John Hume talks to Professor Anthony Clare about what it means to be Irish.

Born and raised in Derry, John Hume worked as a teacher before entering politics. He was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland in the 1960s.  In 1969 he was elected to Stormont, and is one of the co-founders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), becoming its leader 1979. A leading influence in the creation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Professor Anthony Clare describes him as, 

A tenacious opponent in the use of violence in this island, for political ends.

John Hume admits that thinking about the concept of Irishness is something up to now he has never really considered. For him, people who loudly declare their nationality have a very specific idea of what it means to be Irish, which is not always necessarily inclusive,

I think if you are what you are, you should be able to be that anywhere, and in any circumstance, without having to proclaim it.

Looking at Ireland’s history, the reality is that modern Irish people are an amalgam of many different types of peoples who landed on these shores over the centuries. The Irish are a very diverse people, 

Part of our problem is, of course, our refusal to accept difference and diversity, and our insistence on pushing difference to the point of division.

The Irish are an emigrant people whose skills have served and benefited many other nations. Unfortunately issues on this island have been such a cause of strife,

Our contribution to the world has been constructive and building, whereas we quarrel about a piece of earth, back on the piece of earth.

On the question of Irish unity, Hume doesn’t really believe there was a time when the Irish people were united. He maintains that there was always some sort of tension in existence,

Most people think Ireland got divided in 1920...but we had Tone talking in 1795 of wanting to unite the people of Ireland, well they must have been divided.

At the best of times it would take the patience of a saint to resolve any long standing argument between parties. The 6th century residents of what is now north Ulster were lucky enough to be able to call on Saint Columba when two clans were locked in a bitter dispute.  

The lesson from this, John Hume says, is that even though divisions on the island of Ireland go back a very long way, solutions are possible, 

If we want to solve them, the first thing we have to do, sounds like a contradiction, we must accept diversity. The essence of unity...is the acceptance of diversity.  

This episode of ‘Irish In Mind’ was broadcast on 6 February 1989.  The presenter is Professor Anthony Clare.

‘Irish In Mind’ was a studio based series in which Dr Anthony Clare, Medical Director of St Patrick’s Hospital, and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, interviewed well known Irish people from the fields of politics, arts, religion, business and media.  In an interview for the RTÉ Guide about the series, Dr Clare believes that the Irish "...reveal far more through literature; through theatre and performances...We are a very private people." (RTÉ Guide 3 February 1989, p.16)

First broadcast on 6 February 1989, the series ran for seven weeks.