Melanie Lynch of Herstory with the Peace Heroines - Katelyn Hanna (exhibition researcher), Fiona Lowe (former Herstory NI project manager, and MC at launch), Jayne Brady (head of the NI Civil Service), Melanie Lynch, Prof Monica McWilliams and Liz O’Donnell (both honoured as peace heroines in the exhibition) and Ellen O’Malley Dunlop (former CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, former chair of NWCI; currently board member of Herstory).

Wilson’s alumni create project to celebrate NI Peace Women

On the International Day of Peace, September 21, Herstory launched Peace Heroines, a new education programme about the pivotal role of women in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Herstory worked with the National Museums NI and the Department of Foreign Affairs to create the Peace Heroines education programme, featuring a touring exhibition with new portraits of the peace heroines by the artist FRIZ, and youth workshops exploring power.

The role the Peace Women played in the peace process is recognised by the United Nations in a key case study, and peace delegations from Congo to Columbia now study the participation of the Women’s Coalition in what is widely considered to be one of the most successful peace processes in the world.

Peace Heroines was created by three local women who are past pupils of Wilson’s Hospital School: Herstory founder and CEO Melanie Lynch, educational psychologist Dr Emma Black, and Freda Malone, who is now guidance counsellor and history teacher at Wilson’s.

They are delighted with the response to the Peace Heroines project, which made the RTÉ News and ITV News headlines last week.

Melanie Lynch says attending Wilson’s Hospital School was a transformative experience and definitely a big influence behind the Peace Heroines project. “Wilson’s opened my mind and my heart. I was bullied out of Loreto College so it was a relief to move to such a progressive and enlightened school. Wilson’s is a school for life, a place where one makes lifelong friendships.

“I was the only Catholic in my core group of friends and I was never bullied for that. I was fondly named the ‘honorary Protestant, token Catholic’. And there were students from 29 countries and five continents. Difference was celebrated. There was unity in our diversity. It was such an inclusive, open-minded, worldly environment for a teenager trying to find her feet.”

Dr Emma Black.

As an educational psychologist, Dr Emma Black says she “is passionate about Herstory’s ability to facilitate empowering discussions and open people’s minds to new perspectives”.

“The Peace Heroism Project is one example of how Herstory shines a light on the importance of thinking deeply about our roles in creating a safe and loving environment for all people. It was a joy to work with my friends from Wilson’s and to see them doing so well with this project. I believe my appreciation of different perspectives emerged from the diverse mix of people who were my classmates.”

Freda Malone.

Freda Malone has a strong interest in Irish history but her main passion is working with people and exploring the links that connect us. As a day and boarding school, Wilson’s is home to students from all over Europe. Freda is also a boarder past pupil of Wilson’s so she understands the importance of being able to relate to and live with people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

The project was sparked by a timely conversation at the United Nations in 2019. Ms Lynch explains: “When I met Ireland’s ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Nason-Byrne, she explained to me that the role of women in the Northern Ireland Peace Process is a key United Nations case study. I reached out to our school contacts and they confirmed that this essential story is not taught on the official school curriculum in Northern Ireland or the Republic. Our new Peace Heroines project aims to change that and introduce students and the public to these legendary activists and inspire the next generation of peace builders. It’s time to write herstory into history.”

From grassroots to government levels, the exhibition captures a diversity of voices and perspectives, featuring 30 women’s stories including Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, Linda Ervine, MBE, Pat Hume, Baroness May Blood, MBE, Hillary Clinton and Saidie Patterson.

Powerful partnerships are explored such as Peace People, the NI Women’s Coalition, Women Together, Derry Peace Women and the special dynamic between Shankill and Falls Women’s Centres through the leadership of Eileen Weir and Susan McCrory.

Many of the NI peace heroines continue their activism today, not just in Northern Ireland but around the world, bringing their wisdom and experience to women and peace movements in Bosnia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Cyprus, Congo, Columbia, Palestine, the Philippines, Guatemala, Kenya, United Nations and more.

As the Ukraine Russia war continues, causing immeasurable suffering and destabilising Europe and beyond, the NI peace process and the pivotal role of women proves the potential for justice, equality, peace and healing in the most challenging circumstances.

Following the launch at Stormont, the exhibition goes on tour:

22 Sept to 31 Oct 2022: Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation

Nov-Dec 2022: TBC

13 Jan to 24 March 2023: Derry Tower Museum

April to June 2023: Enniskillen Castle, Fermanagh

July to Sept 2023: Linen Hall Library, Belfast

Oct to Dec 2023: Down County Museum and Newry & Mourne Museum

Jan 2024: North Down Museum & Ards Arts Centre

Feb 2024: New Shankill Women’s Centre, Belfast

May to July 2024: Coleraine Museum at Coleraine Town Hall

The project is funded by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund, Department of Culture’s Co-Operation with Northern Ireland Scheme, The Ireland Funds of Great Britain and EU Erasmus+.

Monica McWilliams, by FRIZ.
Pat Hume, by FRIZ.