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Derry city comes to a standstill as mourners bid farewell to a 'wee boy from the Glen'

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The funeral cortege of the former SDLP leader John Hume leaves St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry following his funeral service

The funeral cortege of the former SDLP leader John Hume leaves St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry following his funeral service

PA

The funeral cortege of the former SDLP leader John Hume leaves St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry following his funeral service

The Maiden City mourned John Hume in dignity and solemnity as Ireland's great peacemaker was laid to rest.

The silence spoke loudest in the spattering rain as ordinary people stood outside Derry's St Eugene's Cathedral, the proceedings inside not even piped by loudspeaker to those who stood in vigil on the pavements beyond.

Inside were the dignitaries and VIPs, hearing messages of condolence and remembrance from the famous and far-trumpeted. Not a word came to the mute shoals who continued their watch beneath umbrellas, faithful to the last moment for their brother and neighbour.

Many of the mourners, on both sides of the street, wore masks as they watched. One or two listened to live audio feeds with headphones, while one old man had a tinny transistor pressed to his ear. They peered through the railings; old and young women in headscarves and anoraks, drifting in their talk to mundane topics as they awaited the end of the requiem and promised sight of the wicker casket of an international hero.

Ushered

Undertakers, drivers and others were inside the grounds, also masked, standing apart in accordance with family wishes for Covid-19 compliance, in bitter irony for a man most famous for bringing people together. The crowd focussed its gaze on the Great West Door, wondering when the occasion would conclude, occasionally looking to the statue of St Eugene high above on the spire... ordered from the firm of Pearse & Sons in Dublin, one of those sons, christened Patrick, being the man who had most dramatically ushered the gun into Irish politics over a century ago.

Inside the cathedral, a poem by John Hume's son Aidan insisted that patriotism was borne of sweat, not blood; its sentiment rhyming that 'the gun' was a dud. Instead, his father, "a wee boy from the Glen," could dismantle power with his words from a pen.

Occasionally, on the pavements, they perceived ripples of applause - and some applauded in common cause, not knowing the precise reason why.

But it echoed other public applause in this city, from a decade ago when the Saville verdict was handed down in the Guildhall that innocent civilians had been murdered on Bloody Sunday by the British army. Cheers of happiness had then been the order of the day on the square outside.

Applause

Only the bell tolling its orisons told the eyewitnesses yesterday that the ceremony was coming to a close. A woman dabbed her eyes, and afterwards declined to comment. "It's just myself," she said, but her demeanour showed it really was what he had meant to her.

People were pleased to see Arlene Foster there. "She had to come, but it's good to see her all the same," said one.

Faint strains of 'The Town I Love So Well' drifted out and they felt silent and strained to listen.

Then the wicker coffin emerged, and the outside admirers burst into a ripple of applause. It was lifted into the hearse, and the ovation continued for the family as they followed out and watched it lifted into the hearse.