John Hume, the late Ronan Fanning - Sunday Independent columnist and distinguished historian - and I met at the funeral in Cahersiveen in August 1993 of the great journalist, our friend Liam Hourican.
John gave us a detailed account of the progress of his negotiations with Gerry Adams and shared with us various texts, some of them metaphysical in their complexity, on the doctrine of 'self-determination'.
He was hopeful of winning the agreement of Adams and thus of the IRA on a formula that might help end violence. I had never seen Ronan so moved.
Liam had died on August 14. Less than a week earlier - on Sunday, August 8 - a column by Eamon Dunphy in this newspaper carried a drawing of John Hume with what appeared to be a blood-stained hand, over a lengthy column entitled 'The darkest side of Ireland, your Ireland'.
Dunphy had this to say: "Mr John Hume, being the principal international enforcer, licensed to speak to the world on our behalf, the political bomber flying over unionist heads trying to kill them.
"Hume has stated with commendable clarity, which for him is unusual, that if Britain and the unionists don't do business with him, they will have to deal with the IRA, with physical rather than political force."
This was both false and wanton vitriol. I had been working closely with John Hume since 1974 and I knew that no one opposed the violence of the IRA more trenchantly.
Some months previously the late Mary Holland, one of Ireland's most brilliant (if sometimes more controversial) journalists, had invited me to meet Gerry Adams in her house, which was Thomas MacDonagh's old home in Ranelagh, Dublin, until his execution in 1916.
She firmly believed that Adams was about to enter negotiations with the British and she felt it might be useful, in the interests of ending violence, for him to talk to someone who had had some experience of negotiating with London, especially as Adams and his colleagues had been isolated politically for many years.
I had been involved over many years as an Irish government diplomat working in almost daily contact with Hume in Dublin, in London and in Washington in promoting Dublin's priorities in Anglo-Irish relations.
With the Anglo-Irish Agreement of November 1985 I became the Irish head of the new Anglo-Irish Secretariat, the first Irish government presence in Belfast since partition, along with Dáthaí Ó Ceallaigh (later ambassador in London) and a small band of brave young civil service colleagues in the notorious Maryfield 'Bunker', outside Belfast.
Dublin's and Hume's objectives also included thwarting the campaigns of violence of the Provisional IRA and of the loyalist paramilitaries: civil servants were absolutely forbidden to have any contact with members of either group.
On the other hand, by 1992 I had for several years been working in the private sector without any further obligation to my former bosses of the Irish State except to respect the Official Secrets Act, which posed no problem for me.
Before agreeing to Mary's invitation I consulted my former boss, Garret FitzGerald. We were both aware that Hume was in contact with Adams but knew no details at that stage.
FitzGerald trusted completely in John's immovable opposition to violence and his unflinching support for democracy and with some reluctance saw possible merit in Mary's suggestion.
I should add that Fitz- Gerald always rejected the fatalism of his once Cabinet colleague, Dr Conor Cruise O'Brien, and had never stopped looking for a way forward.
So I spent two days with Adams in Mary's house and met him briefly afterwards with Mary in a so-called 'safe house' in Belfast.
With whatever power of sincere passion I possessed, I told him, as Gaeilge and in English, of my utter opposition to the violence of the Provisional IRA and of the overwhelming sense of shame I felt as an Irishman every day at their cruelty. He listened calmly and without comment.
Over the remaining two days he asked a long series of what seemed to me to be well-prepared and intelligent questions about British objectives and tactics and I did my honest best to respond. It would be presumptuous for me to suggest that the conversation helped Gerry Adams in any way.
Shortly afterwards John Hume contacted me and we met in Heathrow Airport (I was en route to Brazil on a business trip).
He had heard of my meetings and asked me to desist to avoid confusion. I agreed immediately. He gave me an account of the progress of his own endeavours and updated me several times later in Derry and in Dublin and once, as I said, in Caherciveen when Ronan and I urged him to persist for the sake of peace and in honour of Liam Hourican.
By now a tsunami of abuse and utterly false accusations had been storming around Hume. Some came from unionist political leaders and was, in a sense, understandable as Hume's efforts threatened any residual sense of unionist hegemony.
But the brunt of the storm emanated from the south and was centred on a group of talented columnists of this newspaper, notably Cruise O'Brien, Dunphy, Eilis O'Hanlon and John A Murphy. The glaring exception was Ronan Fanning.
The vitriol gushed Sunday after Sunday and I know that it caused Hume immense distress. He suffered a public emotional breakdown at the funeral of eight victims of the UDA in Greysteel on October 30, 1993.
The inescapable problem with the fury of Hume's detractors then, as now, is that they offer no solution to the crisis of Northern Ireland except to bewail their conviction that there is no solution whatever.
From the point of view of the nationalist community, that is indistinguishable from 'Croppies lie down'. The same is true for the unionist side.
Hume's rejoinder has been the compendious set of complex measures painfully negotiated by both traditions and by London and Dublin and now embodied in the 'Three Strands' (Northern Ireland, North-South and Dublin-London) of the Good Friday Agreement, his monument to reason, hope (for both communities) and peace that has been endorsed by strong majorities north and south.
This man sacrificed his life and his health for - and dedicated his genius to - the goal of peace. Our debt to him is simply immeasurable.