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Great man simply never gave up on dream of peace - even when his life was under constant threat


John Hume in Derry in 1970

John Hume in Derry in 1970

John Hume in Derry in 1970

Terrorist death threats and abuse failed to intimidate John Hume, who has earned a place in history as the father of the current peace process in the North.

The former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner died yesterday, aged 83, following a short illness.

Mr Hume spent his entire political career working to try to remove the North from the United Kingdom and turn it into a united Ireland.

But he is best known for his efforts to secure peace and a power-sharing government in the North which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He simply never gave up, although at one point his life was under constant threat.

He formed close links with powerful political figures in Britain, America and Europe to find a peaceful response.

The eldest of seven children, John Hume was born on January 18, 1937. The family lived in a small terraced house in the Glen area of Derry.

His first calling was to study for the priesthood in St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Co Kildare, but he opted instead to become a secondary school teacher in his home town.

He married Patricia Hone in 1960 and the couple had five children, three daughters, Terese, Aine and Maureen and two sons, Aidan and John.

Chronic social problems in Derry politicised the young teacher who decided that financial cooperation between all sides could lift people out of poverty. His solution was to help set up the first Credit Union in the North.

Hume campaigned for civil rights. When police batoned participants in a march in 1968, it transformed the Civil Rights protest into a mass movement with Hume at the forefront.

By February of the following year he was elected as an Independent Nationalist to the Stormont Parliament.

He also made his first trip to America and convinced the influential Ted Kennedy that there was an alternative to the IRA to get social justice in the North.

In 1973 he was elected to the short-lived Northern Ireland Assembly and appointed Minister for Commerce.


A founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Hume became party leader in 1979, the same year he was elected to the European Parliament.

The pivotal moment for Hume came in 1987 when he was on holidays with his wife in Gweedore in Donegal. He was asked to meet Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and the pair talked in secret over the next six years.

The talks ultimately led to the 1994 cease-fire between the IRA and the Unionist paramilitaries.

At Easter 1998, the Northern Ireland political parties signed what became known as the Good Friday Agreement, in which Hume played a leading role. In the autumn of that year the Nobel Committee decided to award the Peace Prize to Hume and Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble.

Hume was also awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize and Martin Luther King Award and is the only person to get all three major peace awards.

Hume became seriously ill at a peace conference in Austria in 1999 when his intestine ruptured. He had to have three abdominal operations and was put on a ventilator in the intensive care unit. After his retirement, memory difficulties intensified and became quite severe.

He announced a complete retirement from politics on February 4, 2004.

John Hume's hope for Ireland was one of "partnership where we wage war on want and poverty, where we reach out to the marginalised and dispossessed, where we build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow".