Saoirse Exton

Friday For Future Limerick protesting on Thomas St.

Friday For Future Limerick protesting on Thomas St.

Saoirse Exton

Student Climate Activist / Founder of Fridays For Future Limerick group

In August 2018, a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl took time off school to stand outside government buildings to ask for action on what she called the ‘climate crisis.’ Soon, other students began to join her, and together Greta Thunberg and her fellow strikers organised a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays For Future. There has been some form of protest in some country or another, every week since.

A network of Irish student climate activists was formed under Fridays For Future Ireland, and from that, local FFF groups were established right across the country to strike for climate change. Their aim is:

Exton on Week 1 of FFF Limerick’s school strikes in March

Exton on Week 1 of FFF Limerick’s school strikes in March

to force the Irish government into taking action on climate change in Ireland, we want our government to align itself with its commitments to the Paris Agreement and to do their part in lowering our emissions to the point where we can limit global climate change to a 1.5 degree average warming target.

In Limerick, fourteen-year-old Saoirse Exton first became aware of the severity of the climate crisis after she heard about the thousands of Australian students who went on strike on 30 November 2018. By researching what was going on, Exton came across Greta Thunberg and like many, was inspired into action.

‘The climate crisis is the most important issue that has faced the human race EVER.’

‘Sick of the negligent government and the dying planet’ she reached out to FFF Ireland and was told that there was no local group in Limerick, but this didn’t stop her. After considering where would be best to draw attention to her protests, she made some posters, started up some social media accounts and from there, the Fridays For Future Limerick group was born. Currently (Sep 2019) Exton does the majority of the social media work (she manages a Twitter, Instagram and Facebook account, as well as a website) but the group is quickly determining how this workload can be divided amongst the members equally. She also does a lot of planning within the group, while also encouraging others to join her, by public speaking. While initially Exton used to strike for the entire day every Friday, she has since moved into her Junior Cert year and has had to shorten the time she spends striking each week but insists that ‘I’m still here!’

‘The days were work-filled, hot and long, but after them we got tasty vegan food and a swim in Lake Geneva, which was incredible!’

Because the FFF movement was reaching an unprecedented scale with strikes worldwide, it was decided that for one week in early August, members from more than 37 countries would meet, which became known as the Summer Meeting in Lausanne Europe (SMILE). The meeting aimed ‘to create a global cohesion and coordination through several conferences, workshops and discussions. For our future, for a better society, for our planet.’ Exton, Caitlín and Roisín ní Chaoindealbhain all represented FFF Limerick and attended meetings with up to 400 other people from around the world at which the ‘demands, strategic goals and values and principles of FFF Europe’ were discussed. Whilst there, they met Greta Thunberg, who Exton remarked was quite a lot smaller in person than one might think and made friends with students from all over Europe.

‘Unity is the key to overcoming the climate crisis because people power is the only way. We have to put aside our individual differences and band together to send a message to the ones in power that enough is enough, and we want change.’

Exton addressing the SIPTU Limerick District Council meeting, 29 Aug 2019.

Exton addressing the SIPTU Limerick District Council meeting, 29 Aug 2019.

Exton is a true believer in unity and people power when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. She quoted the findings of the Carbon Majors Report which found that ‘just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.’ ‘How can we overcome the powerful?’ she wondered. ‘By binding together and pitching all our little bits of power in. We will become more powerful than the rich companies killing our planet.’

‘It’s amazing to think that our protests, here in Limerick, have an effect on people from different parts of the world.’

Generally, FFF Limerick have had a good response on the ground, and plenty of support from students and adults alike – on more than one occasion the student strikers have been offered punnets of strawberries by passers-by. Exton has been particularly appreciative of the Brazilian people who have stopped to talk to her about the Amazon Rainforest. She said that they in turn have appreciated the fact that small groups in places like Ireland care enough to go out and try to bring as much attention to the rainforest fires as possible and demand change from their government.

‘Our lungs are on fire.’ FFF Limerick protesting the Amazon Rainforest fire.

‘Our lungs are on fire.’ FFF Limerick protesting the Amazon Rainforest fire.

On 20 September 2019, a mass school strike is organised to take place across the globe, with nine strikes confirmed across the island of Ireland alone. Exton has been busy helping to organise a strike in Limerick, with the theme: Unity. Anyone attending will be asked to assemble at Arthur’s Quay at 1pm before heading through the streets to City Hall ‘for speeches, music and rallying.’ While FFF Limerick protest in the area every week, this will be the first time they march through the streets. In order that as many students strike as possible, another student activist from FFF Limerick, Iona Logan - with the help of her mother - drafted a letter to the Limerick City school management boards and principles regarding the upcoming strike. In the letter, it was mentioned that education on the climate crisis should be mandatory in their schools and that they hoped for their support at the 20 September strike. Appended to the letter was about fifty signatures ‘from a really wide range of Limerick people, young and old.’ As of 11 September, they had not received a response.

‘Your goal is to achieve climate justice wherever you live!’

FFF Limerick on 20 Sept. 2019

FFF Limerick on 20 Sept. 2019

Like all student strikers, Exton is eager for more people to get involved on the climate issue. She recommends doing the following:

·         Research; Read up on things, follow climate strikers from all over the world, read the latest FFF news, follow websites, etc.

·         Plan; begin planning where and when you are going to start your strike. Usually a very central place is good, where you can catch the attention of media and passers-by easily. People generally protest in front of local/ national/ international Government buildings, so politicians going into work will see you protesting.

·         Strike; write letters to local/ national/ international politicians and media about the climate, write to your school, speak to your boss or your union and try and get them to join for the big strikes.

The stress and seriousness of the climate crisis – and trying to resolve it – can become overwhelming, as Exton is aware. While keeping the end goal in mind, she tries not to do so much as to get burnt out and keeps her supporters close-by.

If you want to follow the work being done by Saoirse and her fellow students strikers, you can find them on Twitter (@Fridaysforfut18), Instagram (@fridaysforfuture.limerick) and blog (

If you’re in Ireland and want to get involved, you can contact:



Thanks to Saoirse Exton and her mam Geraldine, for talking to me about FFF Limerick.

Fridays For Future Ireland, online at [accessed 11 Sep. 2019].

Smile For Future, online at [accessed 11 Sep. 2019].

The Guardian, 10 July 2017.

Eileen Weir

Peacemaker / Community relations worker at Shankill Women’s Centre

We conducted an interview with Eileen at the Shankill Women’s Centre on 27 June 2019.

Eileen, with Katelyn (Herstory), in her office in the Shankill Women’s Centre, 2019

Eileen, with Katelyn (Herstory), in her office in the Shankill Women’s Centre, 2019

‘I’m a Shankill woman born and reared.’

Eileen Weir grew up during the Troubles. She remembers some days ‘walking to school because the busses were all burnt out’ and how soon the conflict became normal life. As a teenager, she was restricted to her own area within the Shankill, with her mother cautioning her that ‘if I shout and you can’t hear me, you shouldn’t be there.’ However, the youngest of the family, and a tomboy, Weir loved to be down in the middle of everything ‘watching everything going on’ so if her mother called, her friends were pre-warned to continue shouting one to the other until one of them got word to Weir that she was to go home.

‘We made petrol bombs we didn’t go into town to discos.’

Growing up, as she did, during the Troubles, Weir felt as though her childhood was taken away from her:

We didn’t do what normal teenagers done. We made petrol bombs, we didn’t go into town to discos, if you know what I mean? Well we weren’t allowed, within the Protestant side, to make the petrol bombs, we just had to collect the bottles and the stuff to go into petrol bombs. I mean, that was normal. You know, ‘they’re coming to get us,’ so you protect your own. And every man, woman and child done it.

Weir joined the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) - the largest Ulster loyalist paramilitary and vigilante group in Northern Ireland - at sixteen years of age believing it was ‘helping the older people behind the barricades […] I saw it as a caring role. I felt it was important […] but I think I was misinformed. I was led to believe I was standing up for the rights of my community.’ She left the UDA when she began to question its objectives.

‘The trade union allowed me to look at the issue and not the people. I’m issue focused. If it’s not right, it doesn’t matter who it’s not right against, it shouldn’t happen.’

At twenty-five, Weir started working in Gallagher’s Tobacco factory and became a passionate trade unionist within the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union and sat on the women’s advisory board with the likes of May Blood and Monica McWilliams. Through this, she was able to support the campaign to end strip searches in prisons, something she felt she would have been ‘tarred and feathered’ for if she had done it as anyone other than a trade unionist. She also campaigned for the development of the very first Irish-speaking school on the Falls road.

‘We were crossing divides within the trade union movement that we shouldn’t have been crossing, because one side was fighting against the other. But here’s us women from all over - the Shankill, Falls, all over - all going to England together, travelling together, socialising together…’

The women’s committee was a cross-border one, and Weir often met with women from South of the border as well as people from across Northern Ireland and Britain. She remembers that when they used to travel to England to meetings the women there ‘used to stand up and clap us walking into the room’ because ‘they seen us as heroines’ whereas Weir and the other women on her committee didn’t because ‘we just seen ourselves as getting on with it and doing what we needed to do.’ Weir spent over twenty years working in the trade union, and credits it with having taught her many skills that would later prove vital in her role within the Shankill Women’s centre.

‘The women’s movement was always working across the political divide. We weren’t shaking hands we were hugging each other. We didn’t feel any divisions.’

In 1990, she was made redundant and so to make money, she bought a black taxi and offered tours of Belfast. At the time, she was the only woman on the ranks. Shortly after, she began to volunteer at the Shankill Women’s Centre and helped to develop the ‘Steps to Excellence’ course which sought to boost women’s confidence and she also got involved in literacy courses. The women’s centre in the Shankill and the one on the Falls road have always maintained a close working relationship. At one point, money was offered to Falls but told that if they took it, Shankill wouldn’t get any, and vice versa, so both centres refused it. They continue to share resources and organise courses together to this day.

In the early 2010s, through the centre, Weir worked with female prisoners who were preparing for life on the outside. She tried to give them ‘a natural high’ by horse riding, canoeing and ‘doing things that they never would have experienced.’ On one occasion, she managed to take them on a weekend residential to Lusty Beg Island. While they had all been repeat offenders, she maintains that ‘none of them women went back into prison.’ It was this work of helping them integrate back into the community that led to Weir’s epiphany. While at first, she had been nervous to enter the prison alone, she came to the realisation that ‘the only reason why this was out of [her] comfort zone was because [she] was judging the people inside.’ Through all her years of work, that moment changed her mindset and led to great personal growth.

‘We’ve the lowest amount of mental health services within the whole of the UK. We’ve kept the peace, but we have no peace.’

For the journey that the people of Northern Ireland have been on, their government have since let them down. When reflecting on her life during the Troubles, one word Weir hates being described as is ‘resilient’ because ‘we’re not really.’

I think we had to be at the time, and I think there’s a lot of stuff now that, because you went through the bombing and seen some horrific things, I have a barrier built up. My reactions aren’t the same as other people. I think that’s something we built up, women and people of my generation, because you’re that while used to hearing bombs, and hearing people being killed in these bombs… after the sixth, seventh, eighth bomb… you get used to it. If you had have let it get in in those days, you probably wouldn’t be alive today.

In saying that, Weir made the point that ‘help needs to come in’ now in the form of mental health services to help people in the worst affected communities come to terms with their collective trauma.

‘I should not be saying I want round the table. The men round the table should be saying ‘where’s the women?’’

Weir is currently fighting to get a seat at the table of her local community-based discussion group which focuses on moving forward after the conflict of the past; the group includes the likes of ex-paramilitaries and gatekeepers of peace from the local area. As someone who works within the community, she feels her voice and experience would be of benefit to the group. She wants resolution 1325 to be implemented but has been refused because the Troubles ‘was not a war.’ She says that there is a 1325 committee at Stormont, but not in her local area. The resolution

reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts.

‘If I’m asking women to challenge themselves, I need to know how they’re feeling inside about doing it, so I keep challenging myself to do things to get that feeling.’

Weir still works within the Shankill Women’s Centre today, a busy building which is attended by women from across all communities. They provide free childcare for women accessing their educational programmes and try their best to put on any course that they might request. In 2018 she was awarded the Community Relations Council Exceptional Achievement award as recognition of her decades of community relations work. Peter Osborne, chairman of the Council said of Weir:

She is living proof of how peace is built from the grassroots […] For almost three decades, Eileen has been at the fore of crucial cross-community work in the Shankill area, work that has had a profound impact on its community. The narrative during the conflict in Northern Ireland was a largely male one - the narrative of peace building must include everyone. Eileen is a powerful advocate for an inclusive, empowering approach.

The same year, Weir was awarded the ‘Con McCluskey’ Civil Rights award. She accepted it on ‘behalf of all the women’ who work in the community and told us that the women’s movement was on the rise again to hold the peace in Northern Ireland.

Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to



Interview between Herstory and Eileen, 27 June 2019.

Resolution 1325 information found at: .

Belfast Telegraph, 28 Mar. 2018.

Newsletter, 14 Sept. 2018.

BelfastLive, 3 Apr. 2018.

Herstory by Katelyn Hanna.


Anne Carr

Peacebuilder / Community Worker

Living and raising her children in Newcastle, County Down in the 1980s was the safest option for Anne Carr, a Protestant, who had married a Catholic man amidst the terror of the Troubles. Belfast ‘was just too dangerous.’ By 1986 she had helped to develop the first integrated primary school outside of Belfast city and by 1990 she felt it safe enough to return to Belfast where she quickly set about joining Women Together, an organisation wherein ‘women worked together to protect their homes, families and communities.’

Carr started at Women Together as a part-time development officer to help the organisation move forward as it celebrated it’s twentieth anniversary. Her personal priority was to get women from different communities talking openly and honestly about their lives, their struggles and aspirations, with one another. She helped to develop Talking and Listening Circles with her close friend, Pat Campbell, to meet this end. In 1991/92 Carr, along with ‘women across our divides’ began to weave what they termed a ‘peace quilt’ and ended up creating three memory-filled quilts which continue to travel the world as ‘a visual representation of peacebuilding and reconciliation.’ The peace work carried out by the women within Women Together was constant; if a family lost someone to violence, two women – one Protestant and one Catholic – would visit the house as a ‘gesture of support,’ and many vigils were organised in the aftermath of any sectarian conflict. It was through these acts that they became aware of the lack of statutory support for families bereaved and injured in the violence over the previous twenty years. They began work that would eventually lead to the Bloomfield Report of 1998 – ‘We Will Remember Them’ – which was ‘the first serious effort to look at support in an ongoing way to victims and survivors of conflict.’

‘Let the mothers now unite and take a stand against all sectarian violence.’

On 9 January 1992, Carr’s friend, Pat, lost her youngest son. He was shot eight times in the back by loyalist paramilitaries as he worked a shift in a burger van on the side of the road. The tragic event only spurred the women on. They stepped up their campaigning and work building relationships over the next few years; they trained women in mediation and conflict transformation and they taught them leadership skills and public speaking, as well as how to build up their confidence. Carr represented the women of Northern Ireland when she attended meetings all over the United Kingdom with the National Women’s Commission. 

‘We must remember that peace is people choosing to live differently. The vast majority of people in this country have made that choice and will not accept our destructive and bloody past to become our future.’

At the beginning of 1996, with tensions high and peace talks not making enough progression, Women Together members cut out over 3000 white paper doves with the idea that if violence once again broke out they would invite people to join them to stand together and demand ‘peace and a resolution of differences through negotiation and dialogue. On 9 February 1996, the IRA ceasefire did indeed break down with the Canary Wharf bombing, as anticipated by Carr and her fellow members of Women Together, and so they immediately began to organise a vigil for the following Monday. Over five thousand people attended the gathering and held up the paper doves in an image that was captured and broadcast across the world.

By the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998, Women Together ‘were at the heart of the moving forward together campaign.’ According to Carr:

‘We lobbied and challenged politicians to take the risks for peace necessary to bring about an agreement as a foundation on which to build and cultivate a new inclusive society. The women involved found that dialogue became their daily focus. We helped people understand what the peace process was all about, come to terms with the proposed changes and support those who had suffered the most during the devastating decades of conflict.’

Women Together at the same time began developing their new initiative, People Moving On. Unimpressed by the lack of progress in implementing the Good Friday Agreement the women:

‘took a large table and chairs to the gardens of Parliament Buildings. Wearing T shirts emblazoned with the names of all the political parties, we sat down around the table and had a discussion on a big issue of the time: future maternity services for women in Belfast. Several politicians joined our conversations that day. We campaigned using an iron and ironing board and the slogan “Iron Out the Differences, Implement the Agreement.” We also challenged the blame game with a public poster campaign, “Pointing the Finger is Missing the Point.”’

Around this time, Carr realised that the important conversations were happening amongst politicians behind closed doors and ordinary people in the divided communities of Northern Ireland were not being included in such vital conversations. From this, Community Dialogue was born and Carr became the Dialogue and Research worker in 2001, work that is still being done today.

‘When we as a society really start to value the important role so many women played in keeping this society together during the darkest, bloodiest days […] maybe, just maybe we will create an environment where compromise is not only possible but embraced enthusiastically.’


Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to


Anne Carr, ‘Women Together in the Darkest Days of the ‘Troubles’’, openDemocracy, online at [accessed 4 June 2019].

Anne Carr, ‘Women in Northern Ireland should be leading peacebuilders again,’ openDemocracy, online at [accessed 4 June 2019].

Monica McWilliams



Academic / Former Politician / Women’s Rights Advocate / Co-Founder of Northern Ireland’s Women’s Coalition

Monica McWilliams was born on 28 April 1954 in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim but grew up in Kilrea, Co. (London)Derry. She graduated from Queen’s University in Belfast and became Professor of Women’s Studies and Social Policy at the University of Ulster.

Throughout the 1980s McWilliams sat as the Chair of Gingerbread’s Social Policy Committee – an organisation ‘working to secure and protect equality and social inclusion for one parent families’ and often also spoke on behalf of the Northern Ireland Poverty Lobby on poor housing, unemployment and dependence on social welfare.

In early 1996, McWilliams and a friend, Avila Kilmurray, discussed the upcoming peace talks and lamented the fact that due to the lack of women in politics, women’s voices would not be heard or considered by the politicians negotiating plans for Northern Ireland’s future. Working closely with the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform – a group that campaigned for women’s equal civic and political rights – McWilliams and Kilmurray began lobbying the Northern Ireland Office for a gender-proofed party list system by which men and women were alternated in equal proportions on their lists. They also sought funds for non-party organisations to be included in the peace talks, as it was widely acknowledged that women were particularly active in community-based groups and their voices and experiences would be of value. Their proposals were largely ignored by the British Government.

At a meeting on 17 April 1996 which was attended by representatives of up to 200 women’s groups, it was decided to lobby the government to allow a women’s network to be included in the talks. Much to their surprise, the government agreed to allow it, and the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition was formed. They had just six weeks to mount a campaign and three weeks to choose candidates to put forward. The NIWC quickly set about looking for candidates to come forward and encouraged the inclusion of women from varying communities and identities by refusing to take a stance on the constitutional question. While they managed to field 70 candidates from both nationalist and unionist backgrounds, from working- and upper-class communities, they were met with some hostility by mainly Unionist politicians. David Irvine of PUP questioned their ability as a ‘cross-community group’ to ‘understand why this election was called’ and Peter Robinson of the DUP said that ‘they are not representative of the decent Ulster woman that I speak to.’ Despite everything, after just six weeks of existence, the NIWC secured two seats for the All-Party Talks which began on 10 June 1996 and the only women at the table were the two elected to represent the NIWC – Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar.

Both McWilliams and Sagar faced serious sexism and ridicule in the Forum for Dialogue and Understanding which ran alongside the peace talks. They were called ‘silly women’ and told that they should be at home ‘breeding children for Ulster.’ Ian Paisley infamously made mooing noises when McWilliams stood to speak. In spite of this, McWilliams and Sagar secured very important aspects to the peace accord; integrated education, restitution for victims and a civic forum rather than just a concentration on decommissioning and disarmament. These things were key to the success of the Good Friday agreement which was signed on 10 April 1998.

McWilliams was elected as one of two women (the other being Jane Morrice) of the NIWC members to the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland in 1998 and represented South Belfast until 2003.  Being a member meant that her role was primarily ‘to scrutinise and make decisions on the issues dealt with by Government Departments and to consider and make legislation.’ She returned to her post as Professor in the University of Ulster in 2003 until she was appointed full-time Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in 2005 and remained so until 2011. Under her leadership the Commission finalised the  advice on a Bill of Human Rights for Northern Ireland which was then presented to the Secretary of State and general UK government in 2008. Legislation is still awaited.

In 2015, McWilliams was appointed to the Fresh Start Panel on the Disbandment of Paramilitary Organisations in Northern Ireland and subsequently to the Independent Reporting Commission to oversee the recommendations of the Panel report. She was also made chairperson of the Governing Board of Interpeace which is an international organization for peacebuilding that supports local initiatives promoting peace around the world.

