On January 20th 1968 the St. David’s ferry boat left Fishguard harbour in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, at 15.00 hours – destination: Rosslare Harbour. The journey was only 60 miles across the Irish Sea. This was to be my second pioneer move, the first being to Chester in April 1966. Yet this departure was more like emigration and entering into a very different culture. As a 23 year old I was convinced this was what the world was waiting for. Ireland was to become my spiritual and physical home.
It was during the Nine Year Plan, the first Plan of the newly elected Universal House of Justice, which commenced at Ridván 1963 (ending April 1972). In that period of time the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom was responsible for giving support to the Republic of Ireland to bring about their own National Assembly by 1972. The requirement stated by the Universal House of Justice was for four local Spiritual Assemblies – the minimum to form the foundation of a newly elected National Spiritual Assembly for the Republic of Ireland.
One week prior to my departure date, a tooth abscess developed which I left untreated, as I feared cancellation of my boat reservation could jeopardise my resolve to be a pioneer to Ireland. At that time there was opposition from my parents towards this move for many reasons – one being that the Irish people had their own strong Catholic faith, and also they thought I could be physically harmed should I teach another religion. It was my older sister, Frances, who supported me by organising a car to take me to Fishguard Harbour.
The night prior to my departure I dreamt of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who gave me a new confidence in that I was to turn to Him for help.
Leaving my family was difficult yet I was also excited and full of hope, and even if the boat were to sink, I had made the effort to get on it for Bahá’u’lláh. I was met at Dublin train station by a pioneer couple, Val and John Morley, who had arrived in Dublin in 1966 from the UK and become well established in the old Bahá’í Centre at 21 Morehampton Road. They escorted me straight to a dentist from the train station. The abscess was drained and dressed, leaving me feeling light headed due to the relief of pressure that had built up in my head. In that intoxicated condition I went to the Bahá’í Centre, laughing and unable to stop talking. My first visitor was Adib Taherzadeh, whom I had met previously at a fireside gathering in Chester. He spoke about the importance of pioneering and I was to join another pioneer Lesley (Gibson, later Taherzadeh) in Limerick whom I had met briefly in Frankfurt, Germany, while attending the International Teaching Conference in 1967. Then there was a special call for pioneers to settle on islands by the Universal House of Justice’s representative, Hand of the Cause Paul Haney.
I happened to be sitting next to Patrick Green who was at the time a member of the UK Pioneer Committee. He suggested that I go to Ireland and that being Welsh would be an advantage as the Irish disliked the English!
On reflection I was a very inexperienced Bahá’í and I relied heavily on Lesley for guidance and still remain deeply grateful to her for all the love and support she gave me in those early days.
My second visitor to the Dublin Bahá’í Centre was Dr Margaret Magill. She introduced me to her three young children, Rosemary, Barbara and Sylvia. Margaret invited me to her home on many occasions and became a mother figure to me and visited me in many pioneer posts in the Republic. Sadly Margaret recently passed to the Abha Kingdom.
My third visitor was Zebby Whitehead, with a present of some Black Magic chocolates along with the many amusing stories he told. He was a pioneer from the USA and had come to Dublin straight after the Bahá’í World Congress held in London in 1963. There were also Philip and Jane O’Brien and their baby son Quin, also from the USA. I hold treasured memories of the laughter Phil evoked and Jane’s hospitality towards me.
There were many enthusiastic Bahá’í youth based in Dublin during that time. Andrew Wortley was so kind to me and escorted me to the Dublin train station for Limerick after a full week of Bahá’í activities in the Dublin area. I relaxed on the train looking around and admiring the plushness of the décor. I remember thinking how impressive the trains were in Ireland compared with the UK. The ticket collector looked at my ticket and informed me that I held a second class ticket but was sitting in the first class compartment! Yet he allowed me to remain in the first class compartment for the journey. I thought this was an omen of ‘good nature’ within the Irish people.
I was met at Limerick Station by Lesley, and then back to her flat where I stayed for a few days. We spoke about our hopes and fears for the future. One was getting a job and suitable accommodation. Also the penny dropped regarding the policy of the Teaching Committee not to mention the faith until the climate was more relaxed as Catholicism was the only faith considered appropriate in the late 1960s, though change was on its way.
There was snow on the ground, so thick and slippery, when I made my way to the employment exchange. The clerk was most amused that I had come over from Wales to work in Limerick as many Irish people were going over to the UK in search of work at that time.
My personal effort in searching for work continued. Accommodation was found with two elderly ladies from a Protestant background and, though very kind and helpful, they were very suspicious of my motive for arriving in Ireland “single, alone and lowly”. This situation was becoming so unhelpful and my resolve to stay was beginning to weaken. At that moment the phone rang with an offer of work. It was night duty which I accepted with gratitude and within a month a second offer of work came my way at St Joseph’s Clinic for Children with Special Needs. This type of work suited me even better than night duty. Also Lesley worked at the same clinic as a Speech Therapist. However, we were aware not to give the impression of two people conspiring a revolution in a corner and often we would curtail our conversation for later.
Dun Laoghaire Local Spiritual Assembly was formed at Ridván 1969. Limerick and Cork Local Spiritual Assemblies were to be established by Ridván 1971.
