John Hume, Public Representative: A poem by Philip McDonagh

John Hume. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

John Hume. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


In the beginning was the word. In schools
the welfare state built, we in the Bogside,
the Glen, and Creggan got hold of mind’s tools.
We walked in the daylight with a new pride.

Within the stale boundaries, truth-by-rote,
the drumbeat of our ahistorical
abstractions, cornered us and crowded out
our fresh instincts. We held on. A rebellion

rooted in what a person sees beyond
present alternatives began to act
on others. Over time, knots were unwound.
Conflict became contingency, not fact.

John Hume, public representative:
once I had said it on live radio,
it marked me like a sacrament, as if
my life was not my own. I kept going

down all the years and on to Downing Street
and that last Passover; until it fell,
the old wolf-law. Yet who can explicate,
finally, great events in the detail

of one life? To remember bobs and bits
of ordinary decency is easier.
I crossed half the world for Ann Fitt’s
funeral; it was winter, I was there.

Philip McDonagh is adjunct professor at Dublin City University and director of the Centre for Religion, Human Values and International Relations. In the Department of Foreign Affairs, as political counsellor in London, he played a part in the Northern Irish peace process. He served as Irish ambassador to India, the Holy See, Finland, Russia and the OSCE. His poetry collections include The Song the Oriole Sang (Dedalus Press, 2010). A play, Gondla, or the Salvation of the Wolves, was published by Arlen House