McWilliams was awarded the John F. Kennedy Library Profile in Courage Award with the other eight signatories of the Northern Ireland peace process in 1998 and the Frank Cousins Peace award in 1999. 


 Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to



Gingerbread, online at [accessed 5 June 2019].

Democratic Dialogue, ‘Power, Politics, Positionings – Women in Northern Ireland,’ Report 4, (Oct 1996), p. 4.

Fearon, Kate, Women’s Work: the story of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, Belfast (1999), pp. 51, 121.

Fearon, Kate and McWilliams, Monica, ‘Swimming against the mainstream: The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition,’ in Carmel Roulston and Celia Davies (eds), Gender Democracy and Inclusion in northern Ireland, New York (2000).


Mairead Corrigan & Betty Williams

Betty Williams & Mairead Corrigan.jpg

Peacebuilders / co-founders of Peace People Movement / Nobel Peace Prize recipients

On 10 August 1976, a car driven by a Provisional Irish Republican Army fugitive crashed into three young children and their mother after the driver had been fatally shot by the British Army. The three children aged eight, two and six weeks, were killed and their mother seriously injured. Betty Williams, a young mother herself, was driving by at the time and witnessed the entire tragedy. The event struck home for Williams who later told the press that ‘what happened to the Maguire family […] could have happened to any one of us women out walking with our children.’

‘This is not an organisation it is just a collection of mothers from the areas affected.’ - Williams

Within three hours Williams, along with other women in the Andersonstown area, helped to collect over 6,000 signatures on their petition for peace. A rally was quickly organised for Saturday 14 August to take place where the three children were killed to not only demand that ‘the Provisionals lay down their guns, but we’ll be appealing to all terrorists to stop, no matter in what area they operate from.’ Williams’ tearful plea for peace, which had been televised at the beginning of the week, struck a chord with people everywhere, and it was this that encouraged Muriel Kennedy, a Protestant woman, to begin canvassing door-to-door to whip up Protestant support for the rally.

Mairead Corrigan, aunt to the three Maguire children and sister to their mother, also came across Williams’ efforts and phoned her to thank her. She also invited Williams to sit with her and her family at the top of the church at the children’s funerals. On Saturday at the rally she ‘sought her out and stood beside her.’ From that week on, the two women organised together. The Peace People movement was formed.*

The rally on 14 August attracted an estimated 2000 people – mainly women. They sang songs and hymns and prayed for peace. A counter rally was organised but it was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people chanting for peace.

In the week that followed, Williams received serious backlash from those who saw her as a traitor. Sinister threats were scrawled on gable walls and on roadways and an arson attempt at Williams’ home was foiled when a group of local men ‘chased off a group of youths who were standing outside the house carrying petrol bombs.’

These threats did nothing to hinder the work of Williams and Corrigan, however, and the next rally, organised for 28 August, was an even bigger success. Coinciding rallies and meetings for peace took place in Dublin, Lurgan, Bangor, Whitehead, Newtownabbey, Galway, Connemara, Castlebar and Carlow, and buses from all over Northern Ireland were arranged to bring people to Belfast. A reported 25,000 people made it to Woodvale Park, Belfast for the rally but it was not only the size of the rally, but the geography, which made it historic. It was in part held on the Shankill road – the heart of Protestant Belfast – where they reached out to welcome thousands of Catholics over the peace line to march to Woodvale Park together.

From thence, rallies began to spring up all over Northern Ireland and mainland UK. Just over one month into the Peace People movement, there were about 120 branches in Belfast alone as well as branches ‘in almost every town in the province.’ By 24 September, both Williams and Corrigan were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

On 15 October, a magazine, Peace by Peace, was launched by the Peace People, and sold in America, Germany, Norway, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, France, the UK and Australia. Both Williams and Corrigan, along with other co-founder Ciaran McKeown, travelled extensively to America, Germany, England and France to attend rallies, television spots, and radio interviews. In late November they travelled to Norway to accept a £200,000 cheque, raised by the Norwegian people for the peace movement.

‘I am Betty Williams, the ordinary housewife, but I’m also Betty Williams, Nobel Prize winner.’

Over the next year, Williams, Corrigan and McKeown travelled the world giving speeches and encouraging peace work, but they were also faced with criticism from both loyalists and nationalists, and came up against controversy a number of times with church leaders – which a few times resulted in resignations from peace movement leaders in other parts of Northern Ireland and mainland UK. However, on 10 December 1977, both Williams and Corrigan were awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo for their efforts.

By April 1978, McKeown announced that the three co-founders would be stepping down from the Executive Committee and Williams stated that this was in order to let other people who had been working behind the scenes to have a chance to make decisions. In the following months, Williams and Corrigan travelled to New York to address the UN at a convention, was received by the Pope for a private discussion, and toured coast to coast in the US rallying support for peace in Northern Ireland.

By 1979, people began to become ‘disenchanted’ with the Peace People as ‘the movement, which had started as a bringing together of ordinary people, had become too sophisticated and the nerve centre in Belfast had lost touch with the working class.’ The fact that both women kept their prize money, instead of donating it or using it within Peace People, left many people bitterly disappointed. In February 1980 Williams resigned over the dismissal of Projects Manager Peter McLachlan, and Corrigan became chairman. Controversy surrounded the Peace People for days as it was not disclosed why McLachlan was sacked and while they assured the public that Williams had not resigned over the dismissal of McLachlan, she later revealed that it was for this reason exactly.

Shortly after her resignation, Williams got a divorce from her husband and moved to Florida where she remarried in 1982. She continued to tour America extensively. Corrigan’s sister committed suicide in 1980 and in September 1981 she married her late sister’s widower, Jackie Maguire. They had two children together. She became very involved in a number of campaigns on behalf of political prisoners and in 2006 she co-founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative along with Williams and four others in an attempt ‘to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world.’

The Peace People movement faced a lot of scrutiny and controversy. Some charged it with being more anti-Republican than anti-UDA, and others maintain that it doesn’t deserve the credit it got, however, it managed to rouse thousands of women into action from across Northern Ireland and beyond. It inspired hope, at least for a little while, that the voices of ordinary, working class women could be heard far and wide, and indeed it did capture the imagination of foreign countries and shed light on the plight of the people in Northern Ireland for some time.


*Originally known as Women for Peace, it soon after changed its name to The Community for Peace People, or simply, Peace People.

Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to


Sunday Tribune, 24 Jan. 1988.

Belfast Telegraph, 12 Aug. 1976.

Belfast Telegraph, 16 Aug. 1976.

Mother’s mobilise for peace, RTE Archives, online at [accessed 19 June 2019].

Belfast Telegraph, 24 Sept. 1976.

Belfast Telegraph, 15 April 1978.

Belfast Telegraph, 4 May 1979.

Nobel Women’s Initiative, online at [accessed 19 June 2019].


Bronagh Hinds



Peacebuilder / Women’s Rights Advocate

Bronagh Hinds was one of five children born to Dr Gerard Hinds and Moya Gibson on 27 July 1951 and grew up in Belfast. She had a comfortable childhood, given her father’s occupation and would grow up to follow a path inspired by her mother who had been very involved in voluntary work. Hinds attended Queen’s University as a law student in the early 1970s where she worked as a part time Welfare Officer in the Student’s Union before becoming the first woman to be elected as President of an Irish university student’s union, aged twenty-two in 1974.* Two years prior, on 30 January 1972, she had attended a march in Derry for civil rights with about 20,000 others in what would come to be known as Bloody Sunday. She had travelled from Queens Uni with a group of other students on a mini bus and in order to get quickly through whatever roadblocks they might meet along the way, Hinds wrapped their banner around her waist and under her clothes while everyone else brought camogie sticks ‘pretending [they] were a bunch of people going up to play a camogie match to get as far as we could so that we could be at the march on time.’ Hinds was near the top of the march when the shooting began and described it as ‘chaos’ as she ran for cover behind a barricade. She remembers saying ‘naively’ to a man beside her ‘we’ve gotta do something! We’ve gotta do something!’ Fourteen people were killed.

During her time working in Queen’s SU she campaigned for an increase in student grants and organised a catering boycott to protest increased prices. As a strong advocate for women and equal rights, Hinds also helped to organise a two-day film event which showcased four different ‘women’s films’ on issues surrounding politics, class and societal roles, with one being described as ‘a comedy about middle class marriage and role playing.’  Ahead of her time, a creche was set up to cater for women with children who might like to join the event.

At a conference titled ‘Women in Society’ held at Queen’s University in early 1975 it was suggested that a women’s group should be formed in Northern Ireland, and so the Northern Ireland Women’s Right’s Movement (NIWRM) was formed. As co-founder, Hinds became the public relations officer for the group and their primary focus early on was to establish ‘a good day-nursery system for pre-school children.’

Over the coming years, Hinds threw herself into community-based and voluntary work in the following areas:

‘She was the NI Information Officer in NI Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, moving to Dublin in 1977 as the Information Coordinator for Combat Poverty. Returning to Belfast she was Secretary to the NI Consumer Council before leading one-parent family organisation Gingerbread NI (1981-1991). NI Director of Oxfam (1990-1992) was followed by Director of the Ulster People’s College (1993-2001). Among voluntary roles in this period was chair of the NI Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) (1986-1989), founding chair of NICVA’s European Affairs Committee and Secretary of the working group that established the European Anti-Poverty Network.’

In April 1980 Hinds was dismissed from her role as secretary of the NI Consumer Council on the grounds that she had not been efficient at her job. She, however, argued that she was dismissed due to her joining a trade union, the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE). She also argued that she ‘had to do things which equivalent staff in the Civil Service would not be expected to do – such as shopping and administrative work.’ Hinds felt she had been taken advantage of and went to court.

In the late 1980s Hinds became involved in Gingerbread NI, a support group for single-parent families and was very vocal about childcare in Northern Ireland. At a rally in 1989, she stated that ‘Northern Ireland has the worst childcare record in Europe’ and that ‘we are the only place in Europe without even one’ statutory day-nursery which she said was ‘so necessary for working parents.’ The same year, she helped to establish the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP) to:

‘Provide women in Northern Ireland with a platform to make their voices heard on domestic, European and international social, economic, cultural and political affairs.'

Represent Northern Ireland women at European and international levels.’

She served as chairperson on the NIWEP for ten years where she ‘collaborated with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales, England and the Republic of Ireland, on women’s rights and equal participation in politics, social and economic life and peacebuilding.’ In 1996, Monica McWilliams and Avila Kilmurray, upon discussing ‘the upcoming multi-party peace talks, lamented the fact that due to the lack of women in politics, women’s voices would not be considered by the politicians negotiating plans’ for the future of Northern Ireland. Working closely with Hinds in the NIWEP, they began to lobby the NI Office ‘for a gender-proofed party list system by which men and women were alternated in equal proportions on their lists.’ These proposals were largely ignored.

In April of that year a meeting was held to discuss lobbying the government to ‘allow a women’s network’ to be included in the peace talks. Representatives from many women’s organisations attended, including Hinds of the NIWEP. Speaking about why the NIWC was formed, she said:

Female political role models now exist but at that time female representation was dire. One of the reason’s the Women’s Coalition stood was because we noticed that there was going to be very few female voices around the table that was negotiating the future landscape for Northern Ireland. I think there was a recognition that more female voices could bring new perspectives and a positive dynamic. It was a momentum for change.

The government agreed to allow it and the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition was founded. They had six weeks to mount a campaign and three weeks to choose candidates to put forward. In the end, they secured two seats for the multi-party talks which began on 10 June 1996. Hinds helped to manage its election to the peace talks as chief strategist and was the ‘senior advisor and negotiator of the Good Friday Agreement.’ Over the years that followed she oversaw the implementation of the Agreement’s equality mandates.  Of the legacy of the NIWC she said:

…had it not been for women we would not have seen any references to integrated education, to integrated communities, to the advancement of women in political and public life, and particularly the issue in relation to supporting victims. That is the legacy of the Women’s Coalition but our vision of a participative and inclusive society and democracy still has to be realised.

In 1999, Hinds was awarded UK Woman of Europe for her work on the Good Friday Agreement. In the years that followed she worked with the UN on issues regarding countries emerging from conflicts, human rights, reconciliation and peacebuilding. In 2000, she founded DemocraShe in order to promote the advancement of women in political and public life. Through this she helped to facilitate training women in skills of election confidence, public speaking and campaign building. DemocraShe has been credited with playing a strong role in the upsurge in female representation in politics in the early days following its formation, with Hinds stating that ‘50%’ of women elected at that time had received DemocraShe training.

‘Politics is for everyone and we must ensure that our governance is fit for everyone.’

Hinds continues to work extensively on issues of peace and women’s equality all around the world – from Syria, Ukraine and South Korea to Liberia and Iraq. Her commitment to peace and the advancement of women in leadership roles continues to inspire today.


Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to


*Newspapers contemporary to the 1970s widely reported this although Hinds herself at the time thought there might have been someone before her in Cork elected as the first female President of any Irish SU. Later reports credited Hinds with being the first President of the Queens SU. Attempts to find the truth of the matter are ongoing.


Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to


Bronagh Hinds biography online at A Century of Women, [accessed 10 July 2019].

Belfast Telegraph, 6 June 1980.

‘Bronagh Hinds: DemocraShe’ online at, [accessed 11 July 2019].

Meban, Alan, ‘Bronagh Hinds on role of women in political discourse at home & abroad #msconversations,’ 9 Oct. 2017 online at, [accessed 11 July 2019].

‘Crossing Divides,’ video narrated by Bronagh Hinds as part of the All Sisterhood and after interviews in the British Library, online at [accessed 11 July 2019].

Sunday Life, 22 Oct. 1989.

Baroness May Blood



Peacemaker / Trade Unionist / Community Worker / Women’s Rights Advocate

May Blood was born on 26 May 1938 and for the first six years of her life she grew up in a mixed area of Belfast with her mother and older sister. She would not have understood at the time, but her family had been separated by World War II due to the evacuation of the older Blood children and the enlistment of her father in the army. Of the experience, Blood said:

‘when the war was over my dad came home, I had never seen my dad and then my brothers and sisters came back. I wondered who all these strange people were. All of a sudden instead of having a bedroom of my own I was squashed up against the wall along with two others. It was quite a learning curve.’

