For over 30 years, a brutal cycle of violence dominated life in Northern Ireland. Commonly known as “the Troubles,” this violent sectarian conflict was waged between the Protestant unionists (Loyalists) who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom and the Catholic nationalists (Republicans) who wanted Northern Ireland to become a part of the Republic of Ireland. Over 3,600 people were killed and more than 30,000 were wounded before a peaceful solution was reached by the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1998.
In 1976, Betty Williams, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Ciaran McKeown founded the Peace People movement in response to a tragic incident. On August 10, 1976, three children of Maguire’s sister were killed by a careening car after the driver, an IRA fugitive, was killed by British soldiers. Just days later, the Community of Peace People was formed as a grassroots organization to protest the ongoing violence in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in protest marches in support of the movement both in Ireland and abroad. In the six months after the formation of the Peace People movement, the rate of violence measured in Northern Ireland fell by 70%. Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire would go on to win the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. The Peace People later developed into an internationally influential nongovernmental organization committed to building a peaceful world where human and civil rights are upheld.
In this lesson, students will search for the root causes of violence that support or detract from peace. After reading excerpts from Betty Williams’ Nobel Peace Prize lecture and reviewing the International Human Rights Framework, students will form their own peacemaking circles to develop their conflict resolution skills. The Culminating Activity for this lesson plan encourages students to create a Student Voice Council to incorporate youth input in policymaking at their own school.
Betty Williams was a grassroots organizer, a mobilizer of a movement in Northern Ireland to end the violence and advance the peace.
Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates.