Death of peace campaigner and Nobel Laureate Betty Williams

Belfast woman was one of three founders of Peace People

Betty Williams died in her sleep on St Patrick’s Day. Photograph: Peter Thursfield / THE IRISH TIMES

Betty Williams died in her sleep on St Patrick’s Day. Photograph: Peter Thursfield / THE IRISH TIMES

 

The death has occurred of Betty Williams, a Nobel Laureate and one of the founders of the Peace People. She died in her sleep on St Patrick’s Day aged 76.

With Mairead Corrigan and the late Ciaran McKeown, who died last September, Ms Williams founded the Peace People in 1976.

The organisation, which brought thousands of people onto the streets in the mid-1970s campaigning for an end to the violence of the Troubles, was established following the deaths of the three children of Annie Maguire, a sister of Mairead.

They were killed after they were struck by a car driven by an IRA member, Danny Lennon on Finaghy Road North in west Belfast. He crashed into the children after he was fatally wounded by British soldiers who had been chasing him.

Annie Maguire survived the crash but her children, Joanne (8) and six-week-old Andrew died at the scene while their brother John (2) died the following day from his injuries.

Annie Maguire, who had been battling depression over the deaths, took her own life in 1980. The following year Mairead married Jackie Maguire, her late sister’s widower.

From Andersonstown in west Belfast Ms Williams witnessed the crash, an experience that with Ms Corrigan and Mr McKeown inspired her to form the Peace People. It held a number of rallies in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland as well as in Dublin and London and in other international cities pleading for an end to the violence.

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in 1976.

Ms Williams’s last public appearance was in January when in Belfast with the actress Sharon Stone she signed the book of condolence for the late Seamus Mallon.

She resigned from the Peace People in 1982 and moved to the United States where she carried on her peace work, lecturing on topics such as conflict resolution, education and children’s rights.

There was something of an estrangement between Ms Williams and Ms Corrigan over her decision to take the Nobel peace prize money rather than use if for Peace People purposes. Ms Williams argued at the time that she needed the money.

But there was a subsequent mending of those differences. On Wednesday night Ms Corrigan paid tribute to her “friend”. She said, “It is with the greatest sadness that I heard of the death of my friend and co-worker for peace Betty Williams.

“Betty was a woman of great courage with a passion for peace and a love and compassion for all children. Betty will be sadly missed but remembered lovingly by all of us who knew Betty. I felt privileged to know her as a great peace activist and friend.”