Northern Ireland news

John Hume: A fitting end to a life well lived

Family and friends of John Hume carrying the coffin.

The miserable weather reflected the mood of a city, a place he loved so well and that equally loved him back.

It was a far cry from the statesman like funeral that would have been expected for John Hume, one of the towering figures of Irish politics, but seemed somehow befitting of the Derry lad done good.

While he travelled the world and dined at the finest tables with presidents and prime ministers, John Hume was at his core a working class Irish man, who was fiercely proud of his roots and was determined to make life better for all.

In normal times his funeral would have attracted dignitaries from around the globe.

Back in March 2017, thousands lined the streets for the funeral of another of Derry's sons, Martin McGuinness.

On that occasion there was a visit from former US president Bill Clinton - the man who back in 1995 John Hume convinced to visit Derry.

Read More: John Hume's funeral: Nobel Prize winner 'never lost faith in peace'

With pandemic restrictions, tributes to the former SDLP leader were instead confined to touching messages of condolences, sent from a distance.

As I stood with the gathered press outside St Eugene's Cathedral, a place well known to the Hume family, it was obvious this was a city giving a very personal send off to one of their most cherished sons.

In a strange but somehow appropriate coincidence the funeral took place on the same day, 173 years ago that committed pacifist Daniel O'Connell was laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The two men born centuries apart have often been compared. Hume was said to have admired and studied the man known as 'The Liberator'.

It was a coincidence that the late SDLP leader would have likely raised a smile and possibly a glass to.

As the Requiem Mass concluded the faint but unmistakable bars of The Town I Loved So Well could be heard drifting from the open doors of the Cathedral.

On the piano, musician Phil Coulter, a close friend and at times partner in song with John Hume - "For deep inside was a burning pride, In the town I've loved so well" words that mean so much to every Derry native.

Several hundred people had braved the weather, huddled around the Cathedral railings, waiting patiently.

As the song came to an end they started to clap, many wearing face masks, a reminder of the unusual circumstances this funeral was taking place in.

Some of them old enough to have remembered the terrible times that Derry and its people endured during the worst days of the Troubles and among them a new generation, those for whom the peace, imperfect as it is, has changed the course of their lives.

The stood with hoods and umbrellas to shield them from the never ending downpour.

"Thank you John" shouted one man as the hearse carrying the humble wicker coffin was driven from the Cathedral followed by a car carrying his beloved wife Pat "his greatest blessing".

The applause that had started slowly and hesitantly gained traction, in a spontaneous show of love and gratitude.

Many blessed themselves as the Nobel laureate left for his final journey.

Sporting his military medals, John Wade, from Co Kerry, an Irish Defence Force veteran, stood to attention and saluted as the cortège drove past.

He tells me he once travelled the world on peacekeeping missions, "we were peacekeepers but he was a peace maker" he says.

There was nothing normal about the funeral but it was quite lovely in its simplicity, a fitting end for a man who his son John Hume Jnr rightly thanked “for a life well lived.”

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