Goodbye, dear John

John Hume
Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party leader John Hume
Image Credit: Reuters

The past week has been marred by the death of one of Derry’s most influential figures in politics.

John Hume was a giant among my parents’ generation and an inspiring figure for those of us who grew up in a political stew of conflict and division, watching the slow and arduous evolution of peace in my city and country, thanks to men and women like him. They helped usher in this peace — kicking and screaming much of the time — to Northern Ireland.

Through snippets of stories and hushed tones I learned of the reasons for the so-called ‘Troubles’ and the rights that were denied to Catholics living in the city in my mother’s and her mother’s lifetimes. It was only when I could comprehend the magnitude of what people such as John did that I appreciated what they had given me, my own generation and those that followed.

As a child, my young eyes saw bombs, riots and balaclava-clad men, a legacy of fear that resurfaces even today when I see an unattended bag or shifty-looking person in black trousers. Such scenes have now mostly disappeared from our cities and the terror on the streets of Derry these days seems to be caused by misguided young people with a devastatingly tainted idea of ‘The Cause’, a sad calling card of those who refuse to leave the past in the past.

When I heard of the death of John Hume I was shaken and my eyes filled up. His death wasn’t unexpected, but yet, those who shine so bright and make such an impact are rarely seen as being bound by the same rules of life as the rest of us mere mortals.

I never met the man, but I had heard the stories from those who had. As a politics student, I followed his party’s actions with interest and I, along with many others, was hopeful when the Peace Agreement was finally signed, sealed and delivered in 1998 to a war-weary population.

There was a time when I thought about joining the SDLP, the party of John Hume, but I always got cold feet, instead turning to journalism to assuage those other parts of me; curiosity and critical-thinking. Times change and sentiments sway like they do across the world and over time the party also changed, becoming less of the force it was in the days of John Hume. He grew older and his health depleted, as sometimes happens to those who have given their all.

It is an extremely sad time for those of us from Derry, whether in Ireland or elsewhere across the world. It feels like the city has lost a parent, a guardian of rights and justice, who, as parents always do, leave the best of themselves with us.

Due to current restrictions he didn’t have the usual funeral that other political figures have had to enable family, friends and others to say goodbye. But perhaps his was a fitting funeral for a man who didn’t seek the limelight or the praise of his political peers, he simply wanted to do what was right and help his people. John Hume was simply and quietly laid to rest with his loving family in attendance as he remained in the thoughts of the thousands he helped in his lifetime.

When I think of the Northern Ireland I grew up in and the one that children are currently growing up in, the differences are vast. There is a lot of hope in Northern Ireland today, and this hope has certainly sprung from the Good Friday Agreement. We can only hope that the legacy of such agreements, like that fought for and signed by John Hume, are strong enough to keep us from falling back into turmoil, and for the most part it seems we are.

— Christina Curran is freelance writer based in Northern Ireland.

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