John Hume in America

A new documentary on Nobel Prize-winning Northern Irish politician John Hume includes archival material housed in the University’s John J. Burns Library.

“In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America,” which premiered at the Boston Film Festival, traces Hume’s efforts to enlist prominent U.S. politicians – including BC alumnus Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. – in securing a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Directed by Maurice Fitzpatrick and narrated by actor Liam Neeson, with music by “Riverdance” composer Bill Whelan, the film includes interviews with former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, British ex-prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major and pop star/activist Bono, among others.

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John Hume speaking at Boston College in 1997, the year before he won the Nobel Prize. He was awarded an honorary degree by BC and served as a visiting lecturer.

Now retired from politics, Hume was a major figure in the Northern Irish civil rights movement and became Northern Ireland’s leading Catholic politician. In 1998, Hume was named co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Unionist leader David Trimble, who worked with Hume to forge the Good Friday Agreement.

Hume has had extensive ties with Boston College, which awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the 1995 Commencement Exercises, where he addressed the graduating class. In 1980, the Eire Society of Boston presented Hume with its annual Gold Medal.

In a recent interview, Fitzpatrick said the intention behind “In the Name of Peace” is to examine what he felt was an underappreciated chapter of Hume’s life.

“As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it’s important to remember the critical role John Hume played in the process, and how much of a vital figure he is in Anglo-Irish history. 

“It’s also important to realize that Hume created a new consciousness in the U.S., and I think his experiences in Boston – where he met Irish politicians in positions of great power like Tip O’Neill and Edward Kennedy – were quite important in that regard.”   

Fitzpatrick found there was little source material about Hume’s outreach to the US. But through his past experience with Boston College – in 2010, he launched a US lecture tour for his documentary “The Boys of St. Columb’s” through BC’s Center for Irish Programs – Fitzpatrick knew the Burns Library’s rare books and special collections would likely have what he wanted.

Sure enough, Fitzpatrick found a number of Hume-related items in the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Congressional Papers, and the archive of Northern Irish photographer Bobby Hanvey. These included correspondence between O’Neill and his chief of staff Kirk O’Donnell about meetings with Hume, and statements by Hume on the death of imprisoned Irish hunger-strikers in 1981, as well as various candid and formal photos of Hume.

The materials not only contributed to the film’s narrative but also its visuals: Fitzpatrick and his crew spent the better part of a day in the library’s O’Brien Fine Print Room setting up and taking footage of the items.

“It was a pleasure to work with the Burns staff,” said Fitzpatrick. “They were helpful and attentive to our needs, and we were able to get important work done.”

Burns Librarian Christian Dupont said Fitzpatrick’s project – while one of the more high-profile uses of its resources – is among many the library handles in a given year. 

“Burns Library assists everyone from undergraduates to international scholars to filmmakers and other artists,” he said. “We’re glad to have played a part in helping the world learn more about John Hume’s leadership and contribution to peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that Maurice’s documentary will inspire greater multi-party and multilateral dialogue on compelling social and political issues.”

Boston College historian Robert Savage, a specialist on Northern Ireland and Irish media, welcomed the release of “In the Name of Peace,” which he said offered an opportunity to reaffirm Hume’s links with BC. Hume has spoken several times on campus, including at the University’s 1997 Laetare Sunday Communion Breakfast, and in the late 1990s lectured as a visiting professor of history.

“John was a regular visitor to my course A History of Northern Ireland,” recalled Savage. “He would come to Boston for a week and visit the class to talk about his experience in Northern Ireland. He usually addressed his involvement in the campaign for civil rights and his interactions with US political leaders like Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Ted Kennedy, Hugh Carey, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Tip O’Neill. 

“I believe that he is the one person most responsible for the Good Friday Agreement and I’m delighted his story is being told in this new film.” 

A screening of “In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America” and a panel discussion will take place at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. 

–Sean Smith / University Communications