AS DERRY CITY woke up this morning, people were already starting to make their way to St Eugene’s Cathedral to pay quiet respects to John Hume.
Hume, who was credited over a decades-long political career with bringing peace to Northern Ireland, died on Monday.
In recent days, world leaders, friends and former political enemies have hailed the achivements of the Nobel Peace-prizing winner Derry man, who grew up not far from St Eugene’s Cathedral.
But this morning it was ordinary Derry people who wanted, before the funeral proceedings began at 11.30am, to say a final goodbye to Hume.
“He did so much for Derry,” one woman called Jane told TheJournal.ie.
“I’m of the generation that remembers the difference between what John did and what could have been had he not had the strength and the courage to do what he did. I think everybody, over the last couple of days, has really remembered and appreciated everything he has done. And I think it’s a very sad day.”
“You reflect and you think. One minute you’re thinking about him, the next thing you’re in tears because of it.”
“It’s a wonderful achievement in a lifetime,” she added.
Later, it’s expected that at least some people will gather on the streets of Derry to pay tribute to Hume, despite social distancing restrictions. But there is a clear acknowledgement in the city that, if it wasn’t for the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands upon thousands of people would have turned out.
Faustina Curran, from the Bogside, met Hume many times. She attended the church this morning with a friend to say a prayer for Hume. ”If the restrictions hadn’t been in place, there would have been large crowds here today. But John was such a humble man that he wouldn’t have wanted that. He will enjoy it just being his family and his friends,” she said.
“I really think the Peace Bridge should now be renamed the John Hume Peace Bridge in his memory, because he was a great man.”
Tony Heaney, who lives in the city centre, voted for Hume. “He was the most important man in Irish history for the last 50 years. We’ve lost a great man today.”
Bridget Hurley, from Buncrana, travelled across the border to pay her respects today. She said she’ll watch the funeral online this morning.
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“I just want to say thank you [to him] for allowing me to be able to travel around peacefully,” she said.
Later today, it’ll be only close family and friends expected inside the church with thousands set to watch the service online.
To many, today will bring back memories of a different, more violent Northern Ireland – with many giving thanks for how the region has changed in the last two decades.
Many credit Hume for such a transformation. “He was the only man,” one woman said. He was the first person she voted for and she kept voting for him her whole life.
“I don’t worry about the virus now, I’m too heartbroken,” she said.