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John Hume saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives,' brother of Bloody Sunday victim says

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Help with funeral costs: Michael Kelly was among the victims on Bloody Sunday. Photo: REUTERS/Paul McErlane

Help with funeral costs: Michael Kelly was among the victims on Bloody Sunday. Photo: REUTERS/Paul McErlane

Help with funeral costs: Michael Kelly was among the victims on Bloody Sunday. Photo: REUTERS/Paul McErlane

A man who lost his teenage brother on Bloody Sunday has told how John Hume handed over money to help them pay for the funeral.

Seventeen-year-old Michael Kelly was among 13 people killed after soldiers opened fire during a civil rights march in Derry in January 1972. A 14th died afterwards from his injuries.

Michael's brother John Kelly said the first time he met John Hume face to face was when the former SDLP leader called to his family home the next day.

Mr Kelly recalls Mr Hume giving money to his parents to help them cover the costs of the funeral - a gesture he made to the 12 other families who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday.

Speaking to the 'Belfast Telegraph', Mr Kelly said: "I was 23 when Bloody Sunday happened so I was well aware of John Hume and would have gone to marches to hear him speak. I was in awe of him.

"The first time I met him face to face was in our family home at my brother Michael's wake.

"I was in the room with my mother and father when John came in. He gave my parents money to help with the cost of Michael's funeral and I know it was much appreciated and needed.

"It wasn't just our family he did that for, he did it for all the families. John Hume saved hundreds and hundreds and maybe thousands of lives; if it wasn't for him so many other people would have gone to their graves like our Michael, I have no doubt of that.

"It wasn't just financial help John gave to the Bloody Sunday families, his door was always open to us during our campaign and he opened doors for us that would otherwise have been closed. He took the families to London and was with us when I knocked on the door of 10 Downing Street and handed in a petition. He also facilitated meetings between the likes of MPs Kevin McNamara and Jeremy Corbyn.

"A politician of John Hume's stature is what is missing today but there is no one like him and, sadly, I don't think there will be again."

John Hume was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

Mr Hume donated most of the £286,000 prize to two charities close to his heart - the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army. The remaining £36,000 was divided equally between a fund set up in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing and a victims' memorial trust.

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The Omagh bombing, on August 15, 1998, came just four months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Twenty-nine people died, including a woman pregnant with twins, in the worst single atrocity after almost 30 years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aidan was among the victims, said the donation was indicative of John Hume's character. Mr Gallagher said: "The donation John Hume made to the Omagh families at the time he won the Nobel Peace Prize was a very noble and honourable thing to do and was a mark of the man he was.

"It sent a strong message from John Hume that violence was something he didn't and never would support, and for that reason it is an important thing to do.

"That was within the first year of the bombing and in the early days of the Omagh fund, and the message sent out by that gesture should never be underestimated.

"That said a lot about the man himself. John Hume never forgot that he was a man of the people and that was something that he stayed true to all his life."

Mr Gallagher said the gesture brought comfort to grieving families. "He made life a lot more bearable for so many people because had he not taken the initiative and moved the peace process forward there is no doubt many families would still be suffering.

"It is only now that John Hume has gone and we reflect back on what was, and on what could have been, that we can see he shaped Ireland into a better place than it was before he came.

"It is a sad day, but it is also a day we can all be proud that someone from our country ended up as a world statesman for all the right reasons and not for glory."


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