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John Hume
 
John Hume
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John Hume Interview

Nobel Prize for Peace

June 8, 2002
Dublin, Ireland

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  John Hume

(John Hume and David Trimble were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1998 for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. The Academy of Achievement interviewed both men in Dublin, Ireland at the International Achievement Summit on June 8, 2002. Their interviews are combined here.)

Mr. Hume, tell us a little bit about your background. You grew up in Derry, didn't you?


John Hume: I grew up in Derry, of course, and it was -- Derry was the worst example of Northern Ireland's discrimination. Of course, the Unionist people, wishing to protect their heritage and their identity -- and they've every right to do that, in my opinion because every society has diversity, and respect for diversity is central and essential. But, my quarrel with their approach was, of course, their methodology. I called it their Afrikaner mind set. They held all power in their own hands in order to protect themselves, in order to ensure that the minority in Northern Ireland, which was the Catholic population, never became a majority and that meant widespread discrimination in housing, in jobs, and in voting rights. And of course, the worst example of that was the city of Derry, where I lived. Seventy percent of the population of Derry was from the Catholic community, largely Nationalist people who wanted Irish unity, and of course, 30 percent were the Protestant community, who were Unionists, but they governed the city and their system was known as gerrymander. They divided the city into three electoral wards, and in one ward there was 70 percent of the people, the Catholic population, and they elected eight representatives to the city council. And the other -- there was two other districts which represented 30 percent of the population, and each of those districts elected six members. So the Unionists always had 12/8.


John Hume Interview Photo

It was a kind of ghettoization, wasn't it?

John Hume: Total ghettoization, because they were in charge of public housing, the local council, and they deliberately located people in a ghetto situation in order to ensure that they maintained control.

How did this affect your own family? Your father, we understand, was unemployed.

John Hume: Well, of course, this meant that...


There was discrimination not only in housing, but in jobs. And my father was unemployed, and of course, he was a very, very intelligent man and well known as that, because when I was child, growing up in our home, I would be sitting at the table doing my homework and my father would be sitting at the table, and people would be coming in from the district and around the city for him to write their letters because he was a copper plate handwriter, and he also knew the whole system inside out. So that, we suffered a lot from discrimination, but what happened -- I was lucky in the sense that a new education system was introduced. It was introduced in Britain in 1944, but then eventually in Northern Ireland in 1947. In the first year of that, I passed the examination and got a scholarship to go to secondary school and of course, otherwise I would never have been educated.


Mr. Trimble, could you talk a little bit about Bangor in the 1940s when you were growing up? Tell us about your family, what was your religious background?

John Hume Interview Photo
David Trimble: I'm a Presbyterian, and grew up within that ambit. The Town of Bangor, Northern Ireland, was predominantly Presbyterian. In Northern Ireland, Presbyterian is associated with people of Scots background, Scots origin. Several centuries, 350 years ago, my ancestors came from Scotland to Northern Ireland. Now there's been, obviously, over 300 years, a fair degree of intermarriage and mixing and all the rest, but you can still say, in Northern Ireland, that Presbyterianism is an indication of a background and a culture which is Scots. Being what you would call an Episcopalian is an indication of a background that would be predominantly English.

Were you thinking about public service, about government, back then when you were a kid?


David Trimble: I was interested in politics and would have taken a fair amount of interest, although my interest would have been in national politics rather than regional Northern Ireland politics. I remember, for example, staying up during the 1959 general election -- which was won, of course, by Harold Macmillan -- listening to the results. I would have been 14 at the time, and I would have been, in that sense, sort of -- most of my years of school, people of the same age as myself wouldn't have had the same interest in politics as myself, but I always was interested in politics.


What books did you read as a young person that you particularly enjoyed and had an influence on you?

David Trimble: I think that's not a question that one can answer accurately. I read a whole range of books, quite a lot of history at the time, and still do read a lot. I read very widely. But to try and select one, two or three books and say these books had a major influence on me, at that age, no, I wouldn't. Subsequently, I might point to one or two volumes that were quite interesting, but at the same time, you can put too much emphasis on this.

What did you like reading, if you could look at it that way?

David Trimble: Like everybody at that age, I read an awful lot of pulp fiction. But at the same time, I also read quite a bit of history and read that as much for pleasure as part of a curriculum.

Any particular favorites that you can remember, favorite authors from that time?

David Trimble: There is one I do remember.


It was a biography of King John, written by the chap who, at that time, was the main professor of history at Queens University. The thing that I liked about the book was that it didn't follow the sort of traditional "bad King John" approach. It actually dealt with the times of John, and of course, people remember John in terms of Magna Carta and all the rest of it, but it was quite interesting to me to discover that John, when he was Lord of Ireland, had come right up to the other side of Belfast Lough, and had actually assaulted and carried Carrickfergus Castle, after a four-day siege and assault, which was quite remarkable because the castle -- the Carrickfergus Castle which is still intact -- it was quite a considerable fortification. It was the seat of the Norman barons of Ulster, and the Earl of Ulster at that time had been in revolt against King John. And, he was actually noted for these lightning military moves, extremely successful ones. Now, I mind you, he came unstuck a number of other times as well. But, what I liked about that book is it actually challenged the received view in terms of the review that we had received and found in, as it were, the school text, the history text. And, that I find interesting, and again, of course, one finds that again and again in life, that the received wisdom is sometimes --very often -- right, but at the same time, you can have situations where a view develops about a particular person and then you find, when you look a bit more closely, that the reality is otherwise.


The author was Louis Warren, W.L. Warren. King John was his first book, and then he wrote another very good book on Henry II, and many other books, as well. I had the pleasure of meeting him and getting to know him quite well when I joined the staff at Queens University.

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