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Barry White. Former Belfast Telegraph Journalist/Columnist.

The John Hume I knew

Barry White

The passing of John Hume is both Ireland and Britain's loss, writes his biographer Barry White

Having written that title, I’m not sure that I, or anyone else, knew John Hume.

He was a giant of his time, at home in any company and well worthy of his Nobel peace prize, but an enigmatic figure, who always kept his cards close to his chest. Not that he was unfriendly, or wary of speaking his mind on any topic, political or otherwise, but he thought more deeply than anyone, around the clock, about what ailed his beloved country and what he could do to heal it. In time, historians compared him to Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s foremost non-violent reformer in the 19th century, and in recent years an RTE poll voted Hume as the greatest Irishman in history.

The first impression he made on me was in the early 1960s, as leader of the University for Derry campaign. Here he was, a mere history teacher among the experienced unionist ministers, exposing the weakness of their case against siting the second university in his majority Catholic city, in favour of their preferred Protestant Coleraine. Next time I saw him he had left teaching to manage Atlantic Harvest, the idea of a local businessman, Michael Canavan, to smoke and exploit locally the salmon that was traditionally exported to Britain.