A new exhibition aims to highlight the women who played a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

On the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, Herstory is on a mission to ensure that the pioneering peace work of Northern Irish women is central to the commemorations.

The Peace Heroines exhibition, which features nine stunning new portraits by the visual artist FRIZ, is touring worldwide from the US Congress to Áras an Uachtaráin and last week launched at the United Nations in New York.

The exhibition consists of a series of information panels and portraits, which celebrate the role of women in the building of peace in Northern Ireland from the grassroots up to government levels.

The project was sparked by a timely conversation at the United Nations back in 2019.

The then-Irish Ambassador to the UN Geraldine Nason-Byrne revealed to Herstory Founder Melanie Lynch that the pivotal role of women in the Northern Ireland Peace Process is a key United Nations case study.

International peace delegations from Congo to Columbia now examine and refer to the participation of the Women’s Coalition in what is widely considered to be one of the most successful peace processes in the world. 

Lynch explained: “I returned home and 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 peacebuilders. It’s time to write herstory into history.”

UN officials cite the role played by women in the Northern Ireland Peace Process as a leading example for other peace processes around the world.

"For the Secretary-General it is clear that the women of Northern Ireland were trailblazers and visionaries who put gender equality and integrated social development at the heart of the Good Friday agreement," a spokesperson for the Secretary-General, António Guterres, told RTÉ News.

Without the active participation of women at the table and in civil society groups, "we cannot have peace that is sustainable and peace that lasts," he said.

"It's a monumental moment for the women of Northern Ireland."
An exhibition about the pivotal role played by women in the Northern Ireland peace process has opened at the United Nations in New York. #GFA pic.twitter.com/VY21LVx2Gj

— RTÉ News (@rtenews) April 4, 2023

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, hosted a special display of the ‘Peace Heroines’ exhibition, curated by Herstory, at Áras an Uachtaráin on March 29.

In his address, he said: “In our hosting of the ‘Peace Heroines’ exhibition, curated by HerStory, here at Áras an Uachtaráin, we acknowledge and pay tribute to what was an important and emancipatory contribution.

"I am delighted to see the role of co-operation and the power of partnerships explored in this exhibition, partnerships such as Peace People, Women Together, Peace Players, Derry Peace Women, the special dynamic that has been forged between Shankill and Falls Women’s Centres through the leadership of Eileen Weir and Susan McCrory, and of course the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition.

"The Women’s Coalition, in its rejection of traditional partisan sources of division within what was male-dominated politics, played a vital role in the delivery of an alternative context that could carry the Good Friday Agreement. Its founders, drawn from both of the main opposing traditions, sought to work together, transcending the old tribal divides, and focusing instead on creating a common, agreed, shared future, united by the cause of bringing women’s concerns to the negotiating table, and ensuring an inclusive peace accord.

"Groups such as the Shankill Women’s Centre and the Falls Women Centre – formed as locally based groups to provide education for women, but who have since gone on to flourish and develop into their current roles as key providers for training, health awareness, childcare and young women’s activities in the Greater Shankill and West Belfast areas respectively – are the peaceful future, playing an important, indeed vital role, in the promotion and achievement of a sustainable, inclusive warm future in Northern Ireland for all, one that is demonstrating the critical importance of cross-community engagement and the benefits of active citizenship and democratic participation which will serve as a means to forging an agreed, peaceful, perhaps even emancipatory, future.

"We have an obligation to work towards the goal of moving peace from paper to experience, to the texture of lives lived that carry the remembered experience of terrible loss, cruelty, humiliation, and indifference. This can only be done with the inclusion of women at the core of every step of this process, their voices, their rich experiences and their expertise.”

Many of the Northern Ireland 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.

The exhibition captures a diversity of voices and perspectives, featuring 30 women’s stories, including Bridget Bond, Monica Patterson, Ruth Agnew, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Inez McCormack, and Dr. Mo Mowlam amongst others.

Northern Ireland-based artist FRIZ was commissioned to create the series of portraits that capture the dynamism, bravery and legacy of the remarkable peace activists of Northern Ireland. 

"To create this body of work I started by learning about the women and their fantastic achievements and contributions to peace in Northern Ireland.

"In exploring how to approach the portraits one thing that struck me was how much of the personality of each individual shone through their photos.

"To this end I wanted the final pieces to be colorful and unignorable, much like the women themselves," said the artist.

The women featured in the portraits include Pat Hume, Bronagh Hinds, Eileen Weir, Susan McCrory, Saidie Patterson, Monica McWilliams, Pearl Sagar, Anne Carr, and Baroness May Blood.

You can find more information about the stories of these women here.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the exhibition will continue to tour internationally and across the island of Ireland.

The 2023 touring schedule for The Peace Heroines exhibition

  • 13th Jan - 24 March: Derry Tower Museum
  • 1st Feb: Embassy of Ireland, Great Britain
  • 8th Feb: US Congress, Washington DC
  • 29th Mar: Áras an Uachtaráin, special GFA Anniversary event
  • 30th Mar - 14th Apr: Leinster House, Dublin 
  • 3rd - 7th April: The United Nations, New York
  • 17th - 19th April: Queen’s University Belfast GFA conference 
  • 29th April - June: Enniskillen Castle, Fermanagh
  • July - Sept: Linen Hall Library, Belfast
  • Oct - Dec: Down County Museum and Newry & Mourne Museum

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

You can learn more about Herstory on Herstory.ie, and follow the conversation on social media via #PeaceHeroines and #Herstory.