Nobel Peace Laureates

“There is one thing though of which I'm absolutely certain. Everything else is up for question but the one thing that I have come to know is that human life is sacred. It's precious. It's a gift from God. I have a right to this gift from God and I give thanks for it and I rejoice in it and it's painful and it's hard but it's also joyous and it's also great fun. As I have my right to life then I acknowledge that in all justice that you too have your right to life and I have no right to take your life and I will live by that principle today.”
- Máiread Corrigan Maguire
Máiread Corrigan Maguire was born on January 27, 1944, to a Catholic family in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She grew up with her parents, five sisters, and two brothers in a very poor Catholic ghetto. Her father supported their family with the very small income of a window washer. From her youth, Corrigan-Maguire was deeply involved in social work among children and teenagers in various Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast.

The history of Ireland is full of conflict from the time of the 12th century, when the English began invading Ireland. Religion became a part of the conflict in the 1600s when British Protestants began moving into Catholic Ireland. Conflict and violence continued between these communities until Ireland was split in two in 1921: the Republic of Ireland as an independent country in the south, and Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom in the north.

The Troubles

The conflict in Northern Ireland continued for decades and became worse in the period from 1969-1998, been known as The Troubles. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were not caused by differences between the Catholic and Protestant religions. Instead conflict was rooted in economic and political problems.

In Northern Ireland, Catholics often faced discrimination. They usually lived in poorer neighborhoods and were often prevented from getting good jobs or good education. Many Catholics wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic to the south. They were known as Nationalists. Many Protestants wanted things to remain as they were. They wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. They were known as Unionists.

During this time Northern Ireland was a deeply divided land. Because Máiread was raised in the Catholic part of Belfast, she had been taught to fear the Protestants who lived in the other part of the city. Protestant children were taught to fear Catholic people. Catholics and Protestants lived in separate neighborhoods, shopped at separate stores, and went to separate schools. This was true all over Northern Ireland, and but the divisions were especially strong in Belfast. British soldiers patrolled the streets and high walls were built to separate the neighborhoods.

Máiread Corrigan Maguire talks about the struggle for peace
and the work of the Global Call To Action

From Tragedy, Hope

Máiread became a part of the peace movement because of a tragic event. On August 10, 1976, three children – two of her nephews and one of her nieces – were struck and killed on a street corner in Belfast by the getaway car of Danny Lennon, a gunman from the (nationalist Catholic) Irish Republican Army. Their mother, Máiread’s sister Anne, was badly hurt in the crash. The car was out of control because the driver of the car had been shot dead by British soldiers.

For once, the community did not blame either side, Nationalists or Unionists, Catholic or Protestant. Instead people were just were shocked and outraged about how needless the deaths of these children were. Crowds came into the streets to mourn the deaths of the children. Their deaths focused the attention of people throughout Northern Ireland and around the world on the senselessness of all of the violence of the Troubles.

In the time after the killings, Máiread joined with another woman from the community named Betty Williams who actually witnessed the accident, and a journalist friend, Ciaran McKeown. Together, the three decided to organize weekly peace marches and demonstrations.

More than half a million people from Northern Ireland, Ireland, and England attended these rallies to demand an end to the violence. These were some of the largest peace demonstrations ever held in the history of Northern Ireland, and they happened in 1976, the time with the highest number of killings during the Troubles. They also took place in Belfast, London, and many other cities, and much international attention was focused on these marches.

Máiread, along with Betty and Ciaran, also founded the “Community of the Peace People” to continue the peacemaking programs which grew out of these rallies. One of the main ideas behind the Community of the Peace People was that true peace could be achieved by integrating the separate Catholic and Protestant institutions, such as schools and recreation centers, as well as residential areas.

The Nobel Prize

In 1976, Máiread Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work against violence in Northern Ireland. Their Nobel Prize acceptance speech stated, “We are for life and creation, and we are against war and destruction, and in our rage, we screamed that the violence had to stop. But we also began to do something about it besides shouting.”

In the years since, Máiread has dedicated her life to promoting a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland. For more than 30 years, she has worked to communicate a simple message—nonviolence is the only way to achieve a peaceful and just society. Working tirelessly with community groups throughout Northern Ireland, as well as with political and church leaders, she has sought to promote dialogue between the two deeply divided communities of Catholics and Protestants. She has continued to work for peace, long after the media stopped paying attention to their movement and in the face of being mocked and ignored for her work.

Máiread has also understood for a long time that peace is not only important to Northern Ireland. She has dedicated her life to working toward a future of global nonviolence. Through her speaking engagements, her writings, and her participation in grassroots peace initiatives, Máiread has helped to keep the flame of hope alive around the world.