Hume was born in the traditionally Catholic nationalist city of Derry (also known as Londonderry), and educated at St. Columb's and the National University of Ireland. A founder member of the Credit Union party, later the SDLP, he became an member of the Northern Ireland parliament in 1969 and a Westminster MP in 1983. He succeeded Gerry Fitt as leader of the SDLP in 1979. He has also served as one of Northern Ireland's three MEPss.
Hume is credited with being the thinker behind many of the recent political developements in Northern Ireland, from Sunningdale power-sharing to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Belfast Agreement. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 alongside the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble. On his retirement from the leadership of the SDLP in the early 2000s he was praised across the political divide, with some of the warmest praise ironically coming from longtime opponent, fellow MP and MEP and friend the Rev. Ian Paisley.