Born: February 22nd 1938
Died: September 2nd 2021
Pat Hume, who has died aged 83, was the woman who made John Hume’s life’s work possible, while simultaneously participating fully in it – as his partner and his intellectual equal.
In the early years of their marriage before her husband’s ground-breaking political career, she was the family breadwinner. During spasms of republican intimidation directed at him, as well as violent attacks on their Derry home, she protected their children, while bolstering her and her husband’s shared resolve to continue working for an agreed solution to Northern Ireland’s political and sectarian feuding.
And in the sunny uplands of peace following the Belfast Agreement, she shared in the effusive gratitude bestowed on her husband, throughout Ireland, as well as in Britain, Europe and North America.
On her death after a brief illness, the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, noted that while her support for John was “a partnership in courage, endurance and fortitude, her personal contribution was unique, immense and important in its own right”.
Her parents were Patrick and Mary Hone. Patrick ran a small business as a building contractor while Mary ran the family home
The life of Pat Hume was one of “total commitment to community, to the possibilities of peace, to the measures of non-violence that were necessary to assert, vindicate and achieve the results of civil rights,” said President Higgins.
Similar sentiments were expressed internationally, with former US president Bill Clinton commenting that “she lived her life and advanced her cause with such grace, courage and good humour”.
At her funeral in Derry’s St Eugene’s Cathedral, her son Aidan said John Hume “was a parcel and Mum delivered him… Mum was at his right hand throughout his entire life – his best friend, his closest confidante, his loving wife, his trusted adviser, his political antenna”.
Patricia (Pat) Hume was born in Derry city’s Protestant-dominated Waterside where she grew up on Cross Street. Her parents were Patrick and Mary Hone. Patrick ran a small business as a building contractor while Mary ran the family home.
Pat was one of six children, her siblings being Tommie, Patsy, Sadie, Ella and May.
On her mother’s side, the family had strong connections to Donegal, like many people in Derry, and childhood summers were often spent there across the border.
After primary school, the young Pat attended Thornhill Convent School, run by the Sisters of Mercy in Derry City, on the opposite side of the River Foyle to the Waterside. Subsequently, she went to St Mary’s, a teacher-training college in west Belfast, after which she taught in several primary schools in Derry, including St Anne’s in Rosemount.
Almost all her pupils were from economically deprived backgrounds and Pat Hume believed passionately in the power of education to lift people into better circumstances.
In secure employment by her early 20s, Pat Hume would likely have settled into a satisfying teaching career (which she loved). But an encounter at the Borderland dance hall in Muff, Donegal, a Friday night favourite for up to 2,000 people, many from Derry, dancing to showbands including the Capitol, the Melody Aces, the Royal and the Clipper Carlton, changed all that.
Through the 1960s, John, who was also a teacher, became increasingly involved in community-based politics, an unpaid role that also fired the enthusiasm of Pat Hume and which quickly took over his life
Aged 22, she and John Hume married. It was, she agreed happily thereafter, love at first sight. They settled into married life in a small home on Beechwood Avenue before moving, as their family grew, to a larger house at nearby Westend Park.
There, they lived on a Victorian terrace sandwiched between the nationalist-dominated Creggan and Bogside estates, both of which suffered the effects of long-standing political, economic and social discrimination at the hands of the city’s unionist rulers, who, while being a numerical minority, retained power by gerrymandering — manipulating the electoral system to their own advantage.
Through the 1960s, John, who was also a teacher, became increasingly involved in community-based politics, an unpaid role that also fired the enthusiasm of Pat Hume and which quickly took over his life.
As John Hume’s profile and political career – as a Westminster MP and then Member of the European Parliament – grew, his opposition to state violence and the physical force republicanism of Sinn Féin and the IRA itself drew a violent response. Threatened regularly, he repeatedly declined police advice to carry a gun for protection, even when republicans firebombed the family home and protested outside it.
During what could have been a traumatic time for their children, Pat Hume remained calm and ensured the family home was disrupted as little as possible.
“As our mother, she was unflappable,” recalls her son, also named John. “We lived through some very strange times but she made everything feel normal… She stayed calm and reassured us. We never saw [the threats] as children. She dealt with it.”
Pat Hume recalled those times in a contribution for the Seán Farren & Denis Haughey edited book, John Hume Irish Peacemaker (Four Courts Press 2015).
“When I look back, I wonder how we all survived the years that followed,” she wrote. “There was the ever increasing cycle of rioting and arrests. Young people coming to a disco or just going down town for a message could be taken for questioning by security forces in the city. Worried parents were constantly at the house or on the phone as we tried to trace their offspring.
“John often put out statements on how counter-productive violence was and these usually resulted in protests outside our house. The irony was that the next day, the same protesters could arrive at the door but this time looking to convey a particular problem alongside the other distraught families.
“Over those years, intimidation affected the whole community across the North. We received daily telephone calls threatening violence and we had an ongoing stream of abusive letters and bullets in the post. The house was attacked several times. We had to leave on a number of occasions and relied on the hospitality of kind friends who provided shelter for myself and the five children whenever we were warned by the police that things were too dangerous to stay at home.”
During talks leading to the Belfast Agreement, Pat Hume established her own rapport with the wives of unionist politicians, notably Daphne Trimble
Pat Hume eventually gave up full-time teaching to work with her husband and when he was elected an MEP in 1979, she set up and ran his full-time office in Derry until he retired from Europe in 2005.
“As a family, it was very clear to us that he wouldn’t have got anywhere without her,” says their son John. “She was his equal intellectually and in terms of drive and determination, it was clear there was two of them in it.”
During talks leading to the Belfast Agreement, Pat Hume established her own rapport with the wives of unionist politicians, notably Daphne Trimble, wife of the Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble. On her death, Baroness Trimble said: “I have lost a true friend.”
Pat Hume was not shy in speaking her mind in support of the peace process. In 2018 when political stalemate was strangling politics in Northern Ireland, Pat Hume was clear that generosity was needed between the DUP and Sinn Féin, as well as the “softening voices of other parties” during talks to try to restore the power-sharing Executive.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have the two extreme parties closeted together,” she said. “It is important to have the mix of voices, the softening voices of other parties . . . John always saw the big picture. Politics have become small, his politics were inclusive, outward looking.”
In her latter years, Pat Hume was renowned for the love and devotion she showed her husband, caring for him as he declined with dementia.
In 2018, she was given an Irish Red Cross Lifetime Achievement award. Last year during Derry’s History 2020 Festival, an image of her was projected onto the Tower Museum, an acknowledgement of her role in the city’s, and Ireland’s, history.
Sean Farren, chairman of the John and Pat Hume Foundation, launched in 2020, said she had always been “a source of strength and support to John sharing his values, his ideas and his approach to peace and to ending conflict”.
She had “assisted many young people caught up in the Troubles and dealt with issues presented to her by thousands who were encountering housing problems, social security issues and health and education concerns”.
Her son John summed up her life thus: “She was a quiet person and never thrust herself into the limelight. She devoted herself to Dad and was more than happy with her life.
“I know she died a very happy women.”
Predeceased by John in August 2020, Pat Hume is survived by their children, Thérèse, Áine, Aidan, John and Mo; their grand-children Aedín, Michael, Roisín, Dee, Daniel, Ruairí, Marni, Úna, Ronan, Ciara, Isabel, Eamon, Ollie, Rachel, Darragh and Aoibhe; great-grandchildren Aoibhínn and Clodagh, and by her sister May.