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’

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.

Even in the darkest moments, Fr Farren said, "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 Nobel Laureate and former SDLP leader who was one of the architects of the North’s peace process and the 1998 Belfast Agreement, Mr Hume died on Monday after a long illness. He was 83, and had been suffering from dementia.


Tributes from the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Bono, the US President Bill Clinton and the UK prime minister Boris Johnson were read at the funeral. Numbers inside the cathedral were limited to around 120 people due to the coronavirus pandemic, but members of the public gathered outside the cathedral’s railings to pay their last respects.

Among those who attended 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 present were friends and colleagues from throughout Mr Hume’s life, including civil rights leader and co-founder of the SDLP Austin Currie and many other current and former SDLP politicians, and staff from the Derry care home where Mr Hume spent his final years.

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".

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.

‘A life well lived’

During the Mass Mr Hume’s son, John Junior, paid a personal tribute to his father on behalf of the family, recalling his love for his wife Pat - whom he described as his father’s “greatest achievement” - as well as for his family, his home city of Derry and adopted home of Donegal, and for his favourite Crunchie chocolate bars.

He also thanked the staff at Owen Mor nursing home, where Mr Hume spent his final years, and 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.” Their actions, he said, were “a profound gift to all of us.”

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.

Songwriter Phil Coulter performed The Town I Loved So Well - a favourite of Mr Hume’s - as his remains left the cathedral following Requiem Mass. Mr Hume was applauded by those watching outside the cathedral as he left the grounds and by people lining the short route to the cemetery.


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.


Speaking to The Irish Times after the funeral, Mr Coveney described Mr Hume as “the most impactful politician of the last 50 years on this island” and one who had an “extraordinary message that’s associated with his name and his life’s work.”

He described how he had stayed overnight in Derry the night before, and how he and his friend Fr Paul Farren had gone into the cathedral at midnight “and said a quiet prayer, and John’s coffin was there.

“It was certainly a reminder to me of the power of John Hume as a personality but also as a carrier of a message that my generation of politicians now needs to deliver on,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he had sat alongside the Northern secretary, Brandon Lewis, during the funeral, and described it as “important” that the first and deputy first minister sat together.

“We need to work together and to ensure that [WITH]a peace process that needs to be reinvigorated and reinforced every week every day every month every year, that energy is still there, and the determination to ensure that the politics of difference and division and hatred that undermines society as well as the possibilities for politics, that that doesn’t take hold again,” he said.

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.

In a message 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.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times