This is the foreword from the book, contributed by Professor Seosamh Watson, who has kindly given permission for it to be included here.
The desire to enquire into one’s origins is surely a true sign of maturity in life. It is certainly the case with families: with the children growing or grown there is a sense of common direction, as well, hopefully, as some sense of achievement. The mind is now cast back to relatives we knew in earlier times, those ‘latter generations’ – beloved grandparents, old family friends or neighbours, each with precious memories of their own. These are the ones who raised us up, helped propel us along life’s highway, assisting us – sometimes unwittingly – to set our chosen course. Looking back we feel a sense of pride in these loved ones, of thankfulness to them for their labour and their sacrifices – life was harder then and opportunities fewer. We feel sorrow, too, for we can no longer speak to them, thank them for their help and rejoice with them. But, most of all, we feel sad about the questions we didn’t think to ask them then. All the tiny hints and clues we still recall that could have burgeoned into story, for, as the saying goes, tarraingíonn scéal scéal, ‘one tale leads to another’.
In the larger spiritual family things are very much the same. Over a generation has passed since the founding of the Irish National Spiritual Assembly and local Bahá’í communities are spread like a resplendent tracery over our landscape from Donegal to Kerry, from Wicklow to Galway. We feel now, more than ever, a keenness to explore our origins, to discover who brought us here, where they themselves came from and, equally importantly, what kind of people they were. The present book is a reflection of just such a wish and a patent sign of community maturity. In it we find some fascinating and unexpected answers to the questions that are, more and more, being asked. Eight historical essays are presented together here by Brendan McNamara and, though some of the material may have appeared previously, there is much that is new and their appearance in a single volume is greatly to be welcomed. In it we have evidence of much painstakingly executed research in archive and library, but also, and equally importantly, answers to crucial questions obtained by word of mouth while there was still time. It is the fruits of research of this kind that have filled out for us the picture of our Faith’s early history since the foundation of the National Assembly in 1972 when, apart from acknowledging George Townshend as founding father of the community, virtually all the rest was clouded in a seemingly impenetrable mist. With the help of this book we can now begin to see through that mist, to sketch in outline many different types of pioneering lives.
On the one hand we see Frederick D’Evelyn, a believer from Ireland who helped build up the community in N. America, while, on the other, appear the Culvers, Bahá’ís from that continent who raised the standard for the Cause at an early date on our own shore.
No less fascinating are the stories of those men and women with Irish connections who had links with the nascent Bahá’í and Bábí movements in nineteenth century Persia – as Brendan points out, as many as twelve such individuals may have been in that country around the time of the Báb’s Martyrdom. One strange and eventful career was that of Dr. William Cormick, the Báb’s physician, whose family hailed from Co. Kilkenny and who, as Vincent Flannery ventures, might even have heard the Báb engaged in Divine Revelation. The other outstanding example was, of course, Lady Mary Sheil, originally a Woulfe from Tiermaclane in Co. Clare and a published diarist of the era. This courageous and talented lady we now know, thanks to the research distilled in the present volume, lies interred nowhere else than in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.
The Bahá’í reader cannot fail, either, to be moved in contemplation of what might have been. Consider, for example, the early dedication of Miss Joan Waring of Waringstown, Co. Armagh. Earlier in life this lady received encouragement from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself, particularly for her work with children, only to throw in her lot later with her husband, Thomas Fforde – once a Bahá’í himself, it would appear – in the latter’s efforts on behalf of Marxist politics. The most mysterious story of all, however, almost a latter-day Legend of the True Cross, is the curious tale of how The Master, in the course of a trans-Atlantic voyage, failed to end up in Cobh, while dismembered parts of the ship He had been travelling on during that famous journey did, years later, make their way to Co. Cork. Was it not in response to the longing of English Christians for Jesus to have visited their ‘green and pleasant land’ that the much loved hymn And Did Those Feet was penned? The tale of how the fabric of the SS Celtic, the vessel whose very planks and fitments had been sanctified by the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, became dispersed in and around Cork will, there can be no doubt, move many a Bahá’í poet to verse in times to come. Meanwhile, let us thank the writers and researchers who have preserved, and who now here present, this hard-won portion of our inheritance for us; let us also read, enjoy and ponder on the rich tapestry revealed in this moving and informative volume but, above all, let us not ourselves fail to ask those vital questions while there is yet time!