Living in a mixed community meant that Blood grew up with a sense of cooperative spirit where everybody ‘chipped in.’ She ‘wasn’t aware of any discrimination’ at a young age because ‘Catholics, living beside me, lived in the same conditions as I did.’ At the age of fourteen, Blood left school. She entered a local mill with the intention of only staying two weeks but stayed for the next thirty-eight years.

‘It was bringing women with you. Women would have said ‘well I’d like to do that but…’ and you had to get women through that but because if we were ever gonna open that door then women had to come through it naturally, not because someone said here’s an enforced quota we have to have so many women on this committee. It was about women taking their rightful place.’

Within half an hour of being at the mill she was approached and told that everyone was in the Transport and General Worker’s Union, and despite her father having reservations about women joining trade unions, she ‘wasn’t gonna be the different one’ and signed up. Blood was soon made shop steward and attended several training courses through the union, later becoming the senior shop steward where she dealt with long working hours, health and safety and a rise in wages. Eventually, Blood applied for, and got elected to, the regional committee which was the ruling committee of the TGWU. ‘This was totally unheard of. Women did not apply for those positions,’ Blood stated later in an interview, ‘We had to fight for our place there and gain the respect for the other guys on the committee.’

With the breakout of the Troubles in 1969, ‘overnight Catholics had suddenly become [the] enemy’ and Blood couldn’t figure out why:

‘With some women, their men had been interned; other women their men had joined the U.D.A. These women were sitting beside one another. It was strained. It wasn’t easy, because all of a sudden, we started to view each other differently. […] There was always the underlying feeling that we were friends but for the first couple of years of the Troubles it really was very dicey because it put things into people’s minds that they had never thought of before.’

Like everyone in Northern Ireland, sectarianism was always present in Blood’s life at this time. When people came one night ‘to put the neighbours next door out’ Blood’s father came to their defence and argued that ‘this woman’s not doing any harm.’ A little while later, the Blood family were burnt out of their home by Protestants and according to Blood, ‘that was a definite message’ for their earlier defence of their Catholic neighbours. They struggled to find a new house but eventually relocated to a newly developed Springmartin estate where a peace wall had been erected.

‘There was a big risk in doing cross community work. You were threatened but when you get a group of very strong women together who have a real aim in life, there’s very little that stops them, even a threat.’

Here she found herself getting involved in voluntary community work with other women living in Springmartin, because while the house was much nicer than the one she had grown up in, the estate itself was not to the same standard. At a remarkable meeting of both the Catholic and Protestant residents of the estate in the Europa Hotel in the mid-1980s, they decided to leave the constitutional issues to the side because they found that they all faced the same uphill battle with the likes of poor housing, low education attainment and high rates of teen pregnancy. From this they decided to pool their resources.

‘I’ve been threatened a number of times, I’ve had my car destroyed twice and if people thought that it would put me off they were wrong. I remember I went to one of the commanders and said to him I don’t know what I’m doing wrong here, and he told me privately, ‘whatever you’re doing keep it up. If you weren’t doing good, people wouldn’t be interested in you.’

In 1989, the mill that Blood had worked in since she was fourteen, closed its doors, and she was left unemployed for eight months. Her next job came in the form of a project for long-term unemployed men and she became a paid community worker. At the same time, Blood became involved with the Early Years Project and helped to establish three community centres in the Shankill area to help over 1,300 families and employ local parents.

In the 1990s with the prospect of ceasefires and peace talks, Blood and a handful of other women asked if there would be women present at such talks. They were told that there would be, should they be elected. The next six weeks ‘were the most hairy and the most scary’ of her life as they quickly tried to organise the Women’s Coalition. Blood was made Campaign Manager and took full advantage of the media attention they were attracting and took every opportunity to get in front of the camera to plead their case. Their main goal was ‘to get women where decisions were being made.’ Two women – Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sager – were elected. The Women’s Coalition successfully introduced amendments to the Good Friday Agreement on the inclusion of women in public life, mixed housing and integrated education, to name a few.

In 1995, Blood was awarded an MBE by the Queen for her work in labour relations and in 1999 she was the first woman in Northern Ireland to be given a life peerage as Baroness Blood of Blackwatertown. She would later joke that ‘if anything came into the House of Lords pertaining to Northern Ireland and it had sex in the title, I was the only person voting in favour of it.’ She would continue to receive awards throughout the early 2000s and on 4 September 2018, she retired from the House of Lords, aged eighty.

‘Failure is only the first rung on the ladder to success.’


Herstory invites students and artists to create brand new portraits of Northern Ireland’s peace heroines. To have your art featured in the Herstory 2020 project please send your name, age and high resolution jpegs to


May Blood, Northern Visions Archive, online at [accessed 31 May 2019].

Ellie Kisyombe

Ellie Kisyombe

Ellie Kisyombe is a mother, activist, political candidate for the Social Democrats, chef and Co-Founder and Director of Our Table.

Originally from Malawi, Ellie has been seeking asylum in Ireland for the past nine years. Her family were driven to empower marginalised people at home, and she has carried this same passion for social justice and equality with her to Ireland. 

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In 2015 Ellie established Our Table, a non profit that helps refugees and asylum seekers gain skills and employment. Our Table fights to end the harmful system of Direct Provision through the celebration of food and culture. Our Table has seen a number of successes including winning The Irish Cafe Awards, establishing a cafe in Christchurch Cathedral and launching its own range of Hot Sauces and Hummus. 

 In 2016 Ellie was in an award winning radio drama ‘Flight Risk’ which won the Gold Award for Best Drama Special in New York Radio Awards and was nominated for the Prix Europa Berlin, Irish Radio Awards, and the Prix Italia Milan. 

In 2018 Ellie was featured as part of Dublin City Council Culture Company’s ‘Local Heroes’ and announced her candidacy for Dublin City Councillor for the Social Democrats Dublin Central. She was also featured alongside other Irish activists in Hozier’s video for ‘Nina Cried Power’.

Liberties Legends


The Liberties in Dublin is one of the oldest communities in the city. Many who live there can trace their families back generations. It is an area that has had its problems over the years, like many communities in the city. But the Liberties has never been a community that gives up and that is thanks in part to the amazing women who live there. Like the area they love, they are strong, resilient, have a bit of an attitude but above all else they are proud and they love their community. There are so many wonderful women to choose from, but the four women who have been chosen to represent the Liberties capture the essence of the Liberties and what that community means to those who live there from political revolutionaries to social revolutionaries, these women are formidable. They are Anne Devlin, loyal comrade of Robert Emmet, who sacrificed so much for the freedom of Ireland. Madge and Rita Fagan who have over 80 years of community activism between them, fighting for tenant’s rights, worker’s rights and women’s rights. And Liz O’Connor from Oliver Bond who, for over the last twenty years and more has dedicated herself to improving the lives of the children of the local community. All of these women are heroes. They do not do this work for the recognition, they do it because they love their community and for them to be a part of this festival is just a small way for the community to say ‘Thank You’.

Written by local herstorian Liz Gillis


Madge (Margaret) Fagan was a pioneer of working-class women to become involved in social activism to better the lives of those who lived in her community, the Liberties.

