Blessed be the peacemakers.

The path to peace in Northern Ireland was a rocky and dangerous one, and the country went through decades of civil war before the Good Friday Agreement was finally signed in 1998. What nobody dared to dream of, a few men were determined to bring to the country. After years and years of talks and non-violent protest, they gave Northern Ireland the ceasefire it was craving. One of these men was the Nobel laureate John Hume, who passed away on August 3rd. This week, the wounded country cries one of its greatest sons.

Headliners Foyle members Kieran (28) and Milo (23) had a conversation about the childhood that the peace process enabled them to have.

Like most, Kieran was upset when he heard the news:

“I was a bit shocked when I heard he had passed away, even if he was 83. John Hume was a legend of Irish politics and one of the key people of the peace process. I think he was probably the most powerful man in Ireland because he made both sides shake hands and leave the Troubles behind, which is something everybody thought was impossible.”

Born in 1997, Milo is part of the generation that was nicknamed The Ceasefire Babies, a generation described by journalist and former Headliners trustee Lyra McKee as “Those too young to remember the worst of the terror because we were either in nappies or just out of them when the Provisional IRA ceasefire was called.”

“John Hume is one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement, and it is thanks to people like him that our generation was given a childhood; being able to walk down the streets and not be accosted by soldiers… it is quite nice. His actions allowed us to be not so much affected by mass violence, which was greatly appreciated.”

For our young people’s parents, who grew and lived through the Troubles, losing John Hume left a deep feeling of emptiness.

“My parents were very sad” said Milo, “my father would see him quite regularly walking around. He was linked to such a dark period of history.”

Kieran added: “My parents said he was a great man, he’ll be remembered for his actions, for bringing peace to the future generation. They experienced the Troubles in their childhood, they know better than anyone what impact John Hume actually had on the country. He brought Sinn Féin and the DUP together, which was unthinkable.”

Losing the national hero in the middle of a pandemic weighed heavily on the people of Northern Ireland, as it ineluctably meant that he wouldn’t receive the send-off he deserved. 

In Ireland, the tradition of wakes and paying respect to the dead is one that carries strong meaning. Not being able to mourn the man who brought peace to the country felt to many like losing him twice. But the Hume family insisted that risking public health was not what John would have wanted. Instead, they asked that everybody should light a candle at 9PM on Tuesday, August 4th.

“Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it is nice to be able to acknowledge that we’re all mourning together” said Milo. “If John Hume had died in 2019, there would have been a massive send off, all the politicians from back then would have been present. The US would have sent a delegation and Bill Clinton would have come in person.”

Kieran added: “I don’t know how people feel about not being able to attend the funeral. They are probably sad, even distressed, but I think people just want to go forward and carry the legacy of the peace process even though its father is now gone.”

“Derry is saddened by the loss of John Hume because he was such a crucial figure of the Troubles. They want to leave the past in the past and end the reign of violence in Northern Ireland. That was, and still is his legacy.”

A petition has been launched in Derry/Londonderry to rename the iconic Guildhall Square “Hume Square” as a tribute to the political giant.

“The name ‘Guildhall’ is quite boring” underlined Milo, “and John Hume was anything but boring. Even though he was a serious politician, he was exceptionally funny. I met him briefly once, he was a really nice fellow. He had this energy about him that was so unique for a politician, and even with dementia he was smarter than I’ll ever be. Hume Square would be a nice name."

“Maybe the Council could put more money towards dementia and Alzheimer’s charities. After all Hume is such a massive part of trying to keep Derry away from the violence of the past – it would be a grateful gesture.”

Politics in Northern Ireland have always been an incredibly difficult process, even after the ceasefire. The lack of compromise between the two sides of the community and sometimes the refusal to communicate led the country to be left without a devolved government for three years. But could the passing of the man who ended the Troubles bring politicians to take a fresh start and walk hand in hand towards peace?

“I want to see what the future is going to be like” said Kieran “I want to see what it’s going to be like to carry his legacy.”

Milo added: “I think politicians will definitely take the peace process seriously, and his legacy will secure power sharing in the country.”

This article was written after Headliners Foyle members Kieran Townley and Milo Quigley held a conversation in the wake of John Hume’s passing. The death of Ireland’s greatest son left Northern Ireland shaken after the news broke on August 3rd. Headliners aims to empower young people and give them a voice through media and journalism. Thank you to The National Lottery Community Fund for making these stories possible.

Photo: ©Getty Images John Hume addresses a meeting in Derry following violence at the Apprentice Boy Parade, August 1969.