Rite & Reason: Bahá’í faith has found its feet in Ireland

Principal tenet of belief is ‘The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens’

On a sunny Sunday morning in Co Dublin in April 1972, the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Ireland was elected. The formation of the new assembly (national governing body) was a significant event for members of the nascent Irish Bahá'í Faith community.

The religion is administered by nine-member “Spiritual Assemblies” elected annually, locally and nationally. It does not have a clergy. Elections take place by secret ballot in a prayerful, reverent atmosphere. There is no campaigning or nomination and every adult Bahá’í is eligible to serve.

Each year since 1972 a fresh election has taken place.

The formation of the new national institution required that four local assemblies should exist within the 26 counties. Assemblies in Dublin, Cork and Limerick cities, and Dún Laoghaire provided the foundation. Bahá'í assemblies now exist in cities and major towns throughout Ireland.

Attendance at the first convention was made up of nine local delegates, international representatives and all Bahá’is who wished to come. A bus was hired to transport many young people in Limerick who had recently embraced the faith.

The 1972 voting resulted in three women and six men being elected to the new assembly. Its first meeting was held during the convention. Assembly officers were elected, also by secret ballot and without nomination.

The chairperson was Iranian-born, Adib Taherzadeh, an electrical engineer, scholar and historian, who had immigrated to Ireland in 1948. Vice-chair was Seosamh Watson, a young Belfast man of Presbyterian background who was already distinguishing himself as a scholar of the Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland.

OZ Whitehead

Seosamh recounted that he was 18 when he discovered two major aspects of his life: the Irish language in Donegal and the Bahá'í faith in Belfast.

The treasurer was Philip O'Brien, a businessman, theatre producer and actor, of Irish-American Catholic background. Secretary was Lesley Gibson, a speech therapist from Belfast resident in Limerick city.

A humorous man, he wore a bright green jacket for the occasion. He is said to have had a connection with Peig Sayers's family

Eleanor O'Callaghan from Cork city and a graduate of its university was of Catholic heritage. From 1976 to 1979, she served as a volunteer in Accra, Ghana, assisting the emerging Ghanaian Bahá'í community.

Margaret Magill, a medical doctor in Dún Laoghaire and of Quaker (Society of Friends) heritage, was greatly respected for her compassionate, professional relationship with patients. Later in life, she lived for a time in Cyprus helping its growing Bahá'í community.

OZ Whitehead was a New Yorker who had moved to Ireland in the 1960s. He loved theatre and was an actor, writer and encourager of Irish dramatic writing. The Writers Guild of Ireland awards are named "Zebbies" in his honour.

John Turner, a young Englishman, was a graduate of Cambridge University. He and his parents lived in Cork. Unfortunately, in 1979, John died in a road accident.

I had "declared" my belief in 1970. By 1972, I lived in Co Wicklow with my wife, Eleanor Dawson. Until her passing in 2016, Eleanor exemplified loving, dedicated service.

William Sears, an Irish-American writer and broadcaster, represented the international Bahá'í community at that first convention. A humorous man, he wore a bright green jacket for the occasion! He is said to have had a connection with Peig Sayers's family. During one of several visits to Ireland, Sears presented President Éamon de Valera with a copy of his book, God Loves Laughter.

Global vision

Today, millions worldwide who are members of the Bahá’í faith, or simply attracted to its ideals, receive inspiration from the global vision of its prophet/founder, Bahá’u’lláh (a title meaning the glory of God).

Currently, the world is undergoing unwelcome, unexpected and apparently unpredicted turmoil. Confidence in humankind’s ability to deal justly and effectively with the challenges of war, disease and climate change is receiving a severe shaking.

The world is undergoing unwelcome, unexpected and apparently unpredicted turmoil

Surely, few on our precious Earth remain unconcerned at our inability to devise a world-embracing, transformational programme for protecting our planet and its people. Short-term solutions to immediate challenges are vital, but humanity must also focus on deeper, long-term answers.

Oak trees don’t mature in a day.

The principal social tenet of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation is that: “The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”

As part our progress towards making this a reality, humanity must work to achieve social goals such as universal education, the adoption of an auxiliary world language, recognition of the equality of women and men, the elimination of prejudice, the reduction of the massive wealth gap, and the creation of a world tribunal to agree borders and maintain international undertakings.

“It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His [God’s] care and loving kindness.” (Bahá’u’lláh)

Patrick Dawson is an actor and scriptwriter who lives in Bray. He was a member of the first National Spiritual Assembly for the Bahá’í faith in Ireland, elected in April 1972

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