Mourners from across the political spectrum attended and paid their respects at the funeral of John Hume, the former SDLP leader whose death prompted international tributes on Wednesday.
The Nobel laureate died on Monday aged 83 after a long struggle with dementia.
The Pope, Bono, the Dalai Lama, the British Prime Minister, the White House and Bill Clinton were among those who hailed Mr Hume for his pivotal role in the Irish peace process in the 1990s.
The huge regard in which he was held in his native city of Derry saw several hundred people line the streets to clap as the funeral cortege passed.
Unionist and nationalist leaders joined family and friends at St Eugene’s Cathedral in the city on Wednesday to celebrate the life and grieve the loss. Candles in windows and doors lit a path for the funeral as it wound to the cathedral.
“Today we truly give thanks to God for the gift of John Hume,” Fr Paul Farren told the congregation. “Because make no mistake about it, there are people alive today who would not be alive had it not been for John’s vision and his work.”
The priest reminded mourners that Mr Hume waged an often lonely struggle to bring unionists and the Dublin and London governments into all-party negotiations including Sinn Fein. It was a critical and essential step to the Provisional IRA’s ceasefire in 1994 and, four years later, the Good Friday Agreement.
“We should never underestimate how difficult it was for John to cross the road and do what was intensely unpopular for the greater good... even in the darkest moments, when people would have been forgiven for having no hope, John made peace visible for others,” Fr Farren said.
He also praised Mr Hume’s widow, Pat, for her behind-the-scenes contribution.
In his eulogy at the funeral, his son John Hume Jr paid tribute to his father’s quest for peace and made light of his round-the-clock lifestyle, saying he kept the Irish chocolate industry in healthy profits for many years.
“Yorkies, Crunchies, Creme Eggs, Double Deckers, Wispas – you name it, he loved them all,” he said. “We often found it odd how a man with the intelligence to win a Nobel prize could seriously believe that Crunchies were less fattening because they are full of air.”
At the end of the ceremony the singer Phil Coulter played ‘The Town I Loved So Well’, a song frequently sung by Mr Hume, on the piano.
Speaking before the funeral, the current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said they were grateful to have had such a leader.
“There is work to be done and John was always forward-thinking. He gave us the platform, he gave us the pathway, he gave us the opportunity to do this free from violence,” he said. “We have to keep going to build the shared island that we want.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster described it as a “sad day”.
“I was reflecting that this has been a very difficult year for the SDLP with the loss of John Dallat and Seamus Mallon. We are here to support colleagues and indeed the family.”
Sinn Féin’s Michell O’Neill said that Mr Hume’s death marks the start of the end of an era.
“The era of Martin McGuinness, John Hume, Ian Paisley — all different political perspectives,” she added. “But as we lose big giants like that, there is a huge onus on us, as the post-Good Friday Agreement generation of political leaders, to be able to carry out the good work they started.”
* The funeral also took place this week of former IRA prisoner and Blanketman Paul Creelman, also known as ‘Big Aghadowey’, who was buried on Tuesday alongside his wife and brother-in-law. All three were involved in a tragic car accident in County Antrim last week.
Sinn Fein councillor Sean Bateson said the Kilrea community had been shocked by the tragedy, and described the victims as very well respected. “There was always a smile on their face, they were always having a good laugh, having a bit of craic with you. They were just genuine, lovely people,” he said.