Pat Hume, the widow of the late SDLP leader and Nobel prize winner John Hume died on September 2nd. A former teacher, Pat worked alongside her husband throughout his career – from the civil rights movement in the 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and was deeply involved in the Derry community. Her longtime friend, the author Mary Pat Kelly recalls the woman that she knew.
Ritual does help ease our sorrow – the warm insightful words from her son Aidan at Pat Hume’s requiem mass were especially evocative for me.
Aidan paid tribute to his mother’s passion for the Irish language and her Donegal roots, the charged landscape around Barnes, her mother Mary Murray’s home place, where I had visited with Pat and John many years ago.
That day, as we traveled through 2,000 years of Irish history and myth – often interchangeable – I saw how Pat’s awareness of all these layers strengthened and inspired her.
We’d set out to get a packet of the White Clay of Gartan as a wedding gift for friends getting married near Dublin later that week. Having the clay in their house would protect them from fires and floods. Gartan, the birthplace of St. Colmcille was very near Barnes and Pat knew the lore of the area well.
Fádo, a long time ago as all good stories begin, Colmcille’s Mother, Eithne, was giving birth to the Saint. A drop of her blood fell on the ground and turned the dark earth white creating a seam of clay that exists until today. The O’Friels have custody of the site because they descend from Colmcille’s brother. So, we had to find a woman of the O’Friel Clan because only she can dig the white clay for us.
It’s late May 2012. I’d been coming regularly to Derry since that Sunday afternoon in June 1984 when I first saw Pat Hume and the women of the SDLP Bogside Branch in action as they canvassed for John Hume’s European Parliament election.
Peace was not popular. Knocking on doors could be dangerous. As representatives of a nationalist party, born out of the civil rights movement in the North and committed to change through nonviolence, they faced attack from the members of their own community who were unwilling to give up the armed struggle as well as from unionists who feared that ballots could be more powerful than bullets in reforming Northern Ireland.
But they took opposition in stride. One night, Pat and John’s daughter Mo Hume, age 10, and I had just made it through a shower of stones when she asked me, “Aren’t you very afraid to live in New York?”
Pat Hume kept everyone moving forward, not leading, but in the center of the group, graceful, determined, one foot in front of the other through election after election. Faith over fear and always humor.
As the young son of one candidate explained, “They’re kind, they take you around places, they’re a good laugh.”
But their efforts and those of similar teams throughout Northern Ireland brought out the hundreds of thousands of votes that gave credibility to John Hume and the ideas that would lead to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He could confidently call for a referendum on the Peace Proposal because he knew that given a choice the people of Northern Ireland would vote for peace. And 70% did.
John Hume’s reelections also meant that for 30 plus years Pat Hume managed his constituency office, providing support to the people of Derry. Based in the first floor of an old terrace house, she worked from a small room tucked behind a larger reception area that was always full.
One woman’s experience was typical. She went in to Pat silent and anxious. She came out smiling and ready to talk.
“The [British] Army lifted my son,” she said to me. “He’d gone out before dawn, broke some kind of a curfew. I told Pat that he was just on his way to the fishing. Pat got on to the Army. And, of course, they believed her. Pat Hume doesn’t lie.”
As Mark Durkan (former Deputy First Minister) says, “There was no calculation in her empathy.”
It might be a delivery of coal, a bureaucratic glitch in your university application, a denial of needed social service payments but, “Pat will sort you out,” was the Derry solution.
Now in 2012 the peace was holding. John had become the only person ever to win the Nobel, the Gandhi and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prizes and in 2010 was chosen in a nationwide RTE Poll as the greatest person in Irish history.
Time to slow down, to enjoy the children and grandchildren. But John’s health wasn’t great. Three close-together emergency operations for life-threatening gastric issues had damaged his brain affecting his memory and wounding that sterling intellect. But still there were good times.
In his remarks Aidan had evoked the fun of the family. Therese, Aine, Aidan, John, Mo, their partners and children, and now two great-grandchildren would gather around the kitchen table with extended family and the good neighbors Aidan mentioned, telling stories, laughing, with John always ready to give a song. Pat and John were also regulars at the Saturday evening mass in Moville, Donegal followed by dinner at Kealy’s where Trish Kealy provided an Agape with Pavlova for dessert.
In addition, Pat and John continued to participate in the annual ceremonies that commemorated the bond formed between the people of Derry and the U.S. Sailors and Marines who served in the city during WWII. These were hosted by Patsy O’Kane at her Beech Hill Country House Hotel on whose grounds the Marines who guarded the U.S. Navy base were billeted.
Both John and Pat had memories of this period. John had learned how to play baseball from the Marines and perhaps one of them gave him a penny and explained “E Pluribus Unum”. “One from many a foundation for his philosophy.”
