A book was published in 2015 about John Hume, architect of the Good Friday agreement, co-founder of the SDLP and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The book – John Hume: Peacemaker – was the first to contain a chapter about Hume by his wife, Pat. Pat, who passed away this week, didn't give interviews very often, but she did talk to Miriam O’Callaghan following the publication of that book in late 2015. The first question Miriam put to Pat was why her husband wasn’t there to talk about the book. Pat didn’t shy away from revealing the unfortunate truth about John’s absence:
"Unfortunately John is having severe memory difficulties at the moment. He has a form of dementia. And this started in the late 90s. John was speaking at a conference and he became very, very seriously ill."
It turned out John had a ruptured intestine and severe septicemia set it, leaving him on a ventilator. His condition was so severe that doctors told Pat they didn’t think John would survive.
"Something went wrong with the ventilator and I think it was at that stage that he suffered some brain damage. This, down through the years, has got worse and his memory is now very bad."
Dementia is a terrible disease, but Pat told Miriam that it hadn’t entirely ruined John’s quality of life and a large part of that was down to his hometown of Derry:
"Derry is a very dementia-friendly city. People love John. He can go out for a walk. Every taxi in the place will stop for him, you know? And, so he’s extremely lucky in that way."
Like many partners of people with dementia, Pat was John’s carer, something that’s never easy on either sufferer or carer. And Pat’s caring for John was no different, the Derry effect notwithstanding:
"It can be very tough, especially at the end of the day. And, you know, when somebody asks you the same question twenty times and you’re giving the same answers. And it’s very hard to get up the energy to, you know, be pleasant. So, it can be tough."
Pat remembers her first meeting with John very well. It was 1958. Pat was in college in Belfast and during the Easter holidays – after the regulation strict Lent – she went to Borderlands, a dancehall in Muff, Co Donegal. The politics of dancing in the late 50s meant that you usually ended up dancing at least three times with the same person, as Pat explained:
"In those days, if you danced with somebody and it was followed by a Ladies’ Choice, it was only courteous to return the Ladies’ Choice. And then if he was a gentleman at all, he had to return the dance to you. So you ended up having three dances with the same person. So, I had three dances with JH."
John asked her if he could see her home, not realising that Pat lived at the far end of the Waterside in Derry. They got the bus from Muff to Derry, then walked to Pat’s house, meaning John was left to walk home to the far end of the Derryside – about a four mile stroll. His late-night exercise didn’t put John off though:
"He must have been keen, you know, because he was back again. So, that kind of started the relationship."
During their courtship, John told Pat that he had been to Maynooth, where he studied to be a priest, but he missed his exams because he’d been in hospital with stomach-related problems. It was during his three weeks in hospital that the young John Hume gave some serious thought to his vocation and decided that, as Pat put it, "any gifts that he had could be used better in other pursuits."
Pat’s chapter in the book about her husband recounts a pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle in Northern Ireland in January 1972, when John led a march against internment on Magilligan Beach, near a prison where people were some internees were being held. The marchers were stopped by British paratroopers and Pat told Miriam how John was affected by the events of the march:
"I remember he came back that evening and he was really, really depressed. He said the paratroopers were intent on doing a lot of damage. And there was a march that was arranged for the Bogside the following day, from Creggan down to Bogside. And that was Bloody Sunday."
You can hear Miriam’s full 2015 interview with Pat Hume – including her memories of Bloody Sunday – by going here.
John Hume: Peacemaker, edited by Seán Farren and Dennis Haughey, is published by Four Courts Press.