Derry to mark 25 years of Good Friday agreement with John Hume musical

Playhouse to stage Beyond Belief in 2023 to ‘say a proper goodbye’ to late SDLP leader who helped persuade IRA to give up arms

A musical drama about the life of John Hume, one of the main forces behind the Good Friday agreement, will be staged next year to mark the 25th anniversary of the historic deal that helped end 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Beyond Belief, written by Damian Gorman with music by Brian O’Doherty, is the second part of a “peace-building trilogy” at the Playhouse in Hume’s home town, Derry, after The White Handkerchief, a play about the events of Bloody Sunday, earlier this year.

Writer Damian Gorman at the Playhouse door.
Writer Damian Gorman at the Playhouse. Photograph: The Playhouse /PA

Mo Hume, the late politician’s daughter, said the play would “present his life and work with great integrity but also joy. My father’s career had many triumphs, many hardships, but he was a warm, kind and funny family man, a man who loved to sing. He was a very proud Derry man.”

Hume’s family and the John and Pat Hume Foundation are supporting the production.

Hume – the leader of the Northern Irish nationalist party the SDLP for more than 20 years, a Westminster MP and a member of the European parliament – helped persuade the IRA to give up its armed struggle. He argued that nationalists and unionists needed to share power and pursue their goals by peaceful, democratic means.

After the Good Friday agreement was signed on 10 April 1998, with the UK prime minister Tony Blair declaring the “hand of history is upon our shoulder”, Hume and the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Brid Rodgers, a former SDLP deputy leader and a friend of Hume’s, said: “A lot of people think of John Hume as a figure in history; not many know the real, human John Hume. As well as being an innovator, motivator and inspiring a generation, he was good fun. No party was ever complete without John singing.”

Spectacles belonging to John Hume atop a signed copy of the Good Friday agreement
Spectacles belonging to John Hume atop a signed copy of the Good Friday agreement. Photograph: The Playhouse /PA

The drama will show Hume at his strongest and his weakest, said its director, Kieran Griffiths. Hume had dementia towards the end of his life. “When he was most vulnerable, he’d sometimes be lost in his own city. People in Derry would gently take his arm and see him home, without any sense of shaming.”

Griffiths added: “His relationship with his wife, Pat, is crucial – they were a joint force. In a very simple sense, Beyond Belief is a love story.”

When Hume died in August 2020, Covid restrictions meant there could be only a small funeral. “People were robbed of the chance to say a proper goodbye. I’m hoping the play will give the community and the wider diaspora a chance to lay their hands on him.”

In recent years, the power-sharing arrangements set up under the Good Friday agreement have been periodically in jeopardy. Rodgers said: “This drama will remind people what’s at stake, what John was trying to achieve and how important it is that it endures.”

• Beyond Belief: The Life and Mission of John Hume will be at the Derry Playhouse from 31 March-7 April 2023, with the final performance broadcast live. Tickets at


Harriet Sherwood Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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