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John's impact and legacy extends well beyond one lifetime

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SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood John Hume

SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood John Hume

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Ey

SDLP Leader Colm Eastwood John Hume

The death of John Hume represents the loss of 20th century Ireland's most significant and consequential political figure. It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined - an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny.

This is an historic moment on this island but most of all it is a moment of deep, deep sadness. In the days ahead, Ireland will be united in mourning his loss. However amidst that national mourning, it is equally true that the marking of John's death also opens up a space to reflect on, and celebrate, the magnitude of his life.

As part of that reflection of John's work, never has the beatitude rung truer - blessed be the peacemakers. The life of John Hume will forever be a blessing upon this island since Ireland is now blessed by the peace he gifted to us all. It is the greatest legacy a political leader can bestow upon his country.

Hume will always find a home amongst the pantheon of great Irish leaders and it is only right and natural that he will now be spoken of in the very same breath as O'Connell and Parnell. It is important that John's endeavours are fully appreciated in terms of their sheer scale - his impact and legacy extends well beyond one lifetime and well beyond the confines of Northern Ireland. His life's work brought to an end the seemingly intractable historical arc of bitter conflict between the neighbouring islands of Britain and Ireland.

After some 800 years which inflicted so much hurt and harm on all our peoples, it is John Hume who must now be remembered as the great healer of that history. For all of these reasons and more, John Hume truly was Ireland's greatest.

Whilst John Hume lived most of his adult life at the centre of modern Irish history and its politics, it is important that we remember that for John's family, he was the very centre of their lives and of their love. The Irish nation has lost a giant of its history but his family have lost a husband, a father and a grandfather. The thoughts, prayers and love of all the SDLP family are today with the entire Hume family - with his children Terese, Aine, Aidan, John and Mo, his brothers and sisters and all his grandchildren.

Most especially our thoughts are with his loving wife Pat who cared for and carried alongside John the very same burdens over many dark and difficult years.

It is especially poignant that John's death has occurred as we concluded celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, a time which first awakened his political journey. Witnessing the enflamed streets of the 1960s and a community determined to rise up and put an end to the systematic discrimination of the state, John chose to build a politics and a political party which was true to its time and true to the aspirations and the needs of our people.

The Good Friday Agreement, embraced and endorsed by the Irish people in 1998, is the institutional embodiment of that creed and its vision. John was not simply the Agreement's architect or its builder, he was very much both. He will forever remain its enduring inspiration.

As part of our reflection, a special mention is appropriate for the city that was always so special to John Hume. Today, Derry is a city shrouded in grief.

John Hume once summed up his political philosophy in saying, 'I never thought in terms of being a leader. I thought very simply in terms of helping people.' The simplicity of that statement remains a powerful insight into the patriotic devotion that came to define the man.

Having spent his life in the service of others, no-one is more deserving of the eternal rest which now awaits him.

Colum Eastwood is leader of the SDLP

Belfast Telegraph