A life dedicated to peace in Northern Ireland: Mary Montague

Peace Award Winner 2015, Category "Public Engagement"

Mary Montague has dedicated her life to peace. For decades, she acted as a mediator in the Northern Ireland conflict and made a significant contribution to reconciling the communities. She also mediated in other areas of crisis throughout the world.

“I never chose to be a peace builder. It was out of necessity: I wanted my children to grow up without facing violence around them”, Mary Montague says. “People were dying and the children were being traumatised. We had to find another way.” The mediator from Northern Ireland has made a huge contribution to this “other way”. During forty years of peace building, she has managed to bring opposing parties closer together and encouraged them to take part in inter-community peace talks. She has worked with young people to prevent them becoming involved in separatist groups as this would have lead them into using violence.

Between the front lines

Mary Montague lives in the Catholic district of West Belfast. With her strong sense of courage, compassion and sense of justice, she was able to gain the trust of all conflicting parties. She was asked to act as a go-between with armed groups and the police to reduce the use of violence. She was able to restore calm and to persuade hostile parties to take part in inter-community peace talks. Her dedication also led to ensuring the community voice from the grassroots was heard, her work supported the development of the ceasefires and the Political Agreement (Good Friday /Belfast Agreement). She walked alongside communities, government organisations, victims and survivors, ex-combatants, church representatives which has enhanced her credibility both locally and internationally as a mediator.

Peace for everyone

As a result of Mary´s mediation work, she had to live for years with a death threat. But Mary never gave up. It was of great importance to her to see all the community on a path of reconciliation. She wanted to pass on her methods of conflict management and therefore, in the year 2000, she co-founded the organisation TIDES training. She gave individuals, ex-combatant groups and security forces from Northern Ireland the opportunity to talk about their experiences and heal the wounds of division. Her Training of Trainers programme enabled her to convey the legacy of peace to those with a position of responsibility within the community empowering many of them to become the mediators within their communities.

From Ireland out into the world

Mary also helped to build peace in other parts of the world. In cooperation with development agencies such as Concern Worldwide and Care International Mary worked across the Balkans both in the role of a mediator and a trainer. Underpinning her work is her principles, values and strong belief that peace can only be achieved through empowering local people to create their own solutions. She said

"I work to ensure the empowerment of people enabling them to find their way forward, they live the conflict, they understand the dynamics and the drivers, they will find their  solutions, feel  ownership of the outcomes therefore the peace will be sustainable."

She acted as a go-between in Kosovo and designed and co-delivered a programme leading to the establishment of 40 local mediators. Mary worked as a mediator in Pakistan/Afghanistan and the Sudan. 

In partnership with "Mediation beyond Borders" Mary is training Women Peace Builders/ Leaders. This is leading to peace building projects in the Middle Eastern Countries, North Africa and Asia. Mary is convinced that everyone can become a peace builder. "For the world to change, it starts with me, respectful relationships with others and the Holy Spirit does the rest", she says. "I sow seeds for change that restores right relationships, builds resilient relationships leading to reconciliation."