John Hume: The Funeral & “People Like Us”

First off, at the request of my wife, I deleted the post I wrote on Monday. She thought it contained too many personal references, including an anecdote that we have enjoyed for nearly forty years. I see her point.


So last night, my wife lit the candle.

Johns Light

The funeral was dignified. We watched in on RTE. The family, our President Michael D Higgins. John Hume’s old warhorse colleagues like Austin Currie, (the last survivor of the eight politicians who formed SDLP in August 1970), Joe Hendron, Alasdair McDonnell and Brid Rodgers. The Derry  SDLP people like the Durkans and the new leadership like Colum Eastwood and Nichola Mallon and the southerners like Micheal Martin and Simon Coveney. And of course, Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill and even Naomi Long.

I really dont “get” how a funeral… Seamus Mallon six months ago can be an occasion for those outside family, friends and in the cases of John and Seamus, political supporters.

Some might see it as a sign of progress in Norn Iron that we are now at some level of sophistication where old political rivals and enemies can attend a funeral service. I have mixed feelings.

Surely all of us have friends across the tribal divide. I have Protestant friends and nearly all have unionist feelings. I expect they will be at my funeral. But their unionism is incidental. They have not tried …overtly…to take something from me. Nor have I tried to …overtly take something from them.

Is it really a matter of respect that the Boris Johnson’s Tory Secretary of State for Norn Iron should occupy a socially distant seat in St Eugene’s Cathedral? Or Arlene Foster of DUP. Or Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin? Or Naomi Long of Alliance?

John Hume WAS the SDLP. It is hypocritical to show respect for John Hume while disrespecting his successors.

The bottom line is that if these folks nod their heads and say that John Hume was right, then they have to acknowledge that their previous leaders …O’Neill, Chichester Clark, Faulkner, West, Molyneaux, Trimble, Paisley, Robinson, Adams, McGuinness, Napier, Cushnahan, Neeson, Ford and the rest were wrong.

It is too easy to say that they have all come to accept the landscape that Hume created. And it is fair to say that the post-Hume leadership of SDLP has not been stellar.

Likewise the journos earning a fee for appearing on camera on the radio to discuss the “John Hume I knew” and answer “what do you think his legacy will be?” ….for some journos it will be a nice little earner. But again the question has to be “if you are snging his praises now, then why did you not do it forty, thirty or twenty years ago?”

And I suspect the LetsGetAlongerists on my least favourite message board will be in full flow.

Now I want to be careful and measured here. In regarding myself as a decent person, I do not think anyone of another political persuasion is less decent. But I do believe SDLP is a decent political party and looking around the cathedral, it seemed that the SDLP people sitting there were not very different from me…and others like the Secretary of State (I forget his name), Arlene Foster and Naomi Long were simply not people with whom I can identify.

It seems to me that Austin Currie, Joe Hendron and Brid Rodgers (all older than me) were shaped by much the same things. And Mark Durkan (younger than me). And Daniel McCrossan and Colum Eastwood (both younger than my sons)…….all of us cut from the same cloth.

Someone (I cant remember who it was) said that John Hume was influenced by Catholic social teaching. Now I would broaden that a little and say “Catholic and post-Catholic” and “Christian and post Christian” social thinking. Whether it was DOCTOR Joe Hendron attending disadvantaged people in West Belfast or John Hume developing credit unions or Brid Rodgers in Civil Rights movement…there is a pattern. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson……..its a conscience thing.

It is what we used to call in West Belfast “The Old Decency”.

Sometimes I think that it has all gone…but actually it hasnt.


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8 Responses to John Hume: The Funeral & “People Like Us”

    • Interesting
      The past fifty years and especially since 1998 is a roller coaster that sometimes looks good for nationalists and sometimes looks good for unionists.
      I used to hope that Id live to see the final scenes play out.
      Now I dont.
      I always knew the Brits would sell out the unionists and now I know the Irish would sell out the nationalits.
      It is No Mans Land. A No Mans Land that nobody wants.
      My children might say
      “I wish Daddy had lived to see this”
      “Im glad Daddy didnt live to see this”.

  1. Kevin says:

    May he rest in peace.

    I hear what you are saying re West Belfast and “The Old Decency”; my family comes from Lady street would know many like that, and as someone who when returning home finds himself drawn more and more to visit family in WB, I can say that it thankfully hasn’t gone away. What I believe I do see is a resilience I have always admired from the people of WB and a pride in their area which is missing in a lot of places back home.

    Wishing you and yours all the best during this time.

    • Lady Street was a couple of streets from me. The kids there went to same primary school and the boy who sat beside me from P1 to P7 was from Lady Street.

      • Kevin says:

        Would that be st Joseph’s on Barrack street? I actually went to that old school for a semester when we came back from Boston briefly. I had a little American accent and there I was, in a school in WB and as a 5 year old it seemed incredibly rough.

        I was trying to explain to my colleague from Tipp what Belfast is like, and how it is a very different city to Dublin, with it’s layout playing a large part in dividing the city.

      • You are half right.
        The school was St Josephs but it was in Slate Street. Slate Street ran parallel to the Grosvenor Road and from Cullingtree Road to McDonnell Street
        Three other streets ran parallel to Slate Street.
        They were Ton Street, Marchioness Street and Lady Street.
        I went to Slate Street from 1957 to 1963.
        After the 11 plus, I went to St Marys CBS in Barrack Street.
        Barrack Street ran from Durham

  2. zig70 says:

    I kinda see the SDLP in terms of house slaves. John Hume wasn’t but those that came after him looked down on the rabble that supported SF or at least didn’t manage their media output well enough to avoid it. My own brother played rugby and tried to give himself the whiff of fitting in. Never did him any good that I can see.

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