I was born on a Sunday morning in my grandparents’ bed. My mother was the eldest of nine in a Catholic family. My mother’s eight younger siblings, on returning home from Mass on the day of my birth, were kept outside on a miserable September morning until the traumatic delivery of myself had passed. Our labourer’s cottage was already crowded and I often ponder how my mother and my grandmother coped, and indeed even my father for that matter. I suppose there were many hands and as the first grandchild I received much love (my mother saw it as spoiling) in my first nine months in this home. My life was thus blessed from the start and there was a strong bond created between my grandparents and me that I only fully comprehend now that I have grandchildren of my own.
I was to become the eldest of three boys and two girls. My father was a hardworking man and started a business which provided very well for all our needs and many of our wants. My mother was a very good mother. She was a good cook, the house was very clean and so were we, and she was a very good nurse as well. I can remember measles, mumps and chicken pox, and my mother’s attention to us all during these times. I was well behaved, a good help to my mother, top of my class in school and I tried very hard to please everyone and Jesus. So it was a great shock to everyone that I had a mind of my own.
Colin and I met in March 1976, got engaged in September 1976 and were married on 12 February 1977 in his parents’ living room by the local Presbyterian minister who was the only clergyman we found who would perform the ceremony. Colin was Protestant, as his father was a member of the local Brethren Community. We didn’t want to be either Catholic or Protestant and were strongly opposed to our children being pigeonholed or prejudged in any way, so for many years we claimed ourselves as non-conformist. It would be understating it to say we were few in number, we non-conformists, in 1977 in Northern Ireland.
In retrospect we were alienating ourselves from both communities although we weren’t aware of that at the time. We set up our first home in Cullybackey, the village Colin was brought up in, where I was feared by most as a Fenian but some were kind and courteous while keeping their distance. Within the community I had come from, Colin was seen by most as a black ‘prodestant’ because his home village was a loyalist stronghold which meant he should hate all Catholics. The fact that he had married one did nothing to change general opinion and as I had ‘turned’ with him (not being Catholic I was automatically Protestant) didn’t help his relationship with my family.
We sent our children to a state-run school as we didn’t want them indoctrinated in a Catholic school but they also felt alienated in some way and were often told they were heathens as they didn’t attend church. I encouraged them to live by the rule of ‘never do or say to anyone anything you wouldn’t want done or said to you’ and they were often bewildered by the hurtful behaviour of others as they progressed through their school lives.
I became ill in 1990 and was diagnosed with myocarditis which left me with severe chest pain, unable to climb stairs and with no energy. My local doctors were unable to help me to heal in any way and eventually a friend put me in touch with a naturopath, Mrs Nooshin Proudman. It was a long car journey to her home and for the first three months my husband had to drive me to my appointments with this wonderful woman who gave me my life back. Over a period of two years, as these visits became gradually further apart, I formed a bond with Nooshin. I knew she was different in many ways. Our moral values were the same but she was a Bahá’í, something I had never heard of before.
Eventually, when our family and theirs happened to be on holiday in Portugal at the same time, we were invited to lunch in their holiday home and our friendship developed from there onwards. Colin and I were very impressed by how they lived their lives. I asked more and more questions until I eventually asked if I could join them in worship. Was there something I could come to? I attended my first fireside which took the form of a ‘soupnic’ (a rained off picnic) in July 1996 at the home of John and Pari Twiname in Cullybackey, and then weekly firesides held on a Friday night.
The fireside was moved to a different home one night in September 1996 and there were several Bahá’ís there that I hadn’t met before. After the programme, and I have no recollection what the programme content was, I was chatting with a man at the table (later I came to know him well as Kamal Maani) while drinking tea and he asked me straight out what was holding me back from declaring my belief in Bahá’u’lláh. I replied that I was waiting for my husband as we did everything together. He then asked me how long was I prepared to wait – a month, a year, ten years? I thought much on the journey home and realised I couldn’t wait. I told my husband as soon as I came home that I was declaring myself as Bahá’í.
As he was from a Brethren background he had more biblical knowledge than I had and he told me to be careful. Remember “None cometh to the Father but through me” he said. I replied “Yes that was true when Jesus said it but we have had more messengers since then”. I phoned my friend Pari the next morning and gave her the good news.
My husband and daughter declared themselves Bahá’ís in 1997 and we had the privilege of visiting the Bahá’í World Centre together in 1998. We were part of a local group that included our Local Spiritual Assembly and I remember we were all in the Shrine of the Báb together. It was a truly deeply loving, shared experience which bound us together spiritually in a way that would probably never have been possible without this visit. I remember one of the friends pointing out to me how the roof of the Shrine shone out like a beacon in the midst of Haifa and telling me that we as Bahá’ís were called upon to shine in the same way and draw mankind to Bahá’u’lláh. This will stay with me all my life.
In 2012 Colin decided to write a book, not an historical recount of any kind, he wanted to write about living the life and so, as he always did, he just got on with it. It is called ‘Counting Our Blessings’ (published by George Ronald} and he was ecstatic on the evening of 7th February, 2013, to receive the email message that his book had gone into print that day. He passed away very suddenly the next day, 8th February, 2013 and I am grateful for the strong spiritual bond that I feel we still share.
Belfast, October 2017