Peace Itself Is the Prize

A Nobel for John Hume

It was a great day to be in Derry. All week, speculation about the Nobel Peace Prize had been a part of every conversation as headlines in the Belfast papers tipped John Hume as the most likely recipient. But there was still the fear of jinxing the outcome so that oblique references were the order of the day. "Any news about it?" John Hume’s answer to those who alluded to the possibility was, "The peace itself is the prize." As late as the night before, Hume waved off any attempts at handicapping the race. When a friend toasted "you know what," he shook his head. Surely, he said, the committee had already notified the winner; after all, the announcement was now only twelve hours away. A young French journalist replied that no, this was one secret that did not leak. Until the announcement in Oslo at 10 a.m. on October 16, no one would know for sure. Again Hume repeated that although international recognition for the peace process in Northern Ireland would be a wonderful thing, because it could help strengthen that process, he had not entered politics thirty years before expecting prizes or rewards.

Which was a good thing, because there were none going for that young teacher drawn into the electoral fray by a sense of responsibility to the people of the city who had shaped him. "My life changed because I passed an exam," he says. The British Labor government had introduced free education in 1947 for those who...

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About the Author

Mary Pat Kelly, inveterate traveler and frequent Commonweal contributor, is the author of the novel Special Intentions (Dublin: New Island, 1997).