Tributes to John Hume flood in from Irish and international politicians

‘He taught us that it is better to live for Ireland than to die for Ireland,’ says Eastwood

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’.


The national and international standing of Nobel Laureate John Hume has been reflected in the flood of tributes paid to him for his work in achieving an end to the bloody violence of the Troubles.

He was lauded as the intellectual and visionary architect of the peace process, the politician who took the great risk of entering talks with Gerry Adams and persuading the IRA to lay down its arms, and the man who saw his tenacity and courage culminate in the powersharing Belfast Agreement of 1998.

Mr Hume, who was 83, died on Monday morning in a Derry nursing home following a long period of illness. He is survived by his wife, Pat, and children, Terese, Áine, Aidan, John and Mo, his brothers and sisters and grandchildren.

Throughout Monday tributes poured in from current and former Irish and British and other leaders such as Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Boris Johnson, former US president Bill Clinton, President Michael D Higgins and former president Mary McAleese.

Ms McAleese likened Mr Hume to Daniel O’Connell – a comparison that also was made by the late Seamus Mallon, his friend and occasional adversary within the SDLP, who also placed him in the rank of another great constitutional nationalist, Charles Stuart Parnell.

Mr Hume was remembered for his role in bringing employment to Derry in the 1960s; for starting up the credit union in the city; for pushing forward the civil rights demands for equal standing for Catholics in a unionist-dominant discriminatory society; for his work as an Assembly member, MP and MEP; and for bringing the influence and power of the United States behind his quest for peace.

His chosen weapon, said Mr Clinton, was “an unshakeable commitment to non-violence, persistence, kindness and love”.

The current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Hume gave birth to a new political creed on the island that “taught us that it is far better to live for Ireland than to die for Ireland”.

Leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood, speaking outside the Guildhall in Derry city, reflects on the death of his friend and former leader John Hume. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood, speaking outside the Guildhall in Derry city, reflects on the death of his friend and former leader John Hume. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

He said Mr Hume “achieved the rarest of things in a political career – he became a living statesman”.

And Mr Eastwood added, “It is telling that John Hume remains the only person to have received the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Martin Luther King Award and, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize. In truth, though, and true to his character, the greatest reward for John was not personal recognition – it was instead found in the end to the violence and death which had taken ownership of our streets for far too long.”

Restricted funeral

It is believed that Covid-19 was not a factor in his death. Such was the national and international love and respect for Mr Hume that in normal circumstances his funeral would be expected to be one of the largest seen on the island for generations.

But due to coronavirus and on the insistence of the family, it will be a more restricted funeral. His remains will be taken to St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry on Tuesday evening at 5pm while his funeral Mass will be 11.30am on Wednesday morning.

The Hume family said on Monday that “John’s funeral will be arranged according to the current government regulations with very strict rules on numbers”.

They said, “We realise this will mean that many will be unable to join us and we will arrange a memorial service and a celebration of his life in due course. Above all, we know that John would have prioritised public health, and the safety and health of our communities.”

The family added, “It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome.”