Peace activist and former News Letter journalist Ciaran McKeown has died

Peace activist Ciaran McKeown with Mairead Corrigan and Jane Ewart-Biggs during the Ulster Peace Rally in Trafalgar Square, London, 27th November 1976. The rally was led by Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Peace activist Ciaran McKeown with Mairead Corrigan and Jane Ewart-Biggs during the Ulster Peace Rally in Trafalgar Square, London, 27th November 1976. The rally was led by Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
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The highly respected journalist and former peace activist Ciaran McKeown has died.

The news was announced by his family on Monday afternoon.

Mr McKeown, who was born in Londonderry in 1943 and raised in Belfast, worked as a journalist with the Irish News and Daily Mirror, and as a political correspondent for the News Letter during the 1990s.

He is best known for his work as a peace activist.

The statement released by his family states: “The McKeown family announces, with great sadness, the death of Ciaran McKeown, who passed away peacefully at his home in Belfast on Sunday 1st September 2019, following a period of illness.

“He is predeceased by his late wife, Marianne, his sister Maire, and leaves behind seven beloved children, Marianne, Rachel, Susan, Simon, Ruth, Leah and Hannah, seventeen grandchildren, four brothers and a large extended family circle.”

Born in Derry in 1943, he was raised in Belfast, where he spent most of his life, working as a journalist, in addition to time as a student leader, civil rights activist and peace activist.

“While studying Scholastic Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast in the 1960s, he became involved in student politics and civil rights activism. In 1966 he became the first person from a Catholic background to be elected President of Queen’s University Student Representative Council after securing cross-community support among the student body. In 1968 he became Deputy President of the Union of Students of Ireland and President of the same in 1969.

“He married his student love, Marianne McVeigh, in 1968 and they became parents for the first time the following year while they lived in Dublin. In January 1970 he started work as a journalist with the Irish Press Group, moving back to Belfast, and becoming its Northern correspondent and commentator. In this role he covered Northern Ireland’s rapid descent into political chaos and was a first-hand witness to the deadliest period of bloody events of the region’s violent conflict.

“In 1976, following the Maguire children tragedy, Ciaran founded the Peace People alongside the children’s aunt, Mairead Corrigan and her neighbour, Betty Williams. He became its chief strategist and sketched out a plan of rallies and marches for peace which saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in Northern Ireland, Dublin, London and elsewhere to call for an end to violence. Seeing an opportunity to make a difference, he stepped down from his role as a journalist to devote himself full-time to peace activism, editing the movement’s newspaper, writing the Declaration of the Peace People, the movement’s Constitution, and numerous pamphlets setting out a strategy of nonviolence, with the view to achieving peace and justice in Northern Ireland and globally. The period saw a steep fall in the level of violence in Northern Ireland.

“He continued in a leadership role for several years and, in 1978, became the first person from Northern Ireland to address the General Assembly of the United Nations when he delivered a speech on behalf of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

“Following this period, and finding himself unable to get work as a journalist, Ciaran retrained as a self-employed typesetter and wrote a book The Passion of Peace chronicling his years as an activist. He subsequently returned to the world of newspapers, working at various times for the Irish News, News Letter and Daily Mirror. As the News Letter’s political correspondent and frequent leader-writer during a key period in the 1990s, he wrote editorials endorsing moves towards peace, including reform of policing in Northern Ireland.

“Throughout his life, he maintained his passion for ideas, literature, music, and the arts, including a lengthy period on the Board as Executive Secretary of Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.

“A keen pipe-smoker, he was a lifelong patron of Miss Moran’s tobacconist, a hidden gem of old Belfast. In later years he penned a weekly column in the local edition of the Daily Mirror, appropriately entitled ‘The Piper of Peace’.”

The McKeown family statement added: “He was one of a kind, and he leaves behind him a profound legacy, both for his family and friends, and for the wider community.”