In the 1960s, Northern Ireland began a period of ethno-political conflict called the Troubles. Through a series of social and political injustices, Northern Ireland had become a religiously divided society between historically mainland Protestants and Irish Catholics. Furthermore, the Irish people had become a fragmented body over a range of issues, identities, circumstances and loyalties. The conflict between Protestants and Catholics spilled over into violence, marked by riots and targeted killings between the groups beginning in 1968. In addition, paramilitary groups, including the prominent Irish Republican Army (IRA), launched terrorist attacks to advance their political agendas.
The violence continued to escalate. On 10 August 1976, Anne Maguire and her children were walking along Finaghy Road North in Belfast. Suddenly, a Ford Cortina slammed into them. The car was being driven by Danny Lennon, who moments before had been shot dead by pursuing soldiers. The mother was the only survivor. The collision killed three of her four children, Joanne (8 years), John (2 years), and Andrew (6 months). Joanne and Andrew died instantly; John was injured critically.
The next day, immediately following John’s death, fifty women from the Republican neighborhoods of Andersontown and Stewartstown protested Republican violence by marching with baby carriages. That evening, Mairead Corrigan, Anne Maguire’s sister, appeared on television pleading for an end to the violence. She became the first leader of the Peace People to speak publicly.
However, she was not the only one to initiate action. As soon as she heard Mairead speak on the television, Betty Williams began petitioning door-to-door for an end to sectarian violence. She garnered 6,000 signatures of support within a few days. This support led directly into the first unofficial action of the Peace People. On 14 August, only four days after the incident, 10,000 women, both Protestant and Catholic, marched with banners along Finaghy Road North, the place of the children’s death, to Milltown cemetery, their burial site. This march mostly included women along with a few public figures and men. The marchers proceeded in almost utter silence, only broken by short bouts of singing from the nuns in the crowd and verbal and physical attacks by Republican opposition.
The following day, the three who became leaders of the Peace People – Mairead Corrigan, Betty Williams, and journalist Ciaran McKeown – came together for their first official meeting. During these initial meetings they established the ideological basis of nonviolence and goals for the campaign. The essential goals for the movement were the dissolution of the IRA and an end to the violence in Northern Ireland. The goals of the campaign implicit in their declaration were awareness, solidarity, and momentum. Peace People’s declaration:
“We have a simple message to the world from this movement for Peace. We want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society. We want for our children, as we want for ourselves, our lives at home, at work, and at play to be lives of joy and Peace. We recognise that to build such a society demands dedication, hard work, and courage. We recognise that there are many problems in our society which are a source of conflict and violence. We recognise that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb make that work more difficult. We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence. We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbours, near and far, day in and day out, to build that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.”
During the four-month campaign, Peace People and partners organized and participated in 26 marches in Northern Ireland, Britain, and the Republic of Ireland. In order to organize these marches effectively they established their main headquarters in Belfast.
After the initial Finaghy Road March, the Peace People, both Protestants and Catholics, rallied in Ormeau Park on 21 August. The official Declaration of the Peace People was first read at this rally, the largest rally of the entire campaign. The group numbered over 50,000. The rally even included some activists from Southern Ireland, most notably Judy Hayes from the Glencree Centre of Reconciliation near Dublin. After the rally, she and her colleagues returned to the south to organize solidarity demonstrations.
In the few days before the next march, the organization “Women Together” requested Peace People to call off the march, disapproving of Catholics and Protestants participating in a joint march. The Peace People were not dissuaded. The next Saturday, 27,000 people marched along Shankill Road, the loyalist/Protestant neighborhood.
In the next three months, Peace People organized and participated in a rally every Saturday; some weeks even had two. Some of the most notable marches include the Derry/Londonderry double-march, the Falls march, the London march, and the Boyne march.
In 1977, Maireed Corrigan and Betty Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize.
A project of Swarthmore College, including Peace and Conflict Studies, the Peace Collection, and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility.
Copyright Swarthmore College.
I INVITE YOU TO SHARE A POST ABOUT A WOMAN WHO INSPIRES YOU. JUST TAP ON THE LINKZ FROG TO POST. WE CAN NEVER SHARE TOO MANY STORIES ABOUT INSPIRING WOMEN.