Funeral of John Hume under way in Londonderry

The funeral of former SDLP leader John Hume is under way in his native city.

Mourners began arriving at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry an hour before the beginning of Wednesday morning’s service.

Among those attending the requiem mass includes Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Derry musician Phil Coulter, who is expected to play The Town I Loved So Well at the end of the service, is also attending the mass.

John Hume
John Hume

Ahead of the service, Pope Francis paid tribute to Mr Hume.

A statement from the Vatican said: “His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of John Hume, and sends the assurance of his prayers to his family and to all who mourn his loss.

“Mindful of the Christian faith that inspired John Hume’s untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland, his Holiness commends his noble soul to the loving mercy of Almighty God.”

A message from the Dalai Lama will also be read during the service.

“I was pleased to be able to meet John during one of my several visits to Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Indeed, his deep conviction in the power of dialogue and negotiations in resolving the problem in his homeland has been an example of non-violent resolution of issues.

“It was his leadership and his faith in the power of negotiations that enabled the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to be reached. His steady persistence set an example for all of us to follow.

“Although my fellow Nobel laureate is no longer with us, his message about peace and nonviolence in the resolution of conflict, no matter how protracted or difficult it may seem to be, will long survive him. He lived a truly meaningful life.”

John Hume Junior is also expected to pay tribute to his father during the mass.

The Derry politician, feted around the world as a peacemaker, died on Monday at the age of 83 after a long battle with dementia.

In ordinary circumstances, Mr Hume’s funeral would have been expected to draw huge crowds, but numbers will be limited due to coronavirus restrictions.

There were emotional scenes outside the cathedral on Tuesday evening as Mr Hume’s widow Pat was tightly embraced by family members as she watched her husband’s coffin being carried inside the cathedral.

A socially-distanced guard of honour made up of SDLP activists watched on as the procession made its way to the doors of the cathedral.

They held candles in memory of the man hailed for his role forging the Good Friday peace accord.

The gesture was replicated in many homes across the island, as people placed candles in their windows in line with a request from Mr Hume’s family.

Following a request from John Hume's family, President Higgins and Sabina this evening lit a "candle for peace" at Áras an Uachtaráin.

— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) August 4, 2020

Mr Higgins, Mr Martin, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis all lit flames for the SDLP founding member.

Mr Hume was a key architect of the Good Friday Agreement and was awarded the Nobel prize for the pivotal role he played in ending the region’s sectarian conflict.

The funeral service is being broadcast by the BBC and RTE.

Mr Hume, a former MP, Stormont Assembly member and MEP, led the party he helped found for 22 years.

He was a prominent figure in the civil rights campaigns of the late 1960s and also played a leading role in the formation of the credit union movement.

Throughout his political career, he remained steadfast in his commitment to non-violence.

His participation in secret talks with then Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a key catalyst for the nascent peace process.

The SDLP leader faced intense criticism, including some from within his own party, when his dialogue with Mr Adams became public in 1993.

Despite threats to his life, he persisted with his efforts to engage with the republican movement and to convince the IRA to end its campaign of violence.

Pat Hume is embraced by family members as Mr Hume is taken into St Eugene’s Cathedral
Pat Hume is embraced by family members as Mr Hume is taken into St Eugene’s Cathedral

The highlight of Mr Hume’s career came in 1998 with the signing of the historic Good Friday accord which largely ended Northern Ireland’s 30-year sectarian conflict.

Along with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, now Lord Trimble, Mr Hume was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his contribution to stopping the bloodshed.

In 2010, Mr Hume was named “Ireland’s Greatest” in a poll by Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE.

His death came just six months after that of fellow Good Friday architect and long-time SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon.

A number of vehicles were hijacked in Derry on Tuesday afternoon, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accusing those responsible of violating the grief of the city.