On a sweltering afternoon in August 1976 Danny Lennon and John Chillingworth raced through the streets of Belfast. They’d been identified by British police as Provisional Irish Republican Army members and were suspected of transporting guns. At Finaghy Road North the police opened fire, killing Lennon the driver and sending the car careening onto the sidewalk. It hit a mother, Anne Maguire, and her three children who were out shopping. The eight year-old girl and her six week old brother were killed instantly, their 2 year-old brother died the next day. Anne survived the tragic accident but would commit suicide four years later, unable to overcome her grief.
Maguire’s neighbor Betty Williams, who happened to be driving home at the same time and witnessed the horror, decided enough was enough. She began gathering signatures of both Catholics and Protestants for a peace petition, and organized 200 women to march through Belfast to raise awareness for this latest effort at peace. The march passed close to the home of Maired Corrigan, the sister of Anne Maguire, and Corrigan joined in.
And ‘Women for Peace’, a movement committed to ending the Troubles in Northern Ireland was born.
Soon after the initial march a second march took place, and this time 10,000 Catholic and Protestant women made their way through Belfast again, this time to the graves of the three Maguire children. The protesters were met with violence by IRA members on the route, who accused them of colluding with the British government. The response of Williams and Corrigan…a third march the following week where more than 35,000 people participated.
In contrast to the past, Williams and Corrigan put forth a platform that called for an end to violence in Northern Ireland not through violence, but re-education. The organization, which soon changed its name to the more inclusive ‘Community for Peace People’ began publishing a newspaper, Peace by Peace, and providing bus service for families trying to visit loved ones in Belfast’s jails. And Williams and Corrigan spoke out, and traveled, and spoke out some more.
Their impact was so significant that in 1977 the two moms from Belfast were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2006 Williams and Corrigan joined with fellow Nobel Prize winners Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu Tum (representing North and South America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa) to form the Nobel Women’s Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to help support women’s rights around the world.
Betty Williams and Maired Corrigan are heroes you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.