In 1976, an Irish receptionist named Betty Williams witnessed the senseless deaths of three young children in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during a confrontation between British soldiers and an Irish Republican Army operative. Overcome with grief and outrage at the endless death toll of The Troubles, Williams became instantly radicalized as a peace activist. Within two days of the deaths, she had gathered more than 6,000 signatures for a petition demanding an immediate end to the violence in Northern Ireland.
Williams led two marches of Catholic and Protestant women to the childrens’ graves–the second 35,000 strong–and won a stare-down with IRA soldiers who accused her of being a dupe for the British. Working with Mairead Corrigan, aunt of the dead children, Williams founded an organization called the Peace People, founded on the principle that “We want…our lives at home, at work, and at play to be lives of joy and Peace.”
The following year, Williams and Corrigan were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in trying to end the bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
Betty Williams makes three appearances at the State Capitol this week in connection with Peace Day Hawaii 2009.