On 21st April 1959 the first Baha’i Assembly was formed in Bangor, in what later became part of ‘North Down Borough’. Among the original members of that small community was Lady Kathleen Hornell (1890-1977), who had come over from England to live in Northern Ireland a few years earlier.
Another distinguished member of that first small group was the late Mrs. Grace Pritchard, who later went on to receive an OBE for her services in the field of education.
(NB the other seven members were: Christina Baillie, Billy Glass, Winnie Whelan, David Brown, Gladys Brown, Dorothy Kennedy and Ivy Dominck).
Regular Baha’i meetings were held in Bangor throughout the late 1950s, and in June 1960, a weekend gathering at a hotel in Bangor attracted visitors from all over the United Kingdom. The guest speaker on that occasion was the distinguished writer and broadcaster Mr. Hasan Balyuzi, who worked for the BBC World Service.
Bangor was the centre for many Baha’i events in that period- usually advertised in the local ‘Spectator’ newspaper. ‘Dolly Vardon’ cafe, off Main Street in Bangor, was used on Friday evenings for regular talks by visiting Baha’i speakers- these were also usually advertised in the local press. These meetings continued for several years.
A permanent Baha’i centre was opened in Bangor in the early 1970s (at 86 Southwell Road) and remained the centre for activities until the building was sold in the late 1980s. Regular talks and meetings had been held there, as well as devotionals, feasts and children’s classes. The Baha’i activities in the town continued unabated.
Perhaps one of the most memorable events to happen in the North Down area was in 1988, when a group of young South American Baha’is who were on a world tour, and who played traditional South American folk-music, made an appearance at Hamilton House in Bangor, at an event attended by the Mayor and several hundred local guests. Their rousing music received a standing ovation at the end of the concert, and many wished they could have kept them here much longer!
Changes in local government boundaries in the 1970s meant a geographical expansion of the area, and the disappearance of the old Bangor district, now merged into the much bigger ‘North Down Borough’.
Although the Baha’i community in North Down has remained small over the years, many members of the Faith from that area have gone to live and work abroad. Indeed many have gone to take the Baha’i message to other regions of the world. For example, two members of the first Assembly later went to live in Venice, while another travelled to Malta- all with the intention of teaching the Faith in those countries.
In recent years, Baha’i international gatherings have been held in North Down every summer, attracting visitors from all over the world.
Today, members of the Baha’i Faith still reside and work in the North Down area and are active in Baha’i activities throughout the country, and further afield.