‘IT HAD TO BE MADE’ Film depicts Hume’s path to Irish peace

The filmmaker Maurice Fitzpatrick’s new documentary, “In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America,” will be screened at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Dorchester at a free forum on Tues., Oct. 10. The showing will be followed by a discussion between Fitzpatrick and former US Sen. George Mitchell, who served as the chairman of the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Accord of 1998. The exchange will be moderated by the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen.
The documentary had its American premiere last week at the Boston Film Festival, where Hume family members, admirers, scholars, and fans of history gathered to see the film, which explores the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s work with US, British, and Irish politicians to bring peace and stability to Northern Ireland.
The movie contains input from various politicians and activists, notably US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and the rock star Bono, who pointed to Hume’s masterly communication skills as a primary driver of the eventual understanding. “He could speak the language of US politics better than they could,” the singer and social activist said.
The film explores Hume’s almost single-handed efforts to involve US politicians in Northern Ireland peace efforts and to put pressure on British officials to work to resolve the problem of the Troubles. Much of Hume’s collaboration in the US was with a group that came to be known as “The Four Horsemen,” all of whom are deceased: Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, a longtime speaker of the US House, US Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts, US Sen. Pat Moynihan of New York, and many-time New York Governor Hugh Carey.
In an interview with the Reporter last week, Fitzpatrick expounded upon Bono’s emphasis on language, speaking to Hume’s ability to create a dialogue in which both sides of the conflict were involved. “Forging a new idiom, a new language upon which people could build understanding was a very important development,” he said.
Hume was able to exert his influence at the uppermost levels of American politics. Significantly, he worked with Tip O’Neill to indirectly win the favor of then-President Ronald Reagan, who in turn demanded action from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the Irish-Anglo Agreement of 1985. As Fitzpatrick pointed out, Hume was among the first to tap into the power of US foreign policy as means to enact change.
“This man really was the first person to focus on Washington, and he understood how important the power of Washington was when it could be unleashed,” explained Fitzpatrick. “He plotted out the formula and the strategy for how senior American politicians could get involved.”
Following the premiere, a discussion panel that included Fitzpatrick, Tip’s son, former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Thomas P. O’Neill III, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and Kevin Cullen analyzed the film and its connection to Boston. O’Neill and Cullen recalled the fervent local Irish-American support of the North’s nationalists throughout the conflict, citing a time when “the IRA were the good guys” and when Boston bars had “jars collecting funds for NORAID.”
The film shows how Hume was able to navigate a highly complex political and social situation and find a path to peace in the face of the simplistic view of some Irish-Americans that the struggle in the North was one of good vs. evil. Hume emphatically dismissed that viewpoint.
That dismissal is a facet of Hume’s legacy that Fitzpatrick emphasized throughout the panel discussion, noting that his penchant for logic and rationality served his cause well at a time when impulsive, rash violence could have doomed any hope for peace. As Bono put it: “John Hume took down the emotional temperature of the Troubles so that reason could be heard.”
The film also lays out a comparison between Hume’s civil rights movement in Ireland and the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States by juxtaposing images of their marches in Derry and Selma, respectively. Hume was “a student of Martin Luther King who quoted him all the time,” said Thomas O’Neill. Hume followed the minister’s example by using nonviolent protest as a catalyst for change. In the film, the iconic footage of Hume leading protesters with locked arms singing “We Shall Overcome” visually cements the link between the two men.
Hume grew up poor in Derry, a city divided between unionists and nationalists, and a locus of the Troubles rife with unemployment, restlessness, and violence. Fitzpatrick believes this upbringing shaped Hume’s outlook on life and his mission of peace.
“He saw what poverty did to people in Derry,” Fitzpatrick said. “He saw the social malaise that affected people.”
Fitzpatrick’s adept storytelling weaves several subplots together, touching on Hume’s youth, his presence on the front lines of the conflict, and his campaigns in America. But some of the film’s most poignant moments come when Fitzpatrick lets raw footage do the storytelling for him.
A series of unedited clips from Irish newsreels gives the audience a dramatic, visceral perspective of a larger-than-life John Hume. Black and white footage captures the moments when an interview with Hume was interrupted by a skirmish with police, or when he confronted a British army commander on Magilligan beach.
The haunting sounds of a Celtic flute scored by Riverdance composer Bill Whelan accompany stunning images of the Irish landscape in giving the film its sense of place.
“In the Name of Peace,” the first feature-length documentary to be made about John Hume, “had to be made,” Fitzpatrick said in the Reporter interview. That exact sentiment was given voice by an audience member during the Q & A portion following the film’s showing at the Boston Film Festival. Thanking Fitzpatrick, he said, “It had to be made.”
The JFK library event on Tues., Oct. 10 begins at 6 p.m. Go to jfklibrary.org to register.