Mourners line route to cemetery as coronavirus restrictions close cathedral grounds to public
Patricia Hume (centre in grey jacket) walks behind her husband’s casket as it is carried from St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, following his funeral service on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Áine Hume, a daughter of the late John Hume, thanks mourners for their applause as the funeral cortege leaves St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images
Taoiseach Micheál Martin (right) alongside SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The scent of incense hangs in the air. The first few notes can be heard; Phil Coulter is on the piano, playing The Town I Loved So Well – one of John Hume’s favourite songs – as the coffin is brought from the church for burial.
Watching outside the railings, the crowd begins to applaud. “Thank you, John,” someone shouts. “Thank you.”
They could not go inside, but they came anyway. Several hours before the funeral was due to begin at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, people began arriving; they stood at the cathedral railings, on the footpaths and along the route they knew the cortege would travel to the cemetery.
He was a big figure. This is history in the making
Many pointed out that, had it not been for the coronavirus regulations, Hume’s would have been one of the largest funerals the city had ever seen. Instead, the cathedral grounds were closed to the public – who were encouraged to instead watch the service online on or television – and the number inside for Requiem Mass was limited to about 120 people.
“It is sad, and surely he deserved a State funeral with all the bells and whistles, but there is something just more honest about this,” said Coulter. “This is a Derry funeral and the real point of it is for Derry people to say goodbye to John.”
“John never forgot where he was from,” said Cathy O’Donnell. “I knew John, and he was a true Derry man. He stood by us and he fought for us. He never doubted us, and we never doubted him.”
Una Morrison agreed. “Derry is a small place. Pat Hume taught me, and I was at school with their daughter Áine, and my dad was involved with the SDLP. The circles here are small, and they were completely solid people, generous in their outlook and about doing right.”
“When they think of all the hassle they got and what they had to put up with during the Troubles, and the sacrifices they made...the tough part is that they didn’t get the time together to enjoy life at the end. They sacrificed so much for the greater good.”
She gestures towards the cathedral doors. “He was a big figure. This is history in the making.”
Ned Furlong and John Moore drove “nearly 300 miles” from Adamstown, Co Wexford, to be in Derry for the funeral. “I always thought he was a great man,” said Moore. “He was always against violence, and he sorted everything out the way it should have been done, without violence.”
“I watched the documentary about John Hume on RTÉ, and I was bawling like a child,” said Furlong. “He’s a man who persevered, for so many years. He wasn’t a man of violence, he was a man of principle, and that’s why we came, because he was so passionate about what he was doing.
‘A great stalwart’
“It’s a very sad day for everyone in Derry. They’re losing a great stalwart.”
“I felt compelled to come,” said John Gallagher. “John Hume came out for us that often, Derry needed to come out for him.
“I didn’t know him personally, but I think everyone in Derry knows John Hume,” Gallagher added. “Everybody here knows what he was all about, and he never lost that. A lot of people would have walked away, but he stuck with it, he never changed, and he made Derry what it is today.”
“I’m here because I knew him,” said Albert Thompson. “He was a very nice person to speak to. If it wasn’t for coronavirus, there would be far more people here.”