John Hume was born in the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland. In the British-ruled northern counties of the partitioned island, Catholics suffered keenly from discrimination in employment and housing. The oldest child of a Catholic family in the Bogside district of Derry, John Hume belonged to the first generation in Northern Ireland to have access to free public education, and he seized the opportunity to escape the seemingly endless cycle of poverty and unemployment. At first, he planned to study for the priesthood, but after three years of religious studies, he determined to serve his community by other means. He graduated from the National University of Ireland in 1958 with a B.A. in French and History. He spent several summers studying in France, at St. Malo, Brittany and at the Institut Catholique in Paris. He received his Master's degree from St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland in 1964.
On returning to Derry, he taught in the local schools, and began looking for other ways to relieve the distress of his community. With a few friends, John Hume founded the Derry Credit Union, the first credit union in Northern Ireland. Modeled on similar institutions in the United States, the Derry Credit Union began with only four members and only seven pounds in its account; 36 years later it would have 14,000 members and assets of £ 21 million. By the time he was 27, John Hume was president of the island-wide Credit Union League of Ireland and Vice President of an international credit union movement. In 1964 Hume helped establish the Derry Housing Association to relieve the city's housing shortage. The Association built many homes, but soon met resistance from the city government, which feared any change in the city's carefully drawn electoral map.
In 1969, Hume was elected to the Northern Ireland Parliament, defeating a more hard-line Nationalist candidate. The following year, Hume and his associates founded the non-sectarian Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). In 1971, the British government responded to the SDLP and the fair housing marchers by creating a central independent housing authority, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, to take control of public housing out of the hands of the local authorities.
In 1983, Hume was elected or the first time to represent the constituency of Foyle in the House of Commons at Westminster. Voters in Northern Ireland increasingly turned away from more extreme parties to embrace the non-violent, non-sectarian approach of the SDLP. In 1985, the governments of Britain and Ireland reached their first major agreement over Northern Ireland since the 1920s. Both Governments confirmed that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens, and the British government recognized, for the first time, a consultative role for the Irish government in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
Hume seized the opportunity to pressure the governments in Dublin and London to enter into talks with all parties to the conflict. He traveled frequently to the United States to enlist American support for the peace process, and American investment in Northern Ireland's struggling economy. He became such a familiar figure in the halls of the U.S. Congress that Capitol observers took to calling him the "101st Senator." He found an attentive listener in U.S. President Bill Clinton, who in 1995 became the first U.S. President to visit Belfast and Derry, lending visible American support for multi-party talks.
Former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell was invited by the British and Irish governments to chair the peace negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Trimble signed on, over the objections of more than half of his parliamentary colleagues. He won them to his point of view and campaigned vigorously in the island-wide referendum that ratified the agreement, an accomplishment for which he shared the Nobel Prize for Peace with John Hume in 1998. Although there were many difficulties yet to be overcome, these brave men had set in place the foundation of a lasting peace.
In May 2005, David Trimble was defeated for re-election to the British Parliament and stepped down as leader of the UUP. The party's representation in Parliament had fallen to a single seat, out of 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland. The following year, David Trimble received a lifetime appointment to the House of Lords and was named Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey. He did not stand for re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly at the next election. On joining the House of Lords as a working peer, he joined the Conservative Party, and has proposed an alliance between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionist Party. He is expected to play a significant role in any future conservative government in Britain.
John Hume served for three years in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He continued to serve in the Parliaments of Europe and the United Kingdom until 2004, when he retired from electoral office. He remains one of the elder statesmen of European politics, a powerful voice on issues related to the Credit Union movement, European integration and global poverty. In the words of former U.S. President Clinton, John Hume remains "Ireland's most tireless champion for civil rights and its most eloquent spokesman for peace."