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Peace People volunteer breaks silence over 'life-threatening letter'

Published 21/07/2015

Founder Betty Williams, carrying handbag, at the start of a march by supporters of the Ulster Peace People
Founder Betty Williams, carrying handbag, at the start of a march by supporters of the Ulster Peace People

A Peace People volunteer has broken her silence about death threats which faced the movement.

The tragic deaths of three children in Belfast in August 1976 at the height of the conflict spawned a mass campaign for peace.

Mary Healy was involved in an Armagh march amid paramilitary intimidation .

"I remember after getting the life-threatening letter, going up the stairs and feeling that I'm alone in this now."

She prayed and experienced a sense of relief.

"So after that I didn't lose any sleep, there was a peace in that and that's where I got my strength from."

She was warned by a clergyman at the time who said: "You know you don't talk about this letter, you don't spread fear, you have to hold on to this and go forward, without anybody around you knowing what may or may not happen."

The Peace People were formed after a woman was walking along Finaghy Road North with her three children when an out-of-control car plunged into them.

The car's driver, IRA man Danny Lennon, had been fatally wounded by a British army patrol which was chasing him. The children died and their mother was maimed.

The victim's sister Mairead Corrigan teamed up with Betty Williams to form the Peace People, earning them the Nobel Prize for 1976 amid international attention.

Ms Healy received threatening phone calls due to her own public profile.

"So I would just lift the phone, listen to it and set it down again. I never thought very much about who they were other than that they opposed the sense of us trying to do something in a non-violent way."

She contributed to a book called Up Standing - intended to illustrate stories of courage from the Troubles. It was produced by the Corrymeela Community, a Christian charity which was visited by the Prince of Wales this spring.

Ms Healy said the march we nt ahead despite the danger.

"There were huge numbers in the end. No opposition showed up on that day that I can remember.

"We made speeches and sang songs which I suppose gave people a short time of happiness if nothing else.

"They weren't afraid to be on the streets and that was important at that time."

The campaigners marched in cities and towns such as Belfast, Enniskillen, Ballymena and London.

On the Falls Road, republicans threw stones.

The booklet Up Standing was published to support teachers and young people in linking moral lessons from the past with the choices of today.

Sean Pettis, a co-ordinator at Corrymeela, said: "Too often the burden of the past is left on the shoulders of young people.

"We tell them that they are the future and in doing so we are implicitly telling them that they are somehow responsible for facing the violent past and the tensions of the present.

"This is a task for everyone."

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