For over fifty years Madge fought for the rights of local authority tenants. She was a founding member of the Marrowbone Lane Tenants Association in 1966, whose work helped lead to the formation of the National Association of Tenants’ Organisations (Nato).

Together with other Nato members, Masge campaigned for differential rents, so that no tenant would have to pay more than 10 per cent of income in rent. In 1972, Nato organised a rent strike over the government’s proposal to put four pence on each local authority room. More than 100,000 tenants took part in the strike, which continued for 18 months. Fagan and other women leaders were prominent at the barricades protesting against evictions.



Following the success of this, she campaigned for a better maintenance service for tenants as well as tackling the scourge of anti-social behaviour in her own neighbourhood.

Madge Fagan was a force of nature who loved her community and would and did everything she possibly could to improve the lives of all of those in the area. Madge died on 11 February 2017 aged 94. She is greatly missed by all who knew her.

Rita Fagan is a proud Liberties woman and is the daughter of Madge Fagan, so community activism runs through her veins. She went to the sewing factory at 14. Through the 14 years there she became active in the Trade Union Movement. She spent 11 years voluntary and 1 fulltime in the Dublin Simon Community. From here she was sponsored by good people to partake in the Community & Youth work course in NUI Maynooth. On a placement from this course, Rita came to St. Michaels Estate. 25 years later she is still in this struggle with this grassroots community and is the director of the Family Resource Centre, Women’s Community Development Project. She has travelled widely and has been involved politically in the issues effecting Central America and Cuba. For 9 years she led a protest outside of the U.S. Embassy challenging U.S. foreign policy in the said region. She is also committed to the struggle of women at grassroots level who are very much on the margins and who’s struggle on a daily basis is to survive structural poverty, last but by no means least she believes, that the struggle for justice and freedom not only embodies pain but also joy through celebrating our lives and the outcome of the struggle. Like her mother Madge, Rita has fought and campaigned to make the lives of those in her community and other working-class areas better.


Liz O’Connor is from Oliver Bond and works in the Liberties where for the last forty years she has dedicated her life to community activism, especially in relation to the local children. Over the last twenty years Liz has run a Breakfast Club and an after school club and runs a summer camp every year. Liz O’Connor’s generosity knows no bounds. She is truly a remarkable woman who is the first to lend a hand, or help somebody with a problem. She is a force of nature and her dedication to her community is amazing. That dedication has rightly been recognised. In 2016 Liz received the Lord Mayor’s Award for her work with children and in 2017 she was awarded Person of the Year at the Liberties Awards.  Liz best sums up her reasons for doing what she does: “There’s a great sense of community here in the Liberties and I just love working with the kids, I suppose you could say it’s my calling.”



ANNE DEVLIN (1780-1851)

Anne Devlin was Robert Emmet’s assistant as he planned his abortive rising of 1803. Arrested in it’s aftermath, she was held in Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Gaol in an attempt to get her to reveal the identities of Emmet’s co-conspirators and financial backers, to no avail. Despite three years of mental and physical torture, Anne refused to break until eventually released, broken in body but not in spirit.

For the remainder of her life the police followed her. Anyone seen speaking with her was a potential enemy of the State and taken for questioning. This ensured Anne was, in effect, in solitary confinement in an open prison for the 45 years she lived outside jail, as all who had known her now shunned her, fearful of the policeman dogging her steps.

She died in a miserable garret in the Liberties of Dublin on September 18, 1851, starving, ill, and in agony … but unbowed, proud to the last that she had remained faithful to Robert Emmet and his ideals, proud that she had stood alone and successfully against the mightiest empire the world had known.

Patrick Pearse wrote:

“Wherever Emmet is commemorated let Anne Devlin not be forgotten … The fathers and mothers of Ireland should tell their children (the) story of Anne Devlin. When at night you kiss your children and in your hearts call down a benediction, you could wish for … no greater gift from God than such fidelity as Anne Devlin's”.

ANNE DEVLIN (1780-1851)

ANNE DEVLIN (1780-1851)

Riane Eisler and David Loye

Riane Eisler and David Loye

Their story is part of our ‘World of Equals’ series celebrating egalitarian partnerships throughout history and today.

Riane Eisler and David Loye met forty two years ago, fell in love, and have been partners in life and work ever since.

Riane was a child refugee from the Nazis. She and her parents fled her native Vienna at night after Krystal Night, so called because of all the glass shattered in Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues during that deadly pogrom. They were on one of the last ships admitted to Cuba, where Riane grew up in the cockroach-infested industrial slums of Havana and learned first-hand what dire poverty means.

These were traumatic experiences, but they led to the questions that years later would animate her research, writing, speaking, educating, and activism: Why, when we humans have such a great capacity for consciousness, caring, and creativity has there been so much insensitivity, cruelty and destructiveness?

These questions stayed with Riane when she came to the United States, went to university to study sociology and anthropology, married and had two daughters, went back to law school and obtained her Juris Doctor (JD) degree, and later embarked on the decades of multidisciplinary, cross cultural and historical research that eventually led to The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future (now in 57 US printings and 26 foreign editions). She is author of other critically acclaimed books, including Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body, Tomorrow’s Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education, and The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, as well as hundred of articles, providing evidence that for most of prehistory (until a shift to domination about 5,000 years ago) women and the ‘feminine’ were highly valued, that there has been strong movement towards partnership punctuated by periodic regressions in recent centuries, and that advanced technologies in service of conquest and domination could take us to an evolutionary dead end.

Riane has dedicated her life to empowering women’s voices in the legal system, the social sciences, and the world at large to bring about a better society for everyone, showing how the status of women and children (the majority of humanity) is not “just a women’s or children’s issue,” but key to the construction of all our relations and institutions – from the family, education, and religion to politics and economics – as well as to our guiding system of values.

As Riane’s partner, David Loye shares her commitment to empowering women worldwide. When they attended the 1985 UN Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya, David was a panelist on how men can support women’s struggle against oppression, prejudice, discrimination, and traditions of domination and violence in both family and society at large.

Indeed, David has been a strong supporter of Riane’s research and writing, and she has been a strong supporter of his work, which, like hers, stems from a passion to help build a more equitable and caring world. David wrote the national award-winner The Healing of a Nation on race relations in the United States, three books on predicting and shaping the future, and a pioneering series of books uncovering Charles Darwin’s long-ignored writings about moral evolution rather than “survival of the fittest” as the prime driver for our cultural evolution, most recently Rediscovering Darwin: The Rest of Darwin's Theory and Why We Need it Today.

His book 3,000 Years of Love is a more personal work that tells the story of his life- partnership with Riane. Sometimes humorous, always inspiring, this is the love story of two unusual people whose lives span almost a century of history and social action, a story that helps us see how each of us can make a difference in the world.

Before David turned to applying scholarship to human and planetary advancement, he was an early television newsman, a test developer, and the director of a project at the UCLA School of Medicine showing the effect of television on adult behavior. He is also the only man who can play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a one-inch harmonica, which was part of how he wooed Riane when they first met.

