John Hume has spent his entire life drawing the island of Ireland and his funeral was no different, uniting the mourners in a grim farewell to a political titan.
Unionist and nationalist leaders joined their family and friends at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry on Wednesday to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of a man many consider the greatest person in Irish history.
Social distancing rules capped the numbers at 120 indoors, and Hume’s family had urged people to watch the ceremony on television rather than congregating outside the gates, making a drizzle-strewn city look subdued.
But there was no doubt the pride of the local son who organized peace in Northern Ireland, garnering tributes across the island and messages from the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Downing Street, the House Blanche and Bill Clinton.
The Nobel Laureate – a prize he shared with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble – died on Monday at the age of 83 after a long battle with dementia.
“Today we truly give thanks to God for the gift of John Hume,” Father Paul Farren told the congregation. “Because make no mistake, there are people alive today who wouldn’t be alive without John’s vision and his work.
The late leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP) has become a secular saint, but the priest reminded mourners and viewers that Hume had waged an often lonely struggle to get the IRA and Sinn Féin to negotiate , in order to bring in trade unionists and the British and Irish governments. on board and to orchestrate the 1998 Good Friday Accord.
“We must never underestimate how difficult it was for John to cross the road and do what was intensely unpopular for the greater good… even in the darkest of times, when people would have been forgiven for n ‘Having no hope, John made peace visible to others, “Farren said. He also praised Hume’s widow, Pat, for her behind-the-scenes contribution.
Mourners included Arlene Foster, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Michelle O’Neill, Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Leader of Sinn Féin, who heads the Stormont executive, a legacy of the work of Hume. From Dublin came President Michael D Higgins, the taoiseach, Micheál Martin and other dignitaries.
The Dalai Lama’s message praised Hume’s perseverance. “His message of peace and non-violence in conflict resolution, however long or difficult they may seem, will survive him for a long time.” Bono, the lead singer of U2, also paid tribute. “We were looking for a great leader and found a great servant.
As a young schoolteacher, Hume led civil rights protests in Derry in the late 1960s to demand an end to discrimination against Catholics. After the unrest erupted, he co-founded the SDLP, became an MP and MEP, and spent three decades defending an “agreed Ireland” shared peacefully by trade unionists and nationalists. It won the support of successive administrations in Dublin, London, Brussels and Washington.
Viewers in a 2010 RTÉ poll voted Hume the greatest person in Irish history.
On Tuesday evening, candles in the windows and doors lit a path for the funeral procession as it coiled toward the cathedral. Boris Johnson tweeted that a candle was lit in Downing Street. Suspected Republican dissidents from Derry hijacked and torched several vehicles – a reminder that fringe groups still support the violence.
In a eulogy at the funeral, John Hume Jr paid tribute to his father’s quest for peace and shed light on his motivated and permanent lifestyle, saying he had kept the Irish chocolate industry in healthy profits for many years.
“Yorkies, Crunchies, Creamed Eggs, Double Deckers, Wispas – you name him, he loved them all,” he says. “We have often found it strange how a man with the intelligence to win a Nobel Prize could seriously believe that Crunchies were less fat because they were full of air.
At the end of the ceremony, singer Phil Coulter performed The Town I Loved So Well.
By the time the wicker coffin emerged from the cathedral to be transported to the cemetery, the drizzle had given way to the sun. Several hundred people lined the streets. “It’s sad to lose him,” said Anna Peake, 79. “He was an extraordinary man for peace and love on the island of Ireland. The people of Derry loved him.