In the Name of Courage
Nobel Peace Prize 1976, Lecture

by Betty Williams

Featured in Mountain Record 26.2, Winter 2007


I stand here today with a sense of humility, a sense of history, and a sense of honor.

I also stand here in the name of courage to give name to a challenge.

 

Photo by Lyris Godoy

 

I feel humble in officially receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, because so many people have been involved in the campaign that drew such attention to our leadership that an award like this could justifiably be made. Mairead Corrigan and I may take some satisfaction with us all the days of our lives that we did make that initial call, a call which unlocked the massive desire for peace within the hearts of the Northern Irish people, and as we so soon discovered, in the hearts of people around the world... not least in Norway, the generosity of whose people to our cause is the main reason for our current ability to expand our campaign.

But unlocking the desire for peace would never have been enough. All the energy, all the determination to express an overwhelming demand for an end to the sickening cycle of useless violence would have reverberated briefly and despairingly among the people, as had happened so many times before... if we had not organized ourselves to use that energy and that determination positively, once and for all.

So in that first week Mairead Corrigan, Ciaran McKeown and I founded the Movement of the Peace People, in order to give real leadership and direction to the desire which we were certain was there, deep within the hearts of the vast majority of the people... and even deep within the hearts of those who felt, perhaps still do feel, obliged to oppose us in public.

That first week will always be remembered of course for something else besides the birth of the Peace People. For those most closely involved, the most powerful memory of that week was the death of a young republican and the deaths of three children struck by the dead man’s car. A deep sense of frustration at the mindless stupidity of the continuing violence was already evident before the tragic events of that sunny afternoon of August 10, 1976. But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode, and create the possibility of a real peace movement. Perhaps the fact that one of those children was a baby of six weeks in a pram pushed by his mother made that tragedy especially unbearable. Maybe it was because three children from one family, baby Andrew, little John and eight-year-old Joanne Maguire died in one event which also seriously injured their mother, Anne, Mairead’s sister, that the grief was so powerful. Perhaps it was the sheer needlessness of this awful loss of life that motivated people to turn out in protesting thousands that week. And we do not forget the young republican, Danny Lennon who lost his life that day. He may have been involved in trying to shoot soldiers that day and was himself shot dead, and some may argue that he got what he deserved. As far as we are concerned, this was another young life needlessly lost. As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought represents life needlessly wasted, a mother’s labor spurned.