It was a difficult time for me adjusting to my new life. My parents came over to visit me which was of great benefit to me in settling down. Also a farming family in Co. Limerick befriended me and opened the door to a friendship that continued over a period of 30 years until Peg Keehan passed away in 2001.
Social work occupied my time (1968-71) working with the travellers and witnessing their great hardships with my own eyes. This community holds for me treasured memories of my interactions with the different families; also continuing to support their cause for equality in the settled Irish community.
In December 1969 I received an invitation for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The experience had a transforming effect on my life. I needed to change my lifestyle and I did. No more mini skirts and dates and dances were few and far between.
After my pilgrimage, on my return to Ireland, I called into the Teaching Conference in Birmingham (UK). Adib Taherzadeh was the main speaker giving the call to arise and pioneer, focussing especially on Ireland.
The first to arise to this call was Stan Wrout, who had previously attended our first summer school in Dun Laoghaire in 1968. He was a fairly new Bahá’í, 40 years old, born within the sound of Bow Bells in London. He was married to Pat, also a Bahá’í.
Others came forward and gave their commitment, among whom were Ann and Fred Halliday, and Jim Bradley. The first to arrive was Stan on his motor bike in May 1970. We were now a group, and started group meetings. Our first decision was to pray each day for progress and wisdom in the teaching work and, secondly, to start firesides on Tuesday evenings at Lesley’s flat in Alphonsus Terrace. Regardless of any enquirers attending, it would become an established point that would become known to the general public. Thirdly, to meet at Stan’s bed-sit in Bedford Row for prayer, thus ensuring that Stan had our support while searching for employment.
Early in July Ann and Fred Halliday arrived with Jim Bradley. They quietly secured a rented house in Corbally. Many exciting gatherings took place there. There was the weekend of talks and humorous stories given by Hand of the Cause John Robarts, and his wife Audrey which added to the joy of that significant weekend. On the Sunday evening the participants from North and South dispersed.
I went to Wales to visit my parents and Stan said he was going to visit County Kerry on his motor-bike for a short holiday.
While on holiday I was moved to return to Limerick after only a few days in Wales.
On 10th August the phone disturbed my sleep. Charles Macdonald, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK, requested that I go to the Garda (Police) Station in Limerick to confirm it was Stan Wrout who was reported missing. The Garda had found Stan’s bike and clothes on an isolated beach in Kerry. In his pocket was a notebook with his wife’s home phone number, which they rang. The NSA Secretary was then contacted by Pat in an anxious state.
With the support of Paddy Dawson, an actor working in Limerick and enquiring into the Cause, and who knew Stan, we made our way to the Garda Station and gave them information regarding Stan. The Garda made an assumption of the possibility of Stan’s body appearing on the surface and that it could be washed ashore after nine days.
The handful of Bahá’ís gathered together, consulted and waited. On the night of 18th August there was a storm. I received a phone call early the following morning stating that Stan’s body had been recovered by a fisherman in Co. Clare in Kilbaha, a fishing village facing the Atlantic Ocean. There was a gathering at Lesley’s flat to pray and then to make our way to Killrush Hospital Mortuary. Fred Halliday and I identified the body as Stan’s.
On 20th August at 12.00 a large gathering of Bahá’ís congregated at Lesley’s flat in Alphonsus Terrace. The atmosphere of quiet dignity and respect for Stan was felt as we paid our last tribute to him. Readings and prayers were selected for the funeral ceremony. We all managed to pack into the cars that were available to us, making our way in convoy to Kilrush. On our arrival in Kilrush, the Garda requested I attend a Coroner’s Court and eventually the judge gave his verdict on Stan’s death … as ‘death by misadventure’.
The cortège continued towards Kilbaha for burial at 3 p.m. The burial plot was in a quiet corner in a Roman Catholic cemetery. The prayer for the departed was recited and many prayers and chants echoed out towards the Atlantic Ocean.
Sadly we all left that sacred spot where our third Limerick pioneer was laid to rest, after only three months’ pioneering … but what an impact it had on the teaching work in Limerick and County Clare!!!
The handful of Bahá’ís strove onwards with daily prayers and Tuesday firesides. The teaching spirit was building momentum and by Ridván 1971 two pioneers from the U.S.A. had arrived in Limerick – Mary Lou Martin and Hordy Bradehorst – followed by Jim Eliot from the U.K. and Roberta Strain also from the U.K. but who had previously been a pioneer to Cork. Cork had their nine members for their L.S.A. so she made a decision to come to Limerick to be our ninth member so that we could form our Local Spiritual Assembly, with the following members: Jim Bradley, Hordy Bradehorst, Jim Eliot, Lesley Gibson, Ann Halliday, Fred Halliday, Mary Lou Martin, Gillian Phillips, Roberta Strain.
The two new Local Spiritual Assemblies of Cork and Limerick were formed at the same time – at 3 p.m. on 21st April 1971. A great Ridván celebration took place in Limerick ‘thanking God’ for the two new LSAs.
There were many stalwart Bahá’ís from all over Ireland that supported these two emerging local Spiritual Assemblies. Adib Taherzadeh was a moving force behind many major moves and strategies and a selfless devoted father figure to us all.
Gillian Phillips, April 2005