Pat Hume: Peacemaker and partner to John Hume helped transform Northern Ireland

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Pat Hume

By Dominic McGrath, PA

When the Good Friday Agreement was only hours away, Pat Hume, who has died after a short illness, received a call from husband and SDLP leader John Hume.

He asked her to get to Belfast as soon as possible, with a change of clothes, a smart shirt and a good tie.

Mrs Hume, whose husband and partner in peace-making died in August 2020, did not pause for a second. She gathered the things and drove to Stormont Castle.

But the story of Pat Hume is not of a woman who delivered clean clothes while her husband delivered peace.

“When the history of Ireland is written, if Pat Hume’s name is not beside John’s it will be an incomplete history,” Fr Paul Farren told the congregation at Mr Hume’s funeral in Londonderry last year.

Friends, politicians and journalists often spoke about a woman as steely and as smart as any politician, a mother of five charged with keeping rule over a perpetually busy home in Derry.

On Friday, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese said that Mrs Hume “never enjoyed what you and I would call a day’s peace”.

But if the Hume house, in Derry’s West End Park, was more often a constituency office than a family home, Mrs Hume never appeared unduly perturbed.

Pictured - John and Pat Hume

Arrivals, whether local people or visiting politicians, all received the same welcome.

Peace in Ireland, delivered after several decades of the conflict that became known as the Troubles, has often been attributed to the decisions made by her husband.

The at-the-time controversial decision by John Hume to enter into talks with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in the late 1980s is widely seen as a key moment in the beginning of the end of the Troubles.

Yet to the man revered as the architect of the Northern Irish peace process, Mrs Hume was the rock upon whom he relied time and time again during the course of their 60-year marriage.

That relationship, which would end up defining and shaping the life of Mrs Hume, began in 1958.

Educated at Thornhill College in Derry, she was one of six children whose father was a building contractor.

After secondary school, she attended St Mary’s Training College, Belfast to qualify as a teacher.

Pictured - John and Pat Hume

Mrs Hume met her future husband at the Borderland dance hall in Muff, just across the border in the Republic of Ireland.

In an interview with RTE in 2015, she recalled that it was the Easter holidays and spring had nearly arrived that night as John Hume walked her back to her home in the city’s Waterside.

“I married a very quiet teacher who at that stage wasn’t involved in politics,” she said.

Those quiet days were not to last long.

Soon, her husband would be pitched into the tumult of Northern Ireland’s politics as the civil rights movement erupted and the Troubles began in earnest.

It was not always chaos. There were holidays and trips to Donegal. In his memoir, former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald fondly recalled spending part of a summer in the 1970s in Donegal with John and Pat Hume.

But for the teacher whose salary proved crucial in keeping her family financially afloat through the topsy-turvy years of John Hume’s early political career, there was often little let-up as her husband traversed Ireland, Europe and America to canvas for the solution and the strategy they both believed could yield a brighter future for their community.

Even as Mr Hume’s stature grew, Pat Hume was never lost in his shadow. Her advice and wisdom were sought out and Mr Hume was often quick to pay tribute to her support.

Indeed, as constituency office manager from 1979 onwards, Mrs Hume was never far from the centre of political action – in Derry and beyond.

Pictured - John and Pat Hume

On Thursday, as news of Mrs Hume’s death was confirmed, Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter: “Pat Hume was a gracious, determined force behind the achievement of peace in Ireland.

“She and her husband John both made the world a better place and set an example for us all. Sending my condolences to her family.”

In her later years, Pat Hume took responsibility for caring for her husband as dementia took hold.

As her husband’s health declined, she became the public voice for the pair – as well as one of the last links to early years of the SDLP and the political movement that helped shape the Northern Ireland that exists today.

Neither was she shy in expressing her disappointment in how politics had developed since the Good Friday Agreement.

“Politics has become small,” she said in 2018.

Alongside one of daughters, it was Mrs Hume who attended the funeral of Seamus Mallon in early 2020 while her husband remained in a Derry care home – months later, she would be making her way into St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry to say farewell to John.

When John Hume appeared on the long-running RTE talk show, the Late Late Show, after announcing in 2004 he would retire from politics and public life, the politician gave a performance of folk song Danny Boy.

At one stage, the camera panned to Mrs Hume – watching in the wings as her husband stood in the spotlight.

As Derry prepares to say goodbye to Pat Hume, the city will ensure that her legacy takes centre stage alongside that of Mr Hume.

Asked a few years ago in a BBC interview whether the work, the pain and the struggle was worth it, she answered simply: “Oh it was. Very, very much so.”

Pictured - John and Pat Hume

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