THE island of Ireland truly lost one of its greatest people yesterday, with the death of John Hume.
Much of his 83 years were spent devoted to his wife, Patricia, and their five children, and to the worlds of politics and public service.
But it is as a pivotal figure in the Good Friday Agreement and the achievement of long-standing peace on this island that he will be forever remembered and cherished — by people of all persuasions and political hues.
As leader of the SDLP, Hume’s actions helped get the ball rolling in divided times. He suffered setbacks and defeats in his vision of a peaceful Ireland, north and south, but he kept on going.
His actions were remarkable — but his personality is what the people of this island will remember the most: John Hume had humility and drive, tenacity and grace; goodness radiated from him, and enveloped all the people who he sought to influence.
His best-known speeches are as pertinent and powerful now as they were when he uttered them decades ago. He once said: “Over the years, the barriers of the past — the distrust and prejudices of the past — will be eroded, and a new society will evolve, a new Ireland based on agreement and respect for difference.”
Sadly, he suffered from ill health in latter years, but he assuredly lived long enough to see that dream become reality in a new, peaceful Ireland he helped to create.
Hume deservedly won many accolades. He is the only person to have been awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2010, he was voted “Ireland’s Greatest” in a public poll by RTÉ.
In 2004, Hume came to Leeside to be given the Freedom of Cork. The citation stated: “In recognition of his exceptional commitment to the cause of reconciliation on this island and for being a living testament to that fundamental principle of peace — respect for diversity. In recognition of the pivotal role he played in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and his unwavering commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy.
“In admiration of his qualities as a man of honour, generosity, integrity and courage, but above all in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the cause of lasting peace. For his exhortation that we spill sweat together, instead of blood and his conviction in the futility of violence; As a token of the high esteem and affection in which he is held by the people of Cork.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.