On August 10th, 1976, Anne Maguire took her children out to go shopping in Northern Ireland. Anne was pushing a pram with her six-week-old newborn. Her son walked ahead; her daughter rode her bicycle beside her, and her toddler trotted along at her side.
A car hurtled down the street carrying IRA fugitives, one dead, another critically wounded, with the British police chasing after them. The car spun out of control, leapt the curb, and slammed into Anne and her children. The youngest three died immediately, and Anne was severely injured.
It was the time of the Troubles, when escalating violent conflict between Irish Catholics and Protestants had led to bombings, gun violence, and conflict between paramilitary and military forces. More than 3,500 people were killed in the conflict, of whom 52% were civilians, 32% were members of the British security forces, and 16% were members of paramilitary groups. Although the context of the conflict had many centuries-old historical roots, the Troubles began in the 1960s and lasted until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, with a sharp decline in violence after 1978 due to the efforts of the Community of Peace People that was initiated in the wake of the children’s deaths.
A shrine grew at the site of the car crash. The violence and the deaths seemed senseless. Who was to blame? Both sides of the conflict had a role in the tragedy. Neighbors held a prayer walk through the area, the chapels were packed with vigils, women canvassed door-to-door calling for an end to the violence. All over Northern Ireland, protests against the violence were being organized. Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Anne’s sister, arrived, and heard about how one neighbor, Betty Williams, had told reporters and anyone who needed questions answered to contact her. Mairead connected with Betty, and then went down to the television station and asked for airtime to call for an end to the violence.
In Belfast and Dublin, 60,000 citizens joined the demonstrations organized by the newly formed Community of Peace People, founded by Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Within six months, there was a 70% drop in the rate of violence. Along with rallies and demonstrations for peace, the Peace People structured an ongoing movement to deal with the root causes of the conflict. They campaigned for nonviolence, justice, and equality.
The process was difficult, challenging, but the conflict reached an uneasy accord twenty years later with the “Good Friday Agreement of 1998”. Wikipedia reports, “The Troubles were brought to an uneasy end by a peace process that included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organizations, the complete decommissioning of the IRA’s weapons, the reform of the police, and the corresponding withdrawal of the British Army from the streets and sensitive Irish border areas such as South Armagh and Fermanagh, as agreed by the signatories to the Belfast Agreement (commonly known as the “Good Friday Agreement”).”
Over 100,000 people (out of a total population of roughly three million) participated in the Peace People movement, and Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work. Their story is yet another example of the power of active nonviolence working toward peace in difficult, challenging, and entrenched situations. The perseverance and vision of both the founders of the movement and the participants can be sensed here, in the words of the Declaration of the Peace People:
“ . . . 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 recognize that to build such a life demands of all of us, dedication, hard work and courage. . . .We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbors, near and far, day in and day out, to building that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.”
Learn more here: http://www.peacepeople.com/
This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.
Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times. www.riverasun.com