Riane is now in her eighties and David in his nineties, but they are both still writing up a storm.  Riane still travels and speaks worldwide, teaches online, and as editor-in-chief of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies and president of the Center for Partnership Studies, continues working to accelerate the shift from domination to partnership in all aspects of our lives and our world. Her new book, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, is coming out in 2019 with Oxford University Press. David is putting final touches on his illustrated Grandfather’s Garden, a book for children of all ages that came out of whimsical tales he would tell Riane at bedtime to help her fall asleep.

 Riane and David are both grateful every day for having found each other, for their years of partnership, and for the love and support they give each other in helping make ours a better world.  

Dr Katherine Zappone and Dr Ann Louise Gilligan

Dr Katherine Zappone and Dr Ann Louise Gilligan

Their story is part of our ‘World of Equals’ series celebrating egalitarian partnerships throughout history and today.

 Katherine and Ann Louise’s story is a love story. One which crossed continents, oceans and ultimately to the highest courts in the land in a fight for equality.

They met in Boston College in 1981 when both began a PhD programme, Ann Louise came from Dublin and Katherine from New York City, though originally from Seattle.

It was love at first sight and a year after meeting they gathered a small group of friends to celebrate a life-partnership ceremony where they promised to share dreams, fears, financial resources, accomplishments and failures.

 In 1983 Katherine and Ann Louise moved to Ireland, an Ireland almost unrecognisable today.

 It would be a decade later after a long legal battle by Senator David Norris before the laws changed to decriminalise homosexual behaviour.

 During this period Katherine and Ann Louise were active within the civic sphere in relation to many human rights issues.

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 Beginning as The Shanty in September 1986, they established a community-based project as a platform for active citizenship and transformational education.

Since September 1999, An Cosán has been located in Jobstown, at the base of the beautiful Dublin mountains, nestled in a three story building.

Today it is Ireland’s largest such community education organisation – supporting people in communities across the country.

 The personal origins of a legal case for equality began late in 2001—after 19 years of life-partnership—when an impending visit to Chile prompted an updating of wills.

 Deciding to ‘get affairs in order’ just in case anything might happen while abroad they discovered that unlike married couples who jointly co-own property, they could not will half of their property to the other upon death, without major capital acquisition taxation implications.

 One of the primary reasons to take a case was to break the public silence about partnership recognition between same-sex couples.

 With the support of a small network of family, friends and supporters – including a small legal team - in July 2003 the decision was taken to take a constitutional case.

 Such was their love that eight weeks later they married in British Colombia, Canada – the only place in the world this could happen.

 What followed was a case against the Irish State, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General.

It was November 2004 that in full glare of the world’s media permission of the High Court was sought to proceed with the case.

A packed courtroom heard Judge McKechnie conclude his ruling by saying

“A number of deeply held values, and so on, are up for consideration. The issue of marriage itself is up for debate. The ramifications of the case will not stop here.”

 Leave for a judicial review was granted. 

Ireland’s debate had begun.

A March 2006 appearance the Late Late Show brought the love story to the attention of the nation.

Then host Pat Kenny noted that then Taoiseach,Bertie Ahern did not believe a referendum would pass. After inviting a show of hands from the audience Pat finished by saying ‘Bertie, you were wrong!’

 A case across the autumn and winter October 3rd produced a written judgement 138 pages long.

As the Court saw it Katherine and Ann Louise did not have the right to marry here under the constitution because that right is confined to the union of a man and a woman.

That dark moment led to a new national movement.

 In February 2008 friends, feminists and supporters gathered around the kitchen table in Ann Louise and Katherine’s home. The organisation ‘Marriage Equality’ was born.

 Katherine and Ann Louise were very clear – the mission was for full equality not second class marriage.

Civil Partnership did become a reality but it was not enough.

 Political changes brought new hope. In June 2011 the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly reignited the campaign.

Ann Louise, Katherine and fellow campaigners were able to re-assure nervous politicians that the support was there for a referendum – and a referendum which would pass.

Stories were shared – stories which struck a chord with fellow citizens. 

As campaigners and activists the community recognised the need to work together, one voice, agreed messaging.

These efforts culminated in that fantastic day at Dublin Castle in May 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to say yes to Marriage Equality by popular vote.

In January 2016 at Dublin City Hall the President, Members of Government and many other friends, and their families,  joined Katherine and Ann Louise for a very moving ceremony. They not only renewed their vows – they brought their marriage home!

 After a short illness Ann Louise Gilligan passed away on 15th June 2017. Katherine is the only Independent Woman serving in the Irish Cabinet, after being elected a TD in May 2016 and subsequently appointed as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, where the fight for equality and social justice continues.

Mary Harney / Academic and Activist


House Painter, Academic and Activist

Mary, in her own words: "Some may think my life has been hard, but I like to think of it as being full of wonder, beauty and passion. I think a great deal about the times when someone had faith in me: in my abilities, my intelligence and in the promise of my future."

Mary Harney was born in a Mother and Baby Institution in Bessboro, Cork. Born out of wedlock, considered to be an ‘illegitimate’ child by the State, Mary was removed from her mother at age two and a half years. Mary was illegally “fostered” and at age five she was taken under Ward of Court and incarcerated in the Good Shepherd Industrial School. Like many children, Mary suffered beatings and daily labour at this school. Education consisted of religion, reading, writing, and arithmetic. One day, a teacher, Miss O’Donnell – ‘Miss’— noticing bruises on Mary’s arms, advised her to use stories and her imagination during the beatings to lessen the feelings of pain. Miss also told her to keep reading as you can teach yourself anything if you can read.

At 16 ½, Mary was released from the Good Shepherd. She discovered libraries and delved into History, Literature, and Geography. At 17, Mary went to London, to look for her Mother. She wandered for a period, homeless. She eventually traced her Mother and they were reunited in Cardiff Wales, where Mary discovered she had two sisters. Craving adventure, she signed-up to be a soldier, and without formal education, passed the entrance exam. When Mary finished her Army service, she joined the London Fire Brigade as an emergency dispatcher for twenty years.

In her 40s, Mary applied to third-level education only to find she was not eligible. She decided to travel. On her travels in America, she came upon College of the Atlantic in Maine, USA. She applied to study there and despite her lack of education she was accepted. Mary was an activist at college. She helped form peer education groups that went into high schools and taught HIV/AIDS prevention through the medium of art and theatre. The team was also part of the first state-wide ‘Growing up Gay’ conference in Maine. In 1996, Mary graduated with a BA in Human Ecology. The proudest moment was seeing her Mother there cheering for her. 

In 2012, Mary returned to Ireland - the place that had denied both her mother and a formal education - to pursue a Master’s Degree in Irish Studies. Mary graduated in 2013 from the National University of Ireland Galway with first class honours. In 2014, the student body of College Of Atlantic unanimously voted for Mary Harney to be guest speaker at Commencement. At this ceremony, she was surprised with a honourary Masters of Philosophy. Since then Mary has lectured College undergraduates and other groups in Irish history, She is currently taking part in the Collaborative Forum for transitional justice for mothers and children that were institutionalized in Irelands’ notorious mother and baby units. And she “ain’t done yet”— at age 70, Mary is applying to study for an LLM in Human Rights in autumn 2019.