John Hume: His life and times

The Nobel Prize winner set up the SDLP and helped negotiate Belfast agreement

John Hume has died in his home city of Derry. Harry McGee reports on the life of Ireland’s chief architect in the peace process and a man described by Bill Clinton as ‘the Irish conflict’s Martin Luther King’.

January 18th, 1937: Born in Lower Nassau Street, Derry, to Sam and Annie Hume.

1958: Hume graduates from Maynooth with a BA in French and history. Continues to study for MA, writing a thesis on the social and economic development of his native city.

1960: Hume, now a schoolteacher, marries Pat Hone.

1960: Hume helps establish Derry Credit Union – the first in Northern Ireland. He later becomes president of the Irish League of Credit Unions, aged 27.


May 1964: Hume writes two opinion pieces in The Irish Times, offering a withering critique of the old Nationalist Party. He advocates a new form of social democratic politics, dedicated to working for social justice and for Irish unity based on the principle of consent.

1965: Hume becomes first chairman of new Derry Housing Association, which campaigns for provision of social housing in response to chronic overcrowding.

1965: Hume becomes chairman of University for Derry campaign which presses for Magee College to be developed as North's second university.

October 5th, 1968: A banned civil rights march, including Hume, Republican Labour MP Gerry Fitt from Belfast, Austin Currie and others is batoned off Duke Street in Derry by the RUC. TV cameras record the violence which transformed the campaign for civil rights.

October 6th, 1968: Hume co-founds Derry Citizens' Action Committee to organise non-violent agitation for civil rights.

February 24th, 1969: Hume is elected to the old Stormont parliament as an Independent, defeating Eddie McAteer – leader of the Nationalist Party.

August 1969: Northern Ireland suffers serious civil disturbances. British troops deployed in Derry, then to Belfast.

December 1969: Provisional IRA is formed.

August 1970: Hume helps found the SDLP with Gerry Fitt as its first leader.

August 1971: In response to mounting street violence, Stormont government introduces internment without trial. January 30th, 1972 (Bloody Sunday): The British army's Parachute Regiment shoots dead 14 Catholics in Derry at an anti-internment march that Hume did not attend.

March 1972: Direct rule from Westminster is introduced.

December 6th-9th, 1973: British prime minister Edward Heath, taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Northern Ireland party leaders and others conclude Sunningdale Agreement, which forms basis for new power-sharing administration and a cross-Border Council of Ireland.

January 1st, 1974: The powersharing Executive takes office.

May 28th, 1974: Executive falls in the midst of a strike led by Ulster Workers Council and supported by many unionists.

June 7th, 1979: Hume elected as MEP to European Parliament.

March 1981: IRA prisoner Bobby Sands begins a hunger strike in H-Blocks. He dies in May as do nine other republican prisoners. Sinn Féin contests subsequent elections, winning 10 per cent of the vote in the 1982 Assembly elections.

June 9th, 1983: Hume elected to Westminster as MP for Foyle.

November 15th, 1985: Irish and British governments, strongly supported by Hume, sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement, giving the Republic a formal consultative role in Northern Ireland.

January 11th, 1988: Hume meets Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams for the first time to explore the possibility of a ceasefire. The talks continue in secret for some time. They resume in 1993 with Hume arguing that republican aims could be pursued without violence.

December 15th, 1993: British prime minister John Major and taoiseach Albert Reynolds conclude Downing Street Declaration.

January 29th, 1994: Hume helps persuade Clinton administration to grant Gerry Adams a US visa – a prerequisite in the push for an IRA ceasefire.

August 31st, 1994: IRA ceasefire is announced, followed by the combined loyalist ceasefire six weeks later.

February 9th, 1996: IRA ceasefire ends with bombing of London's docklands and subsequent bombing of Manchester city centre on June 15th.

July 20th 1997: IRA resumes its ceasefire following publication of a joint document by Adams and Hume. Sinn Féin enters peace talks chaired by Senator George Mitchell six weeks later.

April 10th, 1998: Belfast Agreement concluded. It is passed by joint referendums in both parts of Ireland, leading to elections to a new Assembly at Stormont.

October 17th, 1998: Hume and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble are both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

August 1999: Hume suffers brain damage following a medical emergency. He subsequently develops dementia.

September 2001: Hume steps down as SDLP leader.