Clinton, Pelosi among guests to honour John Hume in virtual tribute

Taoiseach and Mary McAleese to also attend online ceremony for Northern peace leader

Former SDLP leader John Hume died in August 2020. Mr Hume pictured in 1996. File photograph: Paul Faith

Former US president Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi are among those who will pay a virtual tribute to Nobel Laureate John Hume, to be broadcast from Washington DC to mark St Patrick's Day.

The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, and the former president Mary McAleese will also speak at the event, as well a number of political and other figures from Ireland and the US, including Congressman Richie Neal, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Ulster Unionist Assembly member Mike Nesbitt.

"We would not be where we are today with a generation of children in Northern Ireland raised in peace, without the tireless bi-partisan US engagement and support that John Hume inspired for the peace process," the Taoiseach said.

Former US president Bill Clinton with John Hume in 2005.

Organised by the Congressional Friends of Ireland Caucus, in association with the Irish embassy and the Pat and John Hume Foundation, Remembering John Hume will commemorate the former SDLP leader’s achievements and his role in securing US support for the North’s peace process.


“There’s no greater testament to John’s legacy than the fact that all these years later an entire generation has grown up outside the shadow of hatred,” Mr Clinton said. “His spirit now will live on in every new generation.”

Mr Hume, who died in August, aged 83, was a founder member of the SDLP, who was instrumental in securing the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement in 1998, which ended the Troubles.

“John got much of his early inspiration from American civil rights leaders and he went on to form very deep relationships with many US political leaders who provided invaluable support over several decades,” the Hume family said in a statement.

“Since John’s death, we have been overwhelmed by messages of sympathy and support from people in America that John met over the course of his career.”


As part of the tribute, his school friend, the musician Phil Coulter, recorded a special version of The Town I Loved So Well – Mr Hume's favourite song – in Derry's Guildhall, accompanied by a newly commissioned film, showcasing the "bright, brand new day" in his home town.

"The last time I was in Derry was for the sad occasion of John's funeral," said Coulter, "and as they were carrying John out of the cathedral and I was playing The Town I Loved So Well I wasn't thinking about John Hume the statesman, or John Hume the peacemaker, I was thinking of John Hume my pal, and I was thinking of the number of times we sang that song as a duet in weird and wonderful places, from the White House in DC to smoky bars in Donegal.

“John was a proud Derry man, as am I, so it meant a lot to me to be part of this tribute,” he said. “I have witnessed at first hand the influence that John had in the corridors of power in Washington, and I think it’s fortunate the regime change that has taken place in the White House, so they [the Biden administration] are more aware of and more respectful of John’s legacy.”

Mr Hume, he said, “gave everything that he could give for peace” and was “somebody who deserves to be remembered with great affection and great respect.

“It’s a hell of a legacy he’s left behind, and it is in no small measure thanks to John Hume that this city is enjoying that bright, brand new day that I talk about in the song.”

Ireland's Ambassador in Washington DC, Daniel Mulhall, said it was a chance for people "from both sides of the Atlantic, from all walks of life, to celebrate the life of a titan, a giant, a man of vision who changed the future of a people and a nation".

“In a year when the global pandemic prevented his many US friends from travelling to Derry to pay their respects, we are honoured to remember John Hume in America this St Patrick’s Day. ‘’

The event will be broadcast at from 7.30pm on March 17th.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times