Pat’s father Paddy Hone was one of the skilled civilian workers who made the ship repair yard on the base famous for its efficiency. An award named in his honor has been given annually since 1997 to returning veterans and serving Sailors and Marines. One special group of recipients were the African American men of the USS MASON DE529 who fought in the Battle of the Atlantic and said the first time they were treated as Americans was during their port visit to Derry. John had a cameo part in the 2004 feature film, “Proud,” starring Stephen Rea and Ossie Davis that told the USS MASON story.
John was happy to join Pat and me on our Colmcille excursion because the Saint was Derry’s patron. Doire Colmcille was founded in the Oak Grove where Colmcille’s monastery had flourished. No checkpoints, no soldiers, as we crossed into Donegal, one of the perks of peace.
Our first stop was the Rock of Doon where from 1200 to 1603 the Chiefs of the O’Donnells were inaugurated. A steep enough walk.
“Dangerous,” John said. “The Council should replace those railings.”
But the view from the top over the hills of Donegal was spectacular. The O’Donnells must have felt they were the masters of all they surveyed. Never thinking that in just a few years the Gaelic Order would fall and their Chieftain would join the Flight of the Earls into exile.
“Looking for allies on the continent,” Pat said. We had a bit of a laugh telling John that he had finally gotten the Europeans to come through after a few hundred years.
We walked through layer after layer of history as we moved on to Doon Well whose waters were fed by a spring that was sacred to the Celts long before St. Colmcille. Appropriate though that it was dedicated to him, a prince of the O’Neils, a poet, a monk who didn’t reject the older ways and called Christ “his druid”. He embodied all traditions. No wonder busloads of pilgrims still came here.
“Plenty of parking,” John said with approval.
“Usually they have a service here at the Mass Rock,” Pat said pointing out the large boulder. A vivid image came to mind. The hunted priest, the people, “beal bocht” materially but rich in the spirit and willing to risk all to connect to their faith and each other. Pat said there was also a prehistoric standing stone in Barnes not far from the place where Grannia and Dermot, Ireland’s Iron Age Romeo and Juliet had slept.
I stumbled through a few half-sentences trying to ask Pat what it felt like to carry an awareness of the past in her very bones, then to help bring that past into a peaceful prosperous present and a hopeful future. She just smiled. Those blue eyes, so direct, so engaging. Had Pat inherited them from Mary Murray the little girl who went to work at age 9 to help her family who lived in a two-room cottage? But always offered a bed and a bite to those in need.
I thought of what Pauline Ross, one of Pat’s Primary School students had told me. “We had nothing, but Pat Hume saw below the surface to our potential. She gave us confidence. It was Pat who encouraged her to found The Playhouse in Derry and make art an instrument for peace and paradise.”
We did find a woman of the O’Friel Clan in Gartan, knocking on doors in a way that felt very close to canvassing. I delivered the clay. My bride and groom are still together and safe from fires and floods.
Pat made her own marriage a safe harbor, providing security for her five children in the midst of unimaginable pressure. And then she cared for John with great tenderness during his long illness. My Derry friends interpreted Pat’s passing, only a year after John’s, as her desire to be with him in heaven.
I think Father Paul Farren got closer to the mark when he said “She heard John calling ‘Pat’” bringing her “to the heart of God where they are united forever.”
Easy to imagine John negotiating with St. Peter, using as leverage the fact that that both Pat and he had birthdays on a feast day of the Saint, therefore…
I can hear St. Peter objecting, “We gave you peace in paradise. Isn’t that enough?”
Not without Pat.
“She’s an angel,” Stephen Rea says.
John and Pat’s children carried her wicker coffin decorated with flowers down the aisle of the Cathedral as musical director and family friend, Frank Gallagher, played Tráthnóna Beag Aréir, a Donegal air that was a favorite of John and Pat. “A rún mo chléibh nár mhilis/Ár súgradh croí ‘s nár ghairid”. “Love of my heart,” the lyrics go. “Wasn’t our/Heart-playing sweet and short?”
Too short, but together now in eternal rest and shining with perpetual light.
Tráthnóna Beag Aréir
Late Yesterday Evening
Note: The service can be watched and downloaded on the website http://www.steugenescathedral.com/webcam.html through October. The Month’s Minds Mass will be live-streamed Saturday, October 2nd at 7:30 Irish Time.
Read Mary Pat Kelly’s piece on John Hume, To Live for Ireland.
Mary Pat Kelly’s celebrated historical fiction series, the bestseller Galway Bay, Of Irish Blood and now Irish Above All tells the Irish American story through her own family’s saga. https://marypatkelly.