respects as an individual and on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.

“It’s a very sad day but it’s also a very proud day for the city and for the family and the many many friends of John Hume,